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Nov 14, 2017

NFL preview: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Chargers

Why the Bills have struggled in recent years

Bills vs. Chargers betting: Can Buffalo get the win?

How important is Rivers to the Chargers’ success?

NFL preview: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Chargers

We’re now over halfway into the NFL season. Some teams look destined for the playoffs, while others only have faint hopes of postseason football. The Buffalo Bills travel to LA for the highlight game in Week 11. Is there value in the Bills vs. Chargers betting? Read on for some expert Bills vs. Chargers odds analysis.

Why the Bills have struggled in recent years

After over a decade of virtually uninterrupted post-season involvement from the late 1980’s to the turn of the century, the Buffalo Bills have since been strangers to elimination football.

The emergence of the New England Patriots as the dominant force in the AFC East has been one stumbling block for the Bills. They’ve won just four out of the last 34 games against the Pats, and half of those wins came when Tom Brady was absent. 

Both teams are of similar quality, although the Bills’ weaknesses have been ruthlessly exposed in recent weeks with little sign that they are able to compensate or adjust.

But much of the drought has also been the self-inflicted constant rebuilding of coaching and front office staff and that cycle continues with the 2017 appointment of Sean McDermott as head coach. 

No head coach has lasted more than three seasons in Buffalo since they dominated the AFC Conference under Marv Levy.

In turn, the pressure has grown on quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a 6th round pick for Baltimore in 2011, who many saw as a wide receiver prospect, as well as a passer. 

Taylor’s athleticism and willingness to run helped to lift the Bills’ ground game to league highs in 2016. They ran for 5.3 yards per carry against defences that only allowed 4.1 yards per carry. 

They’ve not repeated in 2017. Their ground attack is languishing outside the top 20, gaining 0.2 fewer yards per carry than their opponents allow.

Bills vs. Chargers betting: Can Buffalo get the win?

Amidst a change to a shorter passing approach, aimed at utilising Taylor’s mobility and last year’s effective running game, Buffalo’s passing efficiency remains stuck in a below average rut.

The Bills passed for 0.3 fewer yards per pass attempt than was par for their opponents in 2016, and that under-performance remains in 2017. 

There was little to commend the Bills’ defence in 2016. They were below average against both the run and the pass, while allowing 2 more points per game to be scored compared to the average output of their opponents.

They’re slightly better than average against the pass in 2017, but the run defence remains a concern. Particularly after the way they were bullied for a second week in a row on the ground by New Orleans, who dialled up 24 consecutive running plays in Sunday’s resounding win.

Despite LA’s losing record and Buffalo’s winning one, both teams have Pythagorean win percentages just below 0.500, with the Chargers slightly shading the Bills.

Buffalo’s 5-2 start was well earned. Taylor protected the football, found the end zone and provided variety by running at least half a dozen times per game.

But they are now clinging to a wildcard spot, with familiar calls for a change under centre and an upcoming schedule that offers little respite from divisional rivals, notably home and away to New England.

They also owe their current sixth seeding to the abundance of AFC teams with sub-par records at the moment. Ten compared to just six in the rival NFC. 

How important is Rivers to the Chargers’ success? 

The newly installed Los Angeles Chargers are led by 14-year veteran Philip Rivers, currently listed as “uncertain” for Sunday’s game.

Acquired by the Chargers in a 2004 draft day deal with the Giants that sent Eli Manning to New York and Super Bowl glory, he then sat behind Drew Brees, before Brees was traded to New Orleans and further Super Bowl success.

The then San Diego Chargers were consistent post-season contenders in Rivers’ peak but failed to claim a Conference championship.

Never blessed with a classical throwing style, Rivers remains the mainstay of the organisation, even if his numbers are inevitably in decline and his targets are less formidable than previously. His go-to guy in the Chargers heyday, Antonio Gates is now used more sparingly and with a declining pass completion rate.

Buffalo has been assisted by a positive turnover differential of eleven - the league’s best in a category that often becomes less extreme with time.

Injuries to Rivers’ offensive weapons have been less of an issue in 2017 than in 2016 and he’s responded with another passing display that just creeps into the top ten for efficiency.

However, his completion rate also remains at the lower end of his career span, but he’s effectively arrested the glut of interceptions than undermined the Chargers’ final campaign in San Diego.

If the offence has stalled in 2017, they are scoring just 18.5 points per game against teams that are typically allowing 22.8 points per game, some of the blame should also rest with the ground attack.

Negative yardage plays and a rushing rate that gains just 90% of the yards per rush allowed on average by their opponent, has led to an unbalanced offence, where running is largely abandoned leading to a one-dimensional reliance on Rivers’ arm.

Defensively, the Chargers are similar to the Bills. A mid-table ranking, underpinned by an above average pass defence and a struggling rushing defence. 

They’ve fared better on the scoreboard. No team has overrun the Chargers in the manner that the Bills capitulated most recently to the Jets and the Saints, conceding 81 points over the two contests.

LA has allowed 3.6 points per game fewer than their opponents have averaged in 2017 and four of their six losses have been by a field goal or fewer points.

Bills vs. Chargers odds: What do the stats suggest?

Despite LA’s losing record and Buffalo’s winning one, both teams have Pythagorean win percentages just below 0.500, with the Chargers slightly shading the Bills.

Neither has LA benefitted from an excessive turnover differential, their takeaways outnumber their giveaways by just one. Whereas Buffalo has been assisted by a positive turnover differential of eleven - the league’s best in a category that often becomes less extreme with time.

The game has long-term significance for the Bills; a loss will decimate their current 30+% chance of finally re-joining the post season party, whereas the Chargers are currently languishing as the AFC’s 13th seeded side. 

Both teams are of similar quality, although the Bills’ weaknesses have been ruthlessly exposed in recent weeks with little sign that they are able to compensate or adjust. 

Matchups favour the home team Chargers by four points, with trends looking like extending their advantage rather than the Bills becoming more competitive. Although the spread will switch to around pick’em if Rivers fails his concussion protocol.

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