The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in every game of the 2023 NFL season. This series will look at five key matchups; Bills Pass Offense vs. Opponent Pass Defense, Bills Rush Offense vs. Opponent Rush Defense, Bills Pass Defense vs. Opponent Pass Offense, Bills Rush Defense vs. Opponent Rush Offense, and Bills Special Teams vs. Opponent Special Teams. This entire analysis will conclude with three sections; “Why Buffalo Will Lose”, “Why Buffalo Will Win”, and a score prediction for the game.
Below I present 2023’s second edition of this analysis for the Bills’ Week 2 clash with the Las Vegas Raiders. Included is my “patented” 👏 scale which ranks the advantage in each matchup from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage) to 👏 (Minimal Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Raiders Pass Defense
You can’t win in the NFL when your Quarterback turns the ball over four times, and that is precisely what happened to the Bills in Week 1. In what can only be described as a disastrous performance, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen struggled to maintain possession for the Bills and as a result cost his team a Week 1 win. His career isn’t over though, despite what some talking heads have been parroting this past week. This is still the same quarterback who has accounted for 131 touchdowns since 2020 and is one of just three players to receive an MVP vote in multiple seasons over that span (Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes). Allen needs to be better for the Bills to reach their goals this season with a Week 2 matchup with the Raiders providing the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Allen’s weapons will be contending with a secondary this week that is significantly less talented than the Jets but playing almost exclusively in Nickel+ will challenge the Bills at all levels. On the outside at corner are proven ball-hawk (32 career INTs) Marcus Peters and impressive rookie Jakorian Bennett. Those two will contend with Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis both of whom should provide the Bills with mismatches this week that the Raiders will try and counter by being overtly aggressive. At nickel is the versatile Nate Hobbs who will need to contend with a spectrum of slot receivers that range from the speedy Deonte Harty (WR) to the big-bodied Dalton Kincaid (TE). At 6’0” 195 pounds and with a 9.62 RAS, Hobbs is built to do just that and should help the Raiders slow the Bills down in the intermediate. Behind all of them is a safety duo of Marcus Epps and Tre’von Moehrig who are more noted for their tackling abilities than their ball skills. Allen couldn’t find his deep ball against the Jets last week but against this Raiders team should have ample opportunities to test them down the field.
While the Bills have a borderline extreme advantage at the skill position in their passing game, the Raiders have nearly as big an advantage at left end. Maxx Crosby has become one of the league’s premier pass rushers and on Sunday will be matched up with one of the league’s worst right tackles in Spencer Brown. The Bills will likely counter him by lining Dawson Knox (TE) up on Spencer Brown’s right hip, but Crosby has proven that even consistent double teams can’t slow him down. Maxx Crosby will pave the Raiders’ path to winning, and if he gets in Allen’s head early, Bills fans could be in for a repeat of Week 1. On the other side, the Raiders expected to have Chandler Jones this season but some off-the-field drama has kept him away from the Raiders, meaning a rotation of rookie Tyree Wilson and Malcolm Koonce rush opposite Crosby. Wilson, the seventh-overall pick this year, and Koonce, a special teams player, should challenge Dion Dawkins (LT) this week but it should often be a challenge that Dawkins outright wins.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Raiders Rush Defense
In Week 1, the Bills relied heavily on the trap game to run against the Jets and while it didn’t work every time (see second-and-15) it did work most of the time. Five different players ran the ball for the Bills against the Jets and as a team averaged a respectable 4.41 Y/A. This strategy was the result of scouting the Bills’ opponent as the Jets have historically struggled with defending traps, but moving forward should not be the expectation of the offense. The Bills have more horses in the backfield than they have had in seasons past and should be able to unleash them in varying ways as the season continues to unfold.
Against the Raiders that means more James Cook and more traditional-looking handoffs. Cook looked the part for the Bills in Week 1 as a player who is becoming more north-south and seeing holes with excellent vision. Against the Raiders those holes will need to be opened by Connor McGovern (LG), Mitch Morse (C), and O’Cyrus Torrence (RG) all of whom looked solid, all things considered, against the Jets. Those three will be pushing back a Raiders interior DL that has solid depth and will rotate five players throughout the game. Of those five, Jerry Tillery, Bilal Nichols, and John Jenkins are the Raiders primaries, each of whom presents a unique challenge. A former first-round pick (2019 No. 28), Tillery was waived by the Chargers in mid-2022 and claimed by the Raiders as a versatile inside/outside chess piece that can produce matchup issues. Nichols is a more traditional DT with proven ability to play in the 1 or 3-tech where he has accounted for 40+ tackles each of the past three seasons. Last is the 34-year-old John Jenkins who at 6’3” and 335 pounds has built a career as a nose tackle preventing offensive linemen from getting to the second level. A solid trio for Las Vegas makes life easier for a linebacker duo that needs all the help they can get.
Since the Raiders are in Nickel+ nearly every play, their ability to stop the run relies heavily on Robert Spillane (LB) and Divine Deablo (LB). Spillane has spent the past four seasons with the Steelers before signing a two-year, $7 million contract to be the Raiders’ middle linebacker. A subpar athlete, Spillane relies heavily on instincts to overcome his limitations and is solid at fitting runs inside the tackles. Deablo is the polar opposite of Spillane as a gifted athlete whose instincts are questionable at best. He is capable of playing on any level of the Raiders’ defense and unlike Spillane excels at bringing down runners outside the tackle box. This in particular should make Deablo the likely spy for the Raiders as the player who will need to account for Allen on most plays. Allen tends to get aggressive on the ground after rough outings, making the Allen vs. Deablo matchup one to watch at Highmark Stadium on Sunday.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Raiders Pass Offense
For the first time in almost two years, the Bills were able to trot out their All-Pro trio of DBs in Week 1…and we still can’t be sure what to make of them. They did hold Jets quarterbacks to a QuBeR of just 29.36 but in a game where the Jets lost Aaron Rodgers after just four snaps and against Zach Wilson for the remainder of the game, how much does that really mean? That being said, Micah Hyde looked as good as ever, Tre White looks fully healed from his ACL tear, and Jordan Poyer is still…Jordan Poyer. The hope is now that as the season goes on that trio, along with Taron Johnson (CB) and Christian Benford (CB), continue to mesh building towards what should be a top-five pass defense come season’s end.
This week the Bills will be tested in the air by a Raiders team that is now led by Jimmy Garoppolo. A player who isn’t going to wow anyone through the air, Garoppolo somehow always finds ways to lead his team to victory to the tune of a .707 career win percentage. Now in Las Vegas Jimmy G has a chance to make some real noise for a team that has some talented skill players. At wide receiver, that features All-World Davante Adams and the versatile and talented Jakobi Meyers. On a Hall of Fame trajectory, Adams has been a first-team All-Pro each of the past three seasons and should cause some issues for the Bills secondary. He has the size and speed to give any CB trouble which will place an extra emphasis on Micah Hyde to play center fielder for the Bills this weekend. He’s now joined by Jakobi Meyers who was Garoppolo’s favorite target in Week 1. Meyers had 10 targets and nine receptions for 81 yards and two touchdowns against a solid Broncos defense. He did most of this on the outside but has historically seen more work out of the slot causing matchup issues for opponents. Problem is, Meyers may not play, coming out of concussion protocol, which will test the Raiders shallow depth of pass catchers. The most likely replacement is Hunter Renfrow (WR) who only played 13 snaps for the Raiders in Week #1 and if not him the Raiders will have to rely on Austin Hooper (TE) and/or DeAndre Carter (WR) to make up for Meyers abscence.
The small number of pass catchers is exasperated by a Raiders offensive line that is average at best. Bills fans will fondly remember Greg Van Roten who was a reserve player that was forced to play for Buffalo last season. He’s the Raiders starting right guard. To be fair, the Raiders are much better on the edge where both Kolton Miller (LT) and Jermaine Eluemunor (RT) are plus players at their respective positions propping up an otherwise abysmal unit. The Bills are set to leverage this against Las Vegas as one of the few bright spots from Buffalo’s Week 1 loss was how well their pass rush played. Both Leonard Floyd and Greg Rousseau were consistently in the backfield accounting for five pressures for the Bills. Add to those two Ed Oliver who played an impressive game as an interior pass rusher as well as Matt Milano who the Bills blitzed three times and Buffalo seems poised to make Sunday a rough day for Garoppolo.
ADVANTAGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Raiders Rush Offense
Wild and wacky things happen in Week 1, so while a loss may be demoralizing, it’s not the end of the world. For the Bills, those wacky things included an 83-yard run by Breece Hall that didn’t result in a touchdown for the Jets thanks in large part to Christian Benford’s hustle. That play alone has led to a lot of fans and analysts overexaggerating how poorly the Bills’ run defense played against the Jets. Outside of that one run though the Jets averaged just 3.3 Y/A in a game where Terrel Bernard played significantly better at MLB than many of his critics suggest. Yes, some things need to get cleaned up, particularly tackling and LBs and DBs getting washed into the mud, but for the most part, what is viewed as the biggest weakness for this Bills team played well enough in Week 1.
In Week 2 the Bills can ill-afford to make similar mistakes as they did against the Jets when they take on one of the best backs in the league. Josh Jacobs enters this year coming off a 2022 where he earned first-team All-Pro honors while generating a whopping 2,053 scrimmage yards. Week 1 saw a rusty version of Jacobs generate just 2.5 Y/A but it’s only a matter of time until that rust gets shaken off. In fact, last season Jacobs had the same number of games averaging over 7.0 Y/A (two) as he did average under 3.0 Y/A. He’s a well-rounded back who looks to deliver punishment whenever possible and often gets to do so behind one of the better fullbacks in the league, Jakob Johnson. These two make it difficult for any individual to bring down Jacobs which means the Bills are going to need all seven players behind the defensive line to rally to the ball each play. That means Bernard continuing to improve on his Week 1, Matt Milano continuing to play like an All-Pro, and the Bills DBs to make tackles more consistently in the open field. If any of that fails against the Raiders, watch out for Jacobs to put up massive numbers.
Where the Bills do have some margin for error is in the trenches. In Week 1, only four of Jacob’s 19 carries were bounced outside of the tackle box meaning the Bills DTs have the ability to alter the outcome of this matchup. For the most part that means Ed Oliver and DaQuan Jones winning their battles up front and the likes of Jordan Phillips, Tim Settle, and Poona Ford winning theirs when called upon. Doing that against a subpar interior OL that features Dylan Parham (LG), Andre James (C), and Greg Van Roten (RG) is something that the Bills’ defensive linemen should not only be capable of but should do so more often than not. In theory, this should leave the likes of Bernard and Milano clean, each of whom have above average instincts and play recognition which should mean making contact at or behind the line of scrimmage on most plays for the Bills linebackers.
ADVANTAGE: Raiders 👏👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Raiders Special Teams
Tyler Bass may very well have been the Bills’ MVP on Monday night. The Bills’ kicker drilled an extra point and three field goals including a 50-yard attempt to tie the game with six seconds on the clock. Arguably a top-five kicker in the league, Bass is on track for what he hopes will be an All-Pro season in 2023. That’s where the good for Buffalo ends. As far as the Bills’ return men went, they only produced one return, a four-yard punt return by Deonte Harty. Worse than that, Sam Martin punted the ball only three times but his final one would be returned 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown in overtime. The Bills consistently have one of the best special teams units in the NFL but in 2023 they are off to a rough start.
The Raiders don’t arguably have a top-five kicker, they arguably have the second-best kicker in the NFL. Daniel Carlson earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2021 and first-team All-Pro honors in 2022 as the place kicker currently entrenched behind Justin Tucker in reasonable Kkcker rankings. His Week 1 was uneventful yet still perfect where he hit both his extra points as well as a 24-yard field goal. At Punter, A.J. Cole punted just once in Week 1, a 49-yard punt that wasn’t returned. He’s in the conversation for best punter in the league, earning back-to-back Pro Bowl nods and first-team All-Pro honors in 2021. Lastly, at return is seasoned veteran DeAndre Carter. He has 108 career punt returns at a 9.8 Y/PR as well as 107 career Kick Returns at 22.3 Y/KR. A solid option in return, it’s rare that Carter hits on a big one, but he’s a solid player, nonetheless.
ADVANTAGE: Raiders 👏👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
Turnovers. The answer to why Buffalo will lose this year and beyond is turnovers. Allen isn’t a “turnover machine” as it’s being purported but he is turnover prone. For the Raiders that means DBs hopping passes and Crosby attacking Allen’s right arm whenever he gets past Brown, which he will do. A pick or two by the likes of Peters and/or a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage will have the ability to completely alter this game and keep the Bills offense in the rut it is currently in.
On offense, the Raiders are well-balanced and should be able to find some running and passing lanes. It’s only a matter of time until Josh Jacobs rounds back into form with this being the week that it could undoubtedly happen. Add to that Meyers beating Benford on a couple of double moves and Adams winning some contested balls over White and/or Hyde and there is no reason the Raiders can’t put up 20+ points.
Why Buffalo Will Win
A three-interception game by Allen is an anomaly. In 86 career games, Allen has three games with three picks. Know who else has three such games? Patrick Mahomes. Allen will be fine and if there was ever a game for him to get back on track it’s against this Raiders defense. Yes, Crosby will be an issue upfront but the Bills have mismatches all over the board they should be able to leverage to get receivers open. Add to that a running game that looks poised to take off and it shouldn’t be surprising if Davis and/or Cook leave Sunday’s contest with 100+ yards.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills have the players to contain the Raiders on the ground and through the air. Up front, the Bills should overwhelm the Raiders’ offensive line and get to Garoppolo early and often. Even if that doesn’t come to fruition the Bills palms scheme should contain Adams while keeping Meyers from beating them deep. Buffalo played a good defensive game against the Jets and there is reason to believe they will play a better one against the Raiders.
Prediction: Bills 31 – Raiders 17
Heading into this write up the plan was to take the Bills to win outright but not cover the spread. I can’t reasonably do that. The Bills not only match up with the Raiders extremely well but they are also outright better than them at a ton of different positions. There is very real concern that Crosby wrecks this game like the game wrecker he is, but Buffalo knows that is a possibility and is poised to plan against that. With everyone outside Buffalo acting like the Bills season is over the Bills rout the Raiders at home in a game that reminds everyone that Buffalo is still a team to be trifled with.