Both teams expect most of their injured starters to be ready for week 1, but right now, betting this preseason game is going to be defined by attrition, & that’s what bettors should pay attention to.
What We Know About The Coaches
Rex Ryan of the Bills is 11-14 in the preseason and 0-1 in this preseason after losing to the Carolina Panthers last week, 25-24. Mike Pettine is 1-4 in the preseason and 0-1 this preseason after losing to the Washington Redskins, 20-17, last week. Call this a wash. This game will not be decided by coaching in any meaningful way.
The quarterback situation deserves a look. The Bills have a three-way competition for the starting job, in one of the more unsettled situations in the league. That could actually work in their favor, since all the quarterbacks aren’t separated by a lot and are really playing for a job in the preseason, instead of knowing that they have spots salted away on the roster. That’s a plus for Buffalo.
The Browns’ situation is one in which two quarterbacks should get all the playing time here. Connor Shaw, near the lower end of the depth chart, is out with an injury, so Johnny Manziel should get a ton of reps with Josh McCown getting around a quarter if not more as the projected opening day starter. Both teams have reason to believe that their quarterbacks will play with a lot of intensity and make improvements from last week. Buffalo’s starter in this game is Tyrod Taylor, who backed up Joe Flacco in Baltimore. He will be motivated to play as well. Manziel versus Taylor feels like a dead heat.
Team Depth & Rotations
This is where we get into the deciding component of the game. The Bills have some injuries, but the Browns have more. The Bills’ injuries are important, though, within the context of this one preseason game.
LeSean McCoy, the Bills’ star running back, will be out for this game and almost surely the next two preseason games with an injury. Leading receivers Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin are also out of the lineup for Buffalo, so you’re going to see a very diminished set of playmakers accompanying a group of quarterbacks that’s trying to win roster spots. Even so, Tyrod Taylor has been great for the team while Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel have made plenty of regular season starts. This is a good rotation. Even so, Buffalo probably doesn’t seem like a team that figures to score much in this game…until you look at what’s on the other side of the ball with Cleveland’s defense.
The Browns have five cornerbacks who are hurt, led by their all-pro, Joe Haden. Cleveland is drowning in injuries in the secondary. On top of that, wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and running back Duke Johnson are out. So is quarterback-turned-wide receiver Terrell Pryor. There’s so much attrition for Cleveland that Buffalo’s losses look good by comparison. Give the advantage to the Bills.
Outlook & Pick
The injury situation with the Browns is one in which the Bills have it a little better. On top of that, their quarterback rotation should give them an edge. Go with the Bills in this spot and add them to your NFL picks.
NFL Pick: Bills +3 at Bovada