The undefeated Rams and the undefeated Bills clash on Sunday afternoon. Should you bet on either team to lose?
Los Angeles Rams vs. Buffalo Bills
Sunday, September 27, 2020 at 1 p.m. ET (FOX) at Orchard Park, New York
If you’ve thought about betting on the Rams with your NFL Picks, then perhaps you were misled by the following trend: Under Sean McVay, the Rams have both won and scored 30+ points in all five games that they’ve played at 1 p.m. in the Eastern time zone.
But a closer look suggests that this trend does’t really mean anything. For starters, most of their opponents were very bad. In 2019, the Rams beat a 1-5 Falcons team while accruing five sacks (i’ll say more on L.A.’s pass rush later). In 2018, they pulled away from the 4-7 Lions in the fourth quarter. They also demolished the 1-6 Giants in 2017.
Scoring came easy against the Falcons and Giants because the 2019 Falcons and 2017 Giants both ranked 30th in pass defense. They faced both the Lions and Giants after a bye week. The Rams also faced the Panthers in 2018 fully-rested in the first game of the season in which game they accrued a paltry 4.8 YPP (Yards Per Play).
As for Philadelphia — the Rams beat the Eagles 37-19 last week — the verdict remains out on its defense, although there are a lot of reasons to be negative about it (independently of how the Rams performed).
Rams Run Game vs. Bills Run Defense
L.A. loves to execute the play-action pass — no quarterback threw more of this type of pass last season than Jared Goff. A good rush attack makes the play-action pass a more dangerous option. This year, the Rams remain determined to be potent in play-action passes.
Based on rush play percentage, no team is more committed to running the ball than the Rams. However, during the offseason, Buffalo added both quantitatively and qualitatively more pieces to its defensive line than it lost.
With newfound depth and quality, the Bills seem to have improved with respect to run defense. After ranking 11th in run defense this year, the Bills rank third in the category this year. They’re allowing 75.5 rush yards per game.
One may say that Buffalo owes its statistical improvement to the low quality of its opponents. But one can make the same claim about L.A.’s rushing offense. The Rams averaged just 3.8 YPC against Dallas and then encountered what has been a highly-paid but non-existent Philadelphia defensive line.
Plus, the individual player quality in Buffalo is undisputed. One new signing, defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson, was already a highly-graded (per PFF) run-stopper.
Fellow defensive tackle Ed Oliver was already projected to be a stout run-stopper based on his superb effectivity against the run against strong competition in college. He’s building off his rookie campaign now.
Then we have Trent Murphy at defensive end who was ranked 21st-best by PFF in stopping the run. Jerry Hughes has likewise been a well-respected edge setter at the other end position.
Rams Pass Attack vs Buffalo Pass Defense
With lessened ability to run, Goff won’t succeed with his favored play-action pass. He’ll have to confront a Buffalo secondary that remains one of the very best in pass defense after ranking second in opposing pass yards last year.
Tre’Davious White anchors the Bills’ secondary with his ability in press coverage and his reliability against faster wide receivers. White and the rest of Buffalo’s secondary is supported by a pass rush that ranks first in win rate thanks to guys like Oliver who are often able to reach the quarterback within 2.5 seconds.
One may ask why Miami was able to pass for so many yards against Buffalo. Two key injuries — to Tremaine Edwards and fellow linebacker Matt Milano — opened up spaces for Miami’s pass attack.
But both linebackers are back in practice. Their health is crucial to containing L.A. tight end Tyler Higbee. Doing that allows Buffalo’s safeties to provide additional support in coverage and against the run.
I alluded to L.A.’s pass rush earlier. This year, the Rams have regressed to one of the worst teams in this respect as evidenced by the meagre quantity of sacks and pressures that they are accruing. The loss of Dante Fowler Jr. hurt them.
Their regression is significant because Allen loves to hang onto the ball — even more so than L.A.’s last opposing quarterbacks. Say what you want about Allen facing weak opponents — Miami’s secondary was supposed to be elite but has been injury-ridden.
But Allen flexes more accuracy, intelligence, and patience as a passer than people give him credit for, which is why he’s completing 70.4 percent of his passes. Right now, he ranks first in passing yards, second in touchdowns, and fourth in quarterback rating.
He was already one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks in intermediate throws as he benefitted from an offensive redesign that aimed to suit his strengths. The Bills went and got Stefon Diggs from Minnesota in order to offer more of a deep-passing threat. Diggs leads the NFL in receiving yards after amassing 1,130 last year.
One may counter that L.A. corner Jalen Ramsey has great numbers in coverage himself. But Diggs will provide a much tougher challenge than rookie Jalen Reagor and aging DeSean Jackson did last week.
Plus, Buffalo has more options beyond Diggs like John Brown and Cole Beasley. Brown exceeded 1,000 yards receiving last year. Beasley, who accrued 778 last season, is right behind him this year.
Brown, especially, will thrive if/when Ram corner Troy Hill tries to shadow him. Hill has been helpless when targeted this season. Schematically, Buffalo is also using more four wide-receiver sets in order to create more space — also for Allen as a runner.
The Bills are also upping their play-action usage for Allen, which will remain effective against L.A., whose defensive line is ranked 30th in run-stopping by Football Outsider’s metrics and who therefore will bite on Buffalo’s play-action attempts.
I talked about many reasons why one may want to bet on the Rams. Fortunately for us, many people are betting on the Rams and they are creating more betting value for us on the NFL oddsboard.
A Ram backer will point to a trend, to Jalen Ramsey, to Buffalo’s run defense, and to the low quality of Josh Allen’s competition. But I showed that the trend is actually meaningless, that Buffalo is too deep at wide receiver, too deep and improved in its run-stopping, and that Allen is an improved passer taking advantage of more finely-tuned scheming.
For the above reasons, you should bet on Buffalo. Because the Bills money-line is cheap (thanks, Ram backers!), I recommend betting on Buffalo to win.
Best Bet: Bills ML (-130) at Bovada