Buffalo @ Cincinnati
While many week 17 games have little meaning, this matchup has significant implications for who could get the one seed in the AFC. Buffalo has control of the one seed and must win out to guarantee the bye week. Cincinnati has a shot at taking control of the one seed if they win out and Kansas City drops one of their last two games. The Bengals could be more hopeful with the Chiefs playing the Broncos, who pushed the Chiefs to their limits a few weeks ago. Motivation may dwindle for other teams, but these powerhouses have their eyes set on lifting the Lombardi Trophy, and the number one seed would significantly help.
Over the season, the Bengals have operated primarily as a pass-first team, and that inclination to the pass has only increased over the last couple of months. Since week 10, the Bengals have thrown 11% more than expected. In this post-bye stretch, the Bengals have gone 6-0 with a combined margin of 42 points. They have leaned into the most potent part of their offense.
Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins lead the air raid. Out of players with 250 snaps, Higgins ranks 20th, and Chase ranks 26th in yards per route run, exceeding 2.00. The offense is driven by these two alpha receivers, but it also sports other capable offensive weapons. While Tyler Boyd is traditionally the name found here, Trenton Irwin has emerged as another tertiary receiving option. Last week, Irwin reeled in two touchdowns and nearly hauled in a third. The bevy of talent combined with one of the most prolific and accurate passers means any defense will have its hands full. Burrow ranks third in completion percentage over expected and fifth in EPA/COPE composite, according to rbsdm.com. This high pass rate and efficiency will look to drive the Bengals’ game again come Monday.
The ground game was dominated by Joe Mixon early in the season, but he has gained a more consistent companion of late, Samaje Perine. Mixon has not surpassed 65% of snaps since returning from his concussion, and Perine has played at least 38% of snaps. Both backs have been used in short down and distance situations, but Perine has seen almost all the two-minute drill work. The fast nature of this game and the potential to need a comeback make Perine an interesting player heading into week 17.
The Bills have shown who they are the whole year, a pass-first team who handles adversity well. When confronted with inclement weather last week, the Bills turned to the ground. They ran for 254 yards and 8.2 yards per carry. The Bills will continue to be a pass-first team.
Stefon Diggs works as the team's wide receiver one by a large margin. Diggs has averaged 2.51 yards per route run on a nearly 27% targets per route run rate. Beyond Diggs, a mishmash of receivers fill the void. Gabriel Davis works most consistently as the other perimeter receiver, and many options compete for slot snaps. Davis commands a target on 15.8% of his routes, but many are deep looks. His average depth of target is 15.1 yards downfield, one of the highest in the NFL.
The running game does not have to flow through the running backs for the Bills. Josh Allen is one of the most mobile quarterbacks in the NFL. While he prefers to pass, he transforms into a battering ram when he sees the opportunity. Allen ranks fourth in rushing yards by a quarterback and is within 50 yards of being second. With those additional 50 yards, he would also be the top rusher on his team. Devin Singletary has consistently been the first running back to get the ball, but James Cook has surfaced as the change of pace back for the Bills. Cook has provided a jolt to the offense at times with the fourth-highest yards per carry of backs with 200+ snaps at 5.8 ypc.
On the other side of the ball, Cincinnati and Buffalo field formidable defenses. Particularly in the passing game, these defenses try to thwart opponents. The Bills are slightly better in EPA/play surrendered, but they allow marginally higher success rates for opponents. This is because Buffalo attempts to limit chunk plays and force offenses to play underneath more frequently. Both defenses rank closer to average on the ground, with the Bills sporting a clear advantage in this department. This battle will involve everything both sides can throw at one another as they try to compete for the availed first-round bye.
Side with Cincinnati by takting Samaje Perine (+1.5) over James Cook, Joe Burrow (+3) over Josh Allen and Ja’Marr Chase over Stefon DIggs (+1). As a bonus pick, take Justin Fields over Trevor Lawrence (+1).
Last week, the games did not work for us. While the thesis of the plays appeared right in the Bills game, the runout did not work in our favor. One of Gabe Davis’s three catches was a touchdown that elevated him over Montgomery. With only 26 pass attempts, 15 completions and two interceptions, Josh Allen looked likely to fall short of Mahomes, but his touchdowns and success on the ground catapulted him to victory.
The Cowboys vs. Eagles game turned into a complete shootout against expectations. CeeDee Lamb and A.J. Brown had nearly equivalent days, except Lamb touched paydirt twice compared to Brown’s zero trips to the endzone. Minshew had a chance to complete the comeback and cover the spread, but his last throw fell incomplete. Had the Eagles been ready to run a play instead of spike it on first down, who knows how this would have ended up. A truly abysmal 0-4 week had to end with max pain.
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TPRR is courtesy of the 33rd Team and Sports Info Solutions and success rate data is from rbsdm.com.