Buffalo Bills vs. Tennessee Titans: Matchups, prediction for battle of AFC division leaders

The Buffalo Bills vs. Tennessee Titans game has big playoff implications yet doesn't look as closely contested as it did five weeks ago.

The Buffalo Bills vs. Tennessee Titans game on Monday Night Football is a great measuring stick for both teams. The Bills should have the ability to run away and hide from the Titans if they play to their potential. However, they’re coming off a massive victory against the Chiefs in prime time, so a letdown could be looming. However, this team feels different after their Week 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They’re taking care of business, and the Titans are in their way.

Buffalo Bills offense vs. Tennessee Titans defense

The Buffalo Bills are in a league of their own right now in terms of efficiency. Their defensive efficiency is on a historic pace that will almost certainly fall back down to earth eventually. Still, their overall rating is the highest in both Ben Baldwin’s Team Tiers and Football Outsiders’ Team DVOA.

Usually, balanced teams are the ones we see hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the NFL season. More often than not, we find they have a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense. The Bills are both, but it goes even deeper. They’re 11th in dropback EPA/play — and that’s the only metric they fall outside the top 10 in.

They’re also fifth in rushing EPA/play, and they have the seventh-best success rate on runs so far in 2021.

Meanwhile, the Titans’ defense struggles to stop offenses, both by land and air. Their defense allows nearly 8 net yards per pass attempt and 4.5 yards on the ground. No matter what metric we look for, the Titans struggle with it. The only relatively positive number is their defensive dropback EPA/play ranking (18th).

The more significant issue is who they’ve faced getting there. Sure, they started off with the Cardinals and Seahawks, but they’ve met the Colts, Jets, and Jaguars in the following weeks. Those are three bottom-tier offenses, and Tennessee still struggled for stops along the way.

So, there is at least some pessimism in this matchup.

Josh Allen vs. Titans defense

Josh Allen is a mismatch for any defense. It’s why despite his poor college tape, he was drafted No. 7 overall. He’s a 6-foot-5, 240-pound physical presence with the ball in his hand. And he has an arm he has to register with the ATF.

Allen can hurt defenses in so many ways. He’s far more accurate now than he was when he entered the league — his current CPOE is over 9% higher than when in 2018.

Allen’s also become proficient at “quarterbacking,” which I arbitrarily define as the traditional values we covet in a quarterback. He’s processing the field at a far greater level than he did early on. He’s making good decisions and avoiding unnecessary turnovers.

Oh, and he can take off and run, too. Allen has 27 rushing touchdowns in 49 career games. His athleticism and his massive frame make him a menace to defenses in the red zone. You never want to see your franchise quarterback taking shots, but in those high-leverage situations, it’s nice to have one that can.

Tennessee’s defense has already allowed a few rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks in 2021. Aside from Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry, there isn’t a whole lot for Allen to fear.

Furthermore, the PFN staff had Allen winning the MVP in our season predictions.

Advantage: Bills

Bills weapons vs. Titans defensive backs

The Bills certainly aren’t short on offensive weapons at their disposal. Stefon Diggs had arguably the best season of any receiver in 2020. Emmanuel Sanders has been a massive addition for Buffalo, averaging nearly 17 yards per catch and 4 receiving TDs. He’s currently sitting at just 52 fewer yards than Diggs through five games.

Cole Beasley is still open to catch anything that comes his direction, and it appears the Dawson Knox breakout season is finally upon us. Knox has a team-leading 5 TDs through the team’s first five games. More importantly, he’s only been charged with 1 drop so far in 2021. He’s cut his drops nearly in half in each of his three NFL seasons.

Heck, the Bills have so many options that Gabriel Davis has become an afterthought in an offense he caught 7 touchdowns in just a season ago.

Kevin Byard is great, and Kristian Fulton is playing some decent football, but the Bills simply have too much. Jackrabbit Jenkins is nearly 33 years old, and teams have found success targeting the Titans’ linebackers. This feels like an extension of Knox’s breakout is on the docket for Monday night.

Advantage: Bills

Bills offensive line vs. Titans defensive line

If there is one sore spot on this Bills team, it’s the offensive line. This is how contending teams must look to get an edge on Buffalo. The Steelers used this tactic against the Bills with great success in Week 1.

Unfortunately for Tennessee, they don’t have Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, Melvin Ingram, or Alex Highsmith. They’ll need monstrous games from Simmons and Landry to keep Allen stationary in the pocket. The Titans need a coordinated attack that their talent probably won’t allow for.

But we’re looking at this independent of Allen’s ability to escape pressure. In that vein, I think it’s safe to project some issues keeping Simmons from collapsing the pocket a few times and keeping Landry from softening rush angles around the arc.

Advantage: Push

Buffalo Bills defense vs. Tennessee Titans offense

As a firm believer that it’s nearly impossible to play defense in the modern NFL, I’m still a bit shaken by the Bills’ defensive performance in 2021. Everything I’ve ever seen tells me their pace isn’t sustainable. But through five weeks and against the no-doubt most efficient offense in the NFL (even after facing the Bills), they are having a historic defensive season.

From an EPA/play perspective against the Chiefs, they finished as the eighth-best defense in Week 5. Their single-week DVOA against KC was the second-best defensive performance of the week. Only the Eagles against the Panthers had a more efficient defensive day.

So, can this be a defensive anomaly if Buffalo’s defense performs as a top-10 unit against even the greatest offense in the league?

Meanwhile, Tennessee’s offense is sputtering after being a top-five unit the past two seasons with Arthur Smith calling plays. If you simply look at individual player grades, one might think this offense should be a well-oiled machine. Even when looking at the roster, you’d think the same thing.

But something isn’t working, and it isn’t easy to decipher why by just looking at analytical metrics. Although they should be working, the offense is disjointed. Injuries to both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones have tanked the passing attack as well, considering there was practically no depth behind them to begin with.

Ryan Tannehill vs. Bills defense

Just a few short months ago, I would have sprinted to give the advantage to Ryan Tannehill here. Unfortunately for Titans fans, the NFL moves fast. Tannehill appears far less comfortable with the Titans’ current play-calling, and it’s affecting his production.

The play-calling itself might be partly the issue as well. Tannehill’s success rate on dropbacks ranks seventh in the NFL, but he ranks 20th in EPA/play. The passing attack feels disjointed, and losing playmakers like Brown and Jones this early in the season will skew his outlook.

Tannehill’s still a good quarterback, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Titans’ offense came out swinging against the Bills. However, everything we’ve seen to date tells us this will be a defensive clinic by Buffalo.

Advantage: Bills

Titans weapons vs. Bills defensive backs

I still believe that Brown and Jones are one of the most talented receiving duos of my lifetime. Eventually, it just has to work for the Titans’ offense. There’s no way with them and Derrick Henry that Tennessee is held down in the bottom third of the league.

Tre’Davious White is one of the most talented cornerbacks in the NFL, and the Bills have the best safety duo. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are a godsend on a defense that already has talent at all three levels.

It’s not often a team feels better about their CB3 than their CB2, but the Bills have the luxury of Taron Johnson denying the slot from opposing receivers. Levi Wallace is where the Titans must try to attack.

Advantage: Titans

Titans offensive line vs. Bills front seven

Remember, when we’re talking about line play, King Henry is not part of this conversation. The Bills’ defensive line rotation is bountiful. They play a ton of guys, keeping them incredibly fresh throughout the course of games.

Star Lotulelei is still playing at a respectable level, and Ed Oliver has improved from somewhat disappointing play in the past. However, the biggest difference comes on the edge. A.J. Epenesa slimmed down and is playing at a completely different level this season. Furthermore, Gregory Rousseau came out firing on all cylinders after opting out of football in 2020.

Nobody outside of possibly the Bills’ organization expected him to look the way he has so early on. Add in veteran Jerry Hughes who’s playing at a high level still, and you have a complete front four.

And we haven’t even hit the linebackers yet. Matt Milano is unbelievable. He’s a big safety, and in a passing league, there’s no greater asset at linebacker. Then, you have the 23-year-old Tremaine Edmunds in his fourth NFL season at the other linebacker position. His athleticism is unique given his size, and it allows him to make plays sideline to sideline.

Tannehill will have his hands full.

Advantage: Bills

Betting line and game prediction

The line for the Bills vs. Titans feels kind of low at just 6 points in Buffalo’s favor as of Saturday morning. This Bills team is averaging wins by three scores through five games, and that includes a loss in Week 1.

They’ve been utterly dominant, which is something we very rarely ever see in a league with such parity. Unless they somehow have a letdown game after beating the brakes off the Chiefs, this contest won’t be close. That is unless they allow the Titans to crawl back late as the Buccaneers did with the Eagles.

But the Bills haven’t shown that yet. They’re burying teams. And with a bye week following the Titans game, I don’t think they let up here.

Bills vs. Titans Prediction: Bills 35, Titans, 21

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch

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