Buffalo Bills vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Matchups, prediction for massive cross-conference showdown

Quarterback Tom Brady, having an MVP-caliber season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, faces Sean McDermott and the Buffalo Bills in Week 14.

The Buffalo Bills (7-5) need a win in the worst way after losing to a Patriots team that threw 3 passes in Week 13. Getting one won’t be easy against one of the NFL’s best teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3), and a quarterback, Tom Brady, who has owned them over his 22-year career. The Bills enter Week 14 as the AFC’s seventh seed after losses in three of their last five games. The Buccaneers are the NFC’s third seed and can clinch a playoff spot with a win and some help.

Buffalo Bills offense vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense

How much can we take away from Monday night’s Wind Bowl loss to the Patriots? Probably not a ton.

Even Josh Allen’s howitzer was largely useless against 50 mph gusts. The Bills scored 10 points, gained 230 yards (4.0 per play), and had 16 first downs. But those stats probably will have very little bearing on future performance. Still, it was no coincidence that the Bills lost while scoring fewer than 17 points. They’re 0-4 on the season when they do that and 7-1 when they put up 17 or more.

Opportunity knocks for the Bills on Sunday. The Buccaneers have allowed fewer than 17 points just twice all season — and that was against the Bears and Giants. Will the Bucs be able to make enough stops in January to return to the Super Bowl? The jury’s still out.

They’re 25th in rush defense EPA (expected points added) since Week 8 and on the year, they have the NFL’s No. 24 third-down defense. Still, the Buccaneers’ broader metrics are good. They have forced the NFL’s fourth-most turnovers (24), are eighth in yards per play (5.3), and 16th in scoring defense (22.5).

Josh Allen vs. Buccaneers defense

You know weather is an issue when Allen averages under 5 yards per pass attempt. It’s only happened seven other times in games Allen has started and just once since the start of the 2020 season.

Even after Monday’s muck, Allen still ranked fourth in touchdowns (26), seventh in EPA + CPOE composite (0.132), eighth in QBR (57.3), and 11th in passer rating (97.0) entering Week 14. We’d like to see the Bills let Allen use his legs more. He had just 6 carries in a game in which the Patriots ran the ball 46 times.

Tampa gives up yards through the air (248.4), but that’s a function of volume. Only the Dolphins had teams throw the ball on them more through Week 13 — and Miami has played one more game.

The Buccaneers allow just 6.2 yards per pass (ranking sixth) and their passer rating against (89.1) is better than all but 10 teams. Furthermore, the Bucs have allowed the seventh-most passing touchdowns in the league (21). However, they did keep Matt Ryan from throwing one in a Week 13 Buccaneers win.

Advantage: Allen

Bills weapons vs. Buccaneers defensive backs

The Bills’ receivers are as inconsistent as the team as a whole. In the three games since Stefon Diggs torched the Jets for 162 yards on 8 catches, he’s had 15 catches for 148 yards total.

The Bills don’t lack talent on the offensive side of the ball. But they haven’t done a great job of consistently getting the ball in the playmakers’ hands in a position to make plays. Drops haven’t been a major issue. They’ve had just 12 on the season — fewer than all but eight teams. The Bills have been most efficient throwing to Gabriel Davis (11.0 yards per target), Dawson Knox (9.1), and Emmanuel Sanders (8.7), but have targeted Diggs and Cole Beasley the most.

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Buccaneers cornerback Jamel Dean simply cannot stay healthy. He gutted through a shoulder injury and played against the Falcons, only to suffer a concussion. He spent the week in the protocol. Nevertheless, it’s got to give Todd Bowles some comfort knowing that Pierre Desir is a more than capable replacement if Dean cannot go. He’s held opposing passers to a 77.5 rating this year and forced a fumble after stepping in against Atlanta.

Safety Antoine Winfield has been marvelous this year, with 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, and 63 tackles, including 3 for loss. Jordan Whitehead is out, but Richard Sherman is back from injured reserve and expected to see action at safety.

Advantage: Bills

Bills offensive line vs. Buccaneers defensive front

We would have liked to have seen more from Dion Dawkins, Ike Boettger, Mitch Morse, Daryl Williams, and Spencer Brown Monday. The Bills averaged 4.0 yards per carry (OK, but not great) and gave up 2 sacks. On the year, the Bills are still fourth in sack rate (4.2%), eighth in pass-block win rate (64%), ninth in yards per carry (4.5), and 16th in run-block win rate (70%).

No rest for the weary this week. The Buccaneers have an even better run defense than New England, allowing the second-fewest rushing yards (84.3) on just 4.1 per carry. In addition, Tampa Bay has the NFL’s 11th-ranked pass-rush win rate (43%), a big reason why the Bucs’ defense has 91 quarterback hits on the year (15 by Shaq Barrett, 14 by Devin White, and 13 by Ndamukong Suh). Barrett and Suh also have 13.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss between them.

Advantage: Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense vs. Buffalo Bills defense

Bruce Arians’ club makes the extraordinary look ordinary. The Buccaneers went for 425 yards and 25 first downs against the Falcons, converted 61.5% of their third downs, and scored touchdowns on 3 of 4 red-zone drives — and it wasn’t close to their best offensive performance of the season.

Tampa Bay now ranks first in points (31.4 per game), second in yards (403.7) and first downs (24.4), and third in yards per play (6.1) and third downs (48.0%). The Buccaneers have scored 30+ points seven times — including in each of their last three games.

We can understand why Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer were hot with a Buffalo-based reporter who asked them late Monday if they were embarrassed by their performance. Yes, the Patriots did run all over Buffalo for 222 yards, but they needed 46 carries to do it. And Buffalo allowed just 19 — 19! — passing yards on the night.

If you tell a defensive coordinator he’s going to give up 14 points, 4.8 yards per play, 11 first downs, and 2 third-down conversions on 12 tries, he’ll take it. No matter the conditions.

Tom Brady vs. Bills defense

In 2017, at age 40, Brady became the oldest player in NFL history to win a regular-season MVP award. That was crazy. Him doing it again at 44 would be completely bananas.

And there’s no reason he can’t. He’s got a real shot at 50 touchdowns for the second time in his career, and the Buccaneers are easily one of the five best teams in the NFL. No player has ever thrown 50 TDs and not won MVP. Brady is also first in passing yards (314.3 per game), second in QBR (66.2), third in EPA + CPOE composite (0.142), and fifth in passer rating (104.0). Brady is 32-3 all-time against the Bills with 70 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.

This is going to be a fabulous matchup. Since surrendering 34 points to the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 18, the Bills’ pass defense has locked things down.

Mac Jones, Trevor Siemian, Carson Wentz, Mike White, Joe Flacco, Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Beathard, and Tua Tagovailoa have gone a combined 95-of-166 (64.6%) for 952 yards (5.7 yards per attempt), 3 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions (64.6 rating). The Bills lead the NFL in passer-rating defense (62.9), yards per game allowed (165.3), and yards per pass (5.4).

Advantage: Brady

Buccaneers weapons vs. Bills defensive backs

Antonio Brown is out at least two more games after getting caught using a phony COVID-19 vaccination card. And there’s no guarantee he’ll have a roster spot waiting for him when he returns. The Bucs are surely steamed that Brown lied to them and the league. Plus, they don’t particularly need the headache.

The offense, with a healthy Rob Gronkowski, hasn’t missed Brown. Chris Godwin (82-949-5) and Mike Evans (57-794-10) are a lethal one-two punch — and it’s up for debate who’s 1 and who’s 2. Plus, running back Leonard Fournette has an outside chance at a 1,000-yard (rushing) and 80-catch season.

We still don’t really know what the Bills’ pass defense will look like without Tre’Davious White because Belichick and Josh McDaniels refused to test it Monday night. Dane Jackson and Levi Wallace logged every defensive snap against New England, while Taron Johnson was the Bills’ clear-cut No. 3 corner that night.

Jackson got a big-time promotion, and while he’s been solid in spot appearances this year (5.9 yards per target, 76.7 passer rating against), Sunday will be the biggest challenge of his career.

Advantage: Buccaneers

Buccaneers offensive line vs. Bills front seven

There’s no use in arguing that the Bucs’ offensive line — which runs, from left to right, Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, and Tristan Wirfs — isn’t one of the best in the NFL. Tampa Bay ranks first in sack rate (2.9%), Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate (3.8%), and adjusted line rushing yards per play (5.0), and are 12th in pass-block win rate (61%).

The only way to consistently beat Brady is to pressure him. Very few teams have been able to do that with any real consistency. Center Jensen is questionable with an ankle but is expected to play.

While Damien Harris’ 64-yard touchdown run got all the attention, that wasn’t the most alarming part of the night for Buffalo’s defensive front. Harris took advantage of an out-of-position safety and made the Bills pay. Rather, what worried us was how the Patriots absolutely manhandled the Bills up front early in the fourth quarter, when New England ground out a decisive field-goal drive.

The Bills are still seventh in yards per carry allowed. Pass rush is the bigger issue. Buffalo’s sack rate (5.7%) is better than just eight teams. Star Lotulelei, who logged a largely invisible 27 snaps in his first game back from the reserve/COVID-19 list, won’t play with a toe injury. But let’s not overreact.

Advantage: Buccaneers

Betting line and game prediction

  • Spread: Buccaneers -3.5 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Buccaneers -165, Bills +145
  • Total: 54

Bills vs. Buccaneers Prediction: Buccaneers 31, Bills 27

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