Monday Night Preview: Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans

Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans

Here’s a preview of Monday night‘s matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans, courtesy of STAT Stack:


Line: Bills -6, Total: 53.5


These Are … Your Father’s Bills, Again? 

For most of the past 20 years, the Buffalo Bills were an afterthought in the NFL world. But from 1990-1993, the Bills made the Super Bowl in each of the four seasons, losing all four. However, that’s not where the recent futility began. Four of the next six seasons following those devastating losses, the Bills would make the playoffs, though they would win only one playoff game. It should have been at least two … but then, Frank Wycheck, Kevin Dyson and “The Music City Miracle” happened, the same city where the Bills will face the Titans on Monday night. In the decade of the 90’s, the Bills made the playoffs in eight of the 10 seasons. They won 10 playoff games. They had an MVP (Thurman Thomas, ’91), two Defensive Players of the Year (Bruce Smith, ’90 & ’96 and Bryce Paup, ‘95), and a Coach of the Year (Marv Levy, ‘93). Life was good in Buffalo…until that fateful trip to Nashville.

Then, we entered a new century. In the first 16 years of the new millennium, the Bills failed to make the playoffs. There were no MVPs. No Defensive Players of the Year. Certainly, no Coach of the Year. In fact, in those 16 seasons, the Bills had nine different coaches. Seemingly no one could turn this franchise back into the powerhouse that it was in the 1990’s.

That’s when Buffalo hired Sean McDermott. McDermott was an Andy Reid disciple who spent 12 seasons with the Eagles before being fired by Reid after the 2010 season. Carolina hired him to become its defensive coordinator, where he would have a top-10 NFL defense from 2012-2015, culminating in a Super Bowl berth for the Panthers in 2015. They lost to Denver in that Super Bowl, 24-10, but McDermott’s defense surrendered just one offensive touchdown in the game. After one more year in Charlotte, Buffalo tabbed McDermott to lead its team following the 2016 season.

Immediately, the hire paid off. McDermott became just the third coach in franchise history to win his first game with the team (Levy, Rex Ryan). The team would go on to win nine games and reach the elusive playoffs for the first time in 18 years, which was the longest active missed playoff streak in all North American professional sports at the time. The Bills would miss the playoffs the following season, partly due to an inconsistent season from their rookie quarterback, Josh Allen. Buffalo immediately returned to the postseason in 2019 but lost in overtime to the Houston Texans. Despite a 10-win season and a playoff berth, many pundits surmised that Buffalo needed a better quarterback to become true contenders.

Then, we started the most recent decade, the 2020s. Allen went from a player who no one thought was destined for much more than being an average NFL QB to finishing second in the MVP voting and leading the team to its first playoff wins since 1995. And now in 2021, the Bills and Josh Allen are again on the charge, looking every bit of a Super Bowl contender. Two years ago, the team had a shaky rookie QB and a defensive-minded head coach. Fast forward to the beginning of Week 6, and Buffalo is the highest-scoring team in the NFL with 172 points through five games. Since the start of the 2020 season until now, no franchise has scored more points than the Buffalo Bills, who finished second in scoring last season to MVP Aaron Rodgers’ Packers.

There’s still plenty of time left in this decade, obviously. But with Sean McDermott signed through 2025 and Josh Allen through 2028, things are looking good in Buffalo. Is it a return to the 1990s? Too early to tell, but one thing is for sure: they’re hoping that this Monday Night Football game in Nashville doesn’t end the same way as that fateful playoff game in the second week of January 2000.


Road Favorites for a Reason  

In Josh Allen’s rookie season in 2018, the Bills weren’t a road favorite in any of their eight contests away from home. In 2019, it happened twice. Last season, Buffalo was favored in six of its eight trips outside of Western New York. This game will mark the second trip as a road favorite out of three away games (they were underdogs at Kansas City last week). In total, Josh Allen’s Bills have been a road favorite nine times in his career, winning eight of those games outright and covering six of them, including three straight. They did travel to Nashville as a favorite in 2020, and the Titans stomped Buffalo, 42-16. Tennessee has alternated wins and losses over its past eight games as a home underdog, losing the most recent contest (a 34-17 loss to the Colts last season).

How Things Can Change…

The Bills traveled to Kansas City last week as an underdog and promptly dominated the Chiefs, weathering a halftime lightning delay, and putting the league on notice. It put Vegas on notice, too. In books that provide lines a week early, Buffalo was initially listed as a 3.5-point favorite. At DraftKings, they still had the Bills listed at -3.5 as of 10:49amET on Monday morning. Twenty minutes later, it was moved to 4.5. Four hours later, it was moved to 5.5. By Tuesday afternoon, it had reached 6. At that point, many bettors said, “enough is enough” and started hitting Tennessee, bumping the line back to 5.5. At Caesars sportsbook, they opened at Bills -3 and saw nothing but movement in that direction, jumping from 3 to 4.5 and then 5, 5.5 and finally 6. Caesars’ bettors never seemed to think the line was high enough to hammer the Titans.

All told, according to Action Network, 78% of the tickets are on the Bills and a whopping 93% of the money has followed. The 78% ticket number was the second-highest percentage bet on a team (Chiefs garnered 81% of bets and covered) and the 93% is the highest money percentage on any NFL team in Week 6 by more than 10% (the Rams were second at 82% and covered easily).


There are Two Teams in this Game, Ya Know!

Yes, we’ve spent a lot of time in this post focusing on the Bills. That’s because the Bills are an exciting team and a Super Bowl contender, which is what we expected out of this Tennessee team, as well. But a loss to the winless Jets in Week 4 put a damper on the Titans hype train, even though the team is currently 3-2. In that loss at the Meadowlands, the Titans fell despite Derrick Henry rushing for 157 yards. That was the only game the Titans have ever lost where Henry rushed for more than 115 yards (15-1 in such games overall). In fact, Tennessee has lost only three games when Henry simply crests the 100-yard mark (21-3 in such contests).

Henry is a runner who thrives on wearing down opponents, throughout the game and throughout the season. In September and October, “King” Henry has averaged 4.2 yards per carry on 648 such runs. From November-January, that figure jumps up to 5.6 yards per carry, nearly a yard-and-a-half higher. In the first half of games, he averages 4.4 yards per tote scoring 22 times. In the second half, he’s at 5.3 YPC and 38 rushing TDs. If the Titans are leading late and leaning on Henry to close out the game? Forget about it. Henry averages 6.6 yards per carry when Tennessee is up with less than four minutes left in the game and 8.6 yards when the clock ticks under two minutes. So far in 2021, that gap has been even bigger. In the first half of games this season, Henry is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. In the second half, he’s a full two-and-a-half yards better at 5.7. The evidence of wearing down opponents is more stark than that too as he gets better with each passing quarter. Here are his yards-per-carry marks across the four quarters: 2.7 (1st), 3.8 (2nd), 4.6 (3rd), and 6.7 (4th) quarter.

The blueprint for beating Tennessee is simple: get ahead early and don’t let the “King” get going. The execution of that blueprint? Not quite as simple.

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