Best vs. Best: Mahomes vs. Buffalo D

Plus, an in-depth look at the London game & why you shouldn't count out Daniel Jones and the Giants in Big D


*Game being played in London, England

Line: Falcons -2.5, Total: 45


  • Who’s To Blame?

It’s no secret that Jets’ rookie QB Zach Wilson has struggled this season; he leads the NFL with eight interceptions and his 56.8% completion percentage ranks last among QBs who have thrown at least 100 passes. However, he’s not getting much help from those around him. The Jets are tied for the NFL lead with 13 dropped passes (Steelers also have 13) and are tied for second in times sacked with 16 (Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill has been dropped 17 times). Now, some of those sacks are on Wilson, but it’s hard to argue that the Jets offensive line has been good -- especially when you consider that their 3.6 yards per rushing attempt is tied for fifth-worst in the league.

The team showed signs of life last week, and Wilson played his best game of the season. For the first time in his young career, the Jets signal-caller completed over 60% of his passes (61.8%) in their win over the Titans. He threw one INT, the second time this year he didn’t throw multiple picks in a game. He was sacked once, the first time he hadn’t been sacked multiple times in any game. In fact, his lowest prior sack total in a game was four. Now, he gets to face a Falcons defense that has not intercepted a single pass this season, one of only two teams with that dubious distinction (Jets are the other). The Falcons are also tied for the fourth-fewest sacks per game in the NFL at 1.8. And they’ve allowed a league-high 128 points this season (32 points per game). After facing three of the top scoring defenses in the NFL over his first three starts -- Panthers (3rd), Patriots (6th) and Broncos (2nd) -- Wilson and the Jets are in a much leaner two-game stretch against the Titans (26th) and the Falcons (last). Can Gang Green keep the momentum going?


  • London Loves Favorites

The NFL has played 28 games in London since the beginning the International Series in 2007. In those 28 contests, the favorite has covered the spread in 18 of them. If you’re looking for a trend with the totals, there isn’t one. There have been exactly 14 unders and 14 overs in those games.

  • Right Down the Middle

If Vegas’ goal is to get equal betting on both sides, then congratulations to them. Exactly 50% of the bets in this game have been placed on both teams, with the Jets owning a slight advantage in money bet at 52%, according to Action Network. The same is nearly true of the total, as well. 56% of the bets are on the over and 53% of the money is on the under.


  • Where is Ryan Gonna Throw it?

Going into Week 4, Matt Ryan was Pro Football Focus’ 27th-ranked quarterback. Thanks to his best statistical performance of the year in a 34-30 loss vs Washington, he vaulted all the way up to #18. The biggest reason for the jump was Ryan’s sudden willingness to throw it down the field. Having thrown just 20 total passes that traveled 10+ air yards in Weeks 1-3, Ryan threw 19 of those passes in Week 4 alone, nearly doubling his season total. On those throws, he earned a 92.1 PFF passing grade (out of 100).

The problem for Ryan in London, though, is that his biggest deep-threat -- wide receiver Calvin Ridley -- is dealing with a personal matter and did not make the trip across the Atlantic. Ridley ranks second in the NFL in share of team’s targeted air yards at 48.2% (only Houston’s Brandin Cooks is higher at 55.7%). Ridley was targeted 13 times in that game against Washington and is tied for 6th in the NFL with 42 targets on the season. Ryan’s next three favorite targets are tight end Kyle Pitts (26 targets) and running backs Cordarrelle Patterson (22 targets) and Mike Davis (19). Pitts’ average depth of target is just 8.6 yards down field and Patterson and Davis do most of their damage right around the line of scrimmage.

One player to watch for in this game is wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. Zaccheaus is the only other WR on the roster with double-digit targets (13) and his average depth of target is 10.6 yards downfield, which is very similar to Ridley’s mark of 10.7. Now, Zaccheaus is not nearly as talented as Ridley, but with Ryan’s recent success throwing downfield, don’t be surprised if he looks Zaccheaus’ way a little more without his best weapon.


Line: Cowboys -7, Total: 52


  • Open the Bakery, it’s Turnover Time

We talked about it in last week’s post, but it’s worth bringing back again this Sunday: Dallas continues to turn its opponents over at an incredibly high rate. Going into Week 4, the Carolina Panthers had turned the ball over only twice -- they doubled that total after Dallas CB Trevon Diggs intercepted Sam Darnold twice for his league-leading 4th and 5th picks on the season. The Cowboys are second in the NFL with 10 takeaways (Buffalo has 11) and they are tied with the Bills for the league lead in turnover differential at +7.

Enter: Giants QB Daniel Jones. In his first 2 seasons in the league, Jones played in 27 games and threw 22 interceptions, while losing 17 of his 29 fumbles. Totaled up, Jones had 39 turnovers in 27 outings, most in the NFL between 2019-20. This season, though, we’ve seen a new, more conscientious Danny Dimes. Jones has turned the ball over only twice this season, one lost fumble and one INT. But has it really been a completely new Jones? Turns out, he started to turn a corner last season. During the Giants’ 1-7 start in 2020, Jones turned over the football 13 times. But over his final six starts of the season -- he missed 2 games during the second half of the season -- the 2019 6th-overall pick gave the ball away only three times. So, over his last 10 games dating back to Week 9 of last season, Jones is averaging 0.5 turnovers per game. He began his career with a 1.7 turnovers-per-game mark over his first 36 games. The Cowboys have been relying on their ability to generate takeaways -- can they get Jones to revert to the player he was early in his career?


  • Road Warriors

The amount of success that the NY Giants have had against-the-spread as road underdogs is quite remarkable. Since the start of the 2018 season, the G-Men are 18-4 ATS in that situation, including an 11-1 mark in their last 12 such games. For his career, Daniel Jones is 10-2 ATS in starts made as a road dog. Is he afraid of the lights in the Big Apple? Jones’ mark at home overall against-the-spread is 4-11, while his overall road record is exactly the opposite: 11-4 ATS.

The betting community couldn’t care less about the Giants ability to cover as road underdogs, however, because 71% of the tickets are on the Cowboys at home and a whopping 89% of the money is on Dallas, according to Action Network.


  • The Boys are Back in Town

After several seasons of having an offensive line that was at or near the top of the NFL, the Cowboys took a massive step back last season, mostly due to injury. Back to (near) full health this season, Dallas has re-established itself as one of the best blocking units in the league. According to Pro Football Focus, Tyron Smith is the second-highest graded offensive tackle in the NFL, behind Trent Williams of the 49ers, and those are the only two to earn a grade higher than 90, putting them in the “Elite” category. At guard, Dallas has the only player in the NFL with an “Elite” grade as Zack Martin comes in at 93.4 Martin’s grade is more than five points higher than the next-best guard with at least 150 snaps. Their other starting guard, Connor Williams, sits at 8th-best among OGs according to PFF. Their biggest weakness is at center, where Tyler Biadasz’ 54.5 grade is 7th-worst among qualified centers. Though, that weakness is mitigated by their tight ends; Dalton Schultz is PFF’s 3rd-best run-blocking tight end (with at least 150 offensive snaps). Oh, and their other TE, Blake Jarwin, is 10th in that category.

Add in that line and tight ends with a renewed Ezekiel Elliott and explosive backup Tony Pollard, and you have a potent rushing attack. According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Elliott leads the NFL with 73 rushing yards over expected … and Pollard is third with 68 (Austin Ekeler is in between them with 70). Pollard is also PFF’s highest-graded RB (90.6), and Elliott is 17th (73.3). The Giants are in the bottom third of the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (122.8), so look for Dallas to continue to pound the rock in this one.


Line: Chiefs -3, Total: 56.5


  • We Can’t Do Everything, Guys

When you think of the Kansas City Chiefs, you think about their offense. They’ve got the best QB in the NFL in Patrick Mahomes, the best tight end in Travis Kelce, and arguably the greatest deep-threat in NFL history with Tyreek Hill. That offense has led the team to three straight AFC Championship appearances, consecutive Super Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl win in 2019.

While they were never going to attract the big headlines, their defense generally did its job. After a 2018 season where they finished 24th in the NFL in points allowed per game (26.3) then surrendered 37 points in a loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship, they overhauled the defense in that offseason -- including signing S Tyrann Mathieu -- to bring a new edge to that side of the ball. In 2019, the team moved up to 7th in the NFL in points allowed per game at 19.2 and went on to win the Super Bowl. Last season, they were 6th at 21.6 points per game and reached the Super Bowl yet again.

But this season, they seem to have regressed back to the 2018 version -- except worse. Only the Atlanta Falcons, who we mentioned earlier, have surrendered more points per game (32.0) than the Chiefs (31.2). Kansas City is last in the NFL, allowing 6.9 yards per play to opposing offenses. Contrast those numbers with this week’s opponent, the Buffalo Bills. The Bills lead the NFL in points allowed per game (11.0) and yards allowed per play (4.0). The Bills are a half-yard better in yards per play allowed than the next-best team (Cleveland, 4.5). Buffalo clamps down in the red zone, as well; the Bills are one of three teams who lead the NFL in allowing opponents to score TDs on just 33% of their red-zone drives (New Orleans & Denver). Buffalo also leads the NFL in takeaways with 11. And the usually turnover-stingy Chiefs have really struggled in that department this season, turning the ball over 7 times this season, tied for third-worst in the NFL. The Chiefs have been in the Top 10 for fewest giveaways in each season since 2017 and haven’t averaged more than one turnover per game since 2018.


  • Josh Allen = Daniel Jones??

Earlier in this note, we discussed Daniel Jones’ propensity for covering the spread as a road underdog. Turns out, Josh Allen has it too. In his last 9 starts as a road underdog in the regular season, Allen is 7-1-1 ATS. Like Jones, Allen doesn’t need to be the underdog, either. His overall record on the road in his last 18 starts is 13-4-1 ATS dating back to his rookie season in 2018. Additionally, Allen and the Bills have covered five straight road contests in the regular season, dating back to last season.

Unlike Daniel Jones, however, the public isn’t ignoring the Josh Allen trend; 65% of the tickets have been placed on the Bills, according to Action Network, including some sharp action. However, 54% of the total money bet has been on Kansas City.


  • Strength vs. Strength

Chiefs pass offense vs. Bills pass defense; this should be fun. The Chiefs lead the NFL in expected points added per dropback at +0.46, while Buffalo has far-and-away the best EPA allowed per dropback at -0.36 and has allowed the least amount of explosive pass plays (passes 15+

yards) with 27. The key for this game will be how well Buffalo can contain the two biggest weapons at Patrick Mahomes’ disposal: Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.

Let’s start with Kelce, Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded tight end at 91.4. The Bills will rely heavily on their star linebacker, Matt Milano, who is PFF’s highest-graded LB at 90.4 overall, with the third-best coverage grade at 82.0. When Kelce releases downfield, he’ll likely also get a healthy dose of Bills’ safety Micah Hyde, who is also PFF’s highest-graded player at his position (78.3) and the third-best coverage safety.

Tyreek Hill will present an entirely different challenge, as he’ll be used to stretch the Bills’ defense. Even though he and Kelce have similar target numbers (Hill has 38 to Kelce’s 32), Hill dominates in the air yards category, commanding over 44% of Patrick Mahomes targeted air yards, while Kelce’s number is less than half of that. Buffalo will likely use Taron Johnson, its best cover corner, on Hill as much as it can. Johnson has PFF’s 9th-highest coverage grade among CBs on the season. While Tre’Davious White generally garners the headlines as the Bills’ top CB, Johnson has outplayed White by quite a bit in 2021, according to PFF. Johnson has been the 16th-highest graded corner in the league at a 72.2 overall grade, and White is 47th at 63.7. But, as we all know, you can’t guard Tyreek Hill with just one defender. That’s where Buffalo’s other safety, Jordan Poyer, comes in. Poyer is the 11th-best coverage safety according to PFF, forming a strong coverage duo down-the-field with the aforementioned Micah Hyde.

The biggest question mark for the Buffalo defense is health. Matt Milano, likely the biggest key to slowing down Travis Kelce, is questionable with a hamstring injury after logging just one limited practice this week (Friday). Also questionable is their best pass-rusher, AJ Epenesa, who logged limited practices on Thursday and Friday while dealing with a foot injury. Plus, Jordan Poyer was held out of Week 4 with an ankle injury. Although he is not on the Buffalo injury report and will play in this game, the ailment bears monitoring.