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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 7: Bills vs Dolphins (updated)

Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins: BUF +7.5 (Bet365)

Market Watch

If you've ever wondered what the perception of a quarterback's worth is, look no further than this week's card. In this game, the Miami Dolphins were actually -10 point favorites in the LVH look-ahead line last week. After Thad Lewis showed he's somewhat competent, the line reopened at -7.5.

The question though is how much of a downgrade is Thad Lewis from EJ Manuel? I would concede you have to make some adjustment, but oddsmakers are inflating this line quite a bit. When you break things down, I don't think this line should be anywhere near a touchdown, let along a touchdown plus the hook.

There are some indications that this is dropping to -7, but if you shop around you can still grab the best number. Even at +7, there is some value to be had.

62% of the bets are on the Bills.

When the Bills have the ball

Like most QBs, Thad Lewis wasn't very productive when he was pressured last week. In the 11 times that the Bengals disrupted his pocket, he had four passes and completed none of them. On five of those rushes he was sacked.

We could replaced Thad's name with EJ Manuels and the recap would read the same. The question is whether this is an offensive line that is struggling in pass protection, or if they are trying to protect QBs that can't go through their progressions and hold the ball too long.

It's probably a little of both, but either way we are not talking about upper-echelon play from the quarterback here. The good news is that both C.J. Spiller and Steve Johnson were upgraded in practice after dealing with injuries. Johnson didn't even play last week, so Lewis will be happy to see him on the field come Sunday. Spiller hasn't been his dynamic self all year, but he has shown toughness in the snaps he has seen.

What it all adds up to is an average offense that has trouble in the big moments. They are among the worst in the NFL on third down, but this is typical of a young team learning to find it's way under a new coach.

For the Dolphins, it's also a question of health. Wake, Patterson, and Ellerbe are all limited in practice, but they all expect to play.  Wake's impact on a defense is well documented, but Ellerbe is a guy who can attack downhill and also sit back in coverage.

Miami would love to get Patterson back because it would give them a legitimate corner opposite Brent Grimes. After starting the year strong, their pass defense has slipped to below average. They've also had trouble getting to the QB without Wake.

If everyone can come back and play at a high level, it could be a rough day for this Bills offense, but this grades out as a pretty even matchup based on what we've seen through 6 weeks.

When the Dolphins have the ball

Miami has had a week off, but did they fix their offensive line? They've allowed 24 sacks in 5 games. This was an issue that pundits brought up when they decided to throw big money at Mike Wallace. What's the point of a deep threat if Tannehill isn't going to have time to throw the deep ball?

The problems up front has had a ripple effect on the rest of the offense. Both their run and pass efficiency are below average, and Tannehill has come back to earth after a nice start. The good news for Dolphins fans is they've done great once they find themselves inside the 20. They have one of the best red zone efficiency rankings in the NFL.

That said, the Bills defense has quietly been one of the better units in the league. They rank above average against the run and the pass, and they force more field goals than touchdowns when opponents get inside the red zone.

A lot of credit needs to be given to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. He comes from the Rex Ryan school of "move the parts around and cause chaos."  You know that scheme is important when you have to put out a starting roster that consists of backups in the secondary.

This all adds up to trouble for Miami. They now have rising star Stephon Gilmore back in the lineup. He might not be great against the run with a club on his hand, but there's no questioning his raw coverage skills. The back end also got a boost with Jairus Byrd back from injury. He's a reliable tackler and great at identifying route patterns.

Up front, you can be sure that Mario Williams will be causing havoc in the Miami backfield. When you add Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus to the mix, you have the makings of an imposing defensive line.  In support, Kiko Alonso is making a strong case for defensive rookie of the year honors.

Bottom Line

The Miami defense, after making some nice strides in September, have fallen back to earth a bit. They do hold an edge on third down against this Buffalo offense, but other than that things grade out pretty evenly. Thad Lewis will be the wild card, but EJ Manuel wasn't setting the league on fire before he went down.

On the flip side, the Bills defense has been pretty good this year in spite of their injuries. They got Byrd and Gilmore back now, even though they are being eased back into the lineup. Look for this unit to take advantage of a shaky Miami offensive line.

Essentially, these are two evenly matched teams, which gives us some value on the dog.

NFL Pick: BUF +7.5.

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