Heavily Favored Bills Host Low-Flying Falcons

Expect Josh Allen to air it out as the Bills try to put themselves in position to lock up the AFC East
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It’s hard to overstate how important last week’s victory over the New England Patriots was for the Buffalo Bills.

They entered the season as heavy favorites to win the AFC East, but as recently as two weeks ago, they were two games behind the Pats and bettors could get +250 odds on the Bills to win the division at DraftKings. And now, after last week’s 33-21 win at Foxborough? The Bills are far more massive favorites to win the division than they were in the preseason. They’re listed at -700 at DraftKings and -800 at BetMGM.

Now all the Bills have to do is beat the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets at home and they will have locked up the division. As the past two weeks have demonstrated, however, anything can happen in this rather erratic division. New England’s last two games are against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins. So the Bills can put themselves in the garden spot with a win this week over the Falcons, but they could also see their odds swing wildly again with an upset loss.

Let’s delve into some of the sports betting angles on this one:

Let it snow, let it snow?

Any preview of a game in Buffalo has to start with the weather forecast, right? That assertion seems particularly true when the Bills are playing a team that practices in warm weather and plays its games in a dome.

The Falcons haven’t played a cold-weather game all season. Two of their last five games were indoors, while the other three were at San Francisco, Carolina and Jacksonville.

As of Thursday morning, the forecast for Sunday afternoon called for temperatures just under freezing and a bit of light snow. In other words, it will be a pretty nice January day by Buffalo standards, but might still be a bit jarring to Atlanta’s players.

The lines

Bookmakers expect the Bills, and particularly their defense, to dominate. The Bills are -14.5 virtually everywhere, but DraftKings was offering them at -14 as of Thursday morning. Some books, such as FanDuel, have the over-under total at 44, while others, including BetMGM, have it at 44.5 as of this writing.

The Bills have generally bulldozed weak teams, covering the spread or pushing in four of their five games as double-digit favorites and going 7-1-1 against teams with losing records this season. The Falcons, surprisingly, still have slim (2%) playoff hopes at 7-8, but they’ve done most of their winning against awful teams. They are 1-5 against the spread when they have played teams with a winning record, and that one win ATS came against the Trevor Siemian-led Saints back on Nov. 7.

When the Bills have the ball

Bills quarterback Josh Allen put himself back in the MVP picture with his performance in Foxborough, though it’s worth noting that he’s still +1200 at DraftKings as Aaron Rodgers (-175) appears to be close to locking it up. The news got even better for Allen and the Bills offense this week when they learned that slot receiver Cole Beasley and offensive lineman Jon Feliciano were off the COVID list.

Allen is running the No. 2 passing offense in the league and he’ll be facing the No. 29 pass defense in the NFL. As versatile as Allen is (with more than 600 rushing yards and more than 4,000 passing yards), the Bills’ game plan figures to be pass-heavy this week, though he’s always capable of turning a broken play into a long scramble.

When the Falcons have the ball

Atlanta probably isn’t as good as its record suggests. Its -122 point differential is better than only the Lions, Texans, Jaguars and Jets. With no running game to speak of (31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game), Matt Ryan will probably let it fly.

Maybe that will work, but it’s also dangerous. Buffalo’s defense is third in the league in takeaways and No. 2 in pass defense. Ryan looked fine last week against a bad pass defense in Detroit, but he has completed more than 19 passes just once in his last seven games. Against a one-dimensional offense, the Bills defense shouldn’t find this game particularly challenging.

The upshot

Perhaps gutsy bettors can convince themselves to take the underdog in this one, but most of the matchups seem to be pointing the other way. This game seems like as easy a spot as the Bills could find themselves in for this time of year. All they have to do is not screw it up.

Photo: David Butler/USA Today

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