The Buffalo Bills’ loss to the Patriots is now fully in the rearview, so it’s time to focus on the objects in the windshield known as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs enter this one riding a two-game losing streak where their fans should be even more upset than Bills Mafia. In that pair of games, Tampa put together six points vs. Detroit and 13 vs. Atlanta. That math explains why the Bills are 8.5-point favorites with 95% of moneyline bets on Buffalo. Those numbers mean nothing, as we have learned over the last few weeks. Enough of the gambling chatter; I know you want info on how the Bills will win on Thursday, so here are my five keys to a Bills victory inside Highmark Stadium on Thursday Night Football.
Man (men) in the Middle
Let’s start with some nerd numbers and get those out of the way. Heading into Thursday, the Bucs have one of the league’s worst interior offensive lines. I’m going to flood you with Pro Football Focus stats in this segment. Guards Matt Feiler and Cody Mauch have pass block grades of 65.0 and 62.8, respectively. Those are 31st and 37th among guards to take at least 20% of their team snaps. The numbers are worse for center Robert Hainey, who has a 58.8 grade, or 16th in the league. Those grades in “true pass sets” continue to decline, with the trio coming in at 41.4, 45.4, and 58.8. Looking at hurries allowed and things sway further in Buffalo’s favor. Feiler has allowed ten hurries and Mauch eight, 60th and 46th out of 80. Hainey has allowed nine hurries, 28th out of 38 for the qualified center. Regardless of who is in for Buffalo, they need to get after Baker Mayfield.
Finish the Rush
As poor as the above stats look for the Bucs, they aren’t allowing many sacks. Tampa Bay has only allowed 1.3 sacks per game. That is a 3.76% sack percentage or second-best in the NFL. When Buffalo finds itself in the backfield, it must finish with Mayfield on his butt.
I’m a broken record at this point, but with the Bucs only scoring 17.2 points per game, good (or bad) enough for 26th in the league, the Bills need to get out quickly and run away with this one. That may be easier typed than done, as Buffalo hasn’t scored a point in their last three first quarters. Find whatever it was they had during their first three wins where the Bills scored 21, 16, and 31 points in the first half of those games. Do that and win!
Own 3rd Down
Tampa Bay is 32nd, in case you didn’t know that is last, in opponents converting third downs at 50% on the season. The Bills are third in third-down conversions success rate at 48.3%. I don’t need to say much more here than to keep those two trends going on Thursday.
The Bucs are 20th in the league in completion percentage against at 66.5%. They are also being gashed in passing yards allowed, with 246.7 per game or the 27th-worst mark. Flipping to the Bills sideline, Buffalo is second in completion percentage with 70.73% and sixth overall in passing yards per game at 256.9. I’m not a coach, but as a guy on his couch, it seems like they should be able to move the ball through the air.