Game Overview ::
By hilow >>
- Another weather game this week, with slightly better conditions than are being reported in Cleveland – expect the potential for 20-25 mph winds with gusts around 35 mph (again, I will update this on Friday evening and Saturday morning).
- There are some interesting possibilities regarding the Chicago defense that I don’t see being talked about around the industry – currently just conjecture, but conjecture that is backed up statistically and via other predictive methodologies.
- The matchup against the Bears is one of the top on-paper matchups in the league. It’s simply a matter of where we can expect the volume to flow for the Bills, considering the expected weather and recent trends from the Bears.
- Like last week with the discussion on Jalen Hurts and the Eagles against the Bears, Justin Fields is capable of keeping the Bears within striking distance all by his lonesome, meaning we have the opportunity to stack up one of the top offenses in the league without having to worry about correlated bring-backs – even with the weather expected to be suboptimal.
- The Bears’ pass-catching corps got even more distressed this week as Equanimeous St. Brown picked up a concussion and has yet to practice this week, and newcomer Chase Claypool was a Wednesday downgrade (from limited to non-participant) after a missed contest in Week 15.
How buffalo Will Try To Win ::
The biggest nugget I pulled from the entire week of research involved the Chicago defense and the looks they showed the Eagles last week. In an interview on Tuesday, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni, who is one of the most dynamic play callers in the league, stated that the reason the Eagles threw the ball so heavily against the Bears (and the reason why Miles Sanders was utilized so sparsely) was that the Bears overloaded the box and left their corners in man coverage for the majority of the game – basically daring the Eagles to beat them through the air. As in, not only are the Bears growing their offensive identity, but they are also messing around with what works on defense in a lost year – important information for both the Bears and their weekly opponents (more so for their opponents, to be completely honest). All of that to say, the biggest strength of this Bills offense is its adaptability and multifaceted approach to offense, capable of both designing and executing against what an opposition is showing them. The biggest on-paper and on-tape strength of this Bills offense is the passing game, which leads me to believe we just might see increased rates of zone coverage and a slight bump to blitz rates against the Bills this week (the Bears have blitzed at the eighth lowest rate in the league this season, but Josh Allen has struggled when under pressure). The Bears have already shown a willingness to change their man-zone coverage rates based on the opponent, with man coverage rates ranging all the way from 8.3% (Week 11 against the Falcons) to 54.3% (Week 3 against the Texans). That’s an important thought experiment this week because of the implications for fantasy expectations from a normally spread-out offense.
If what I implied above comes to fruition, I think we will see a bit heavier reliance on the run game from the Bills this week. While that doesn’t mean what it would mean for other teams around the league, it could provide an appreciable collective increase to the workload of the backfield. The biggest problem for fantasy expectations is that the Bills have mixed and matched their running back utilizations over the previous month of play, ranging from a true three-headed timeshare to a 1A/1B situation. After experimenting with 21-personnel alignments in the red zone for two consecutive weeks, the Bills relinquished newcomer Nyheim Hines back to a special teams ace, feeding him only three offensive snaps in total. That saw “lead back” Devin Singletary regain a larger share of the backfield snaps and utilization, clawing his way back up to a 60% snap rate and 17 running back opportunities. Furthermore, after starting the season with nine consecutive games of a pass rate over expectation above league average, the Bills have been hovering right around league average over the previous five games – further indication that we might see a higher reliance on the run here. 18-20 running back opportunities for Devin Singletary, in one of the top on-paper matchups in the league, is a viable outcome here, particularly when you consider the potential for wind to be a factor. Based on recent trends, I tentatively expect James Cook to serve in a traditional change of pace role, capable as both a runner and through the air. That is likeliest to lead to 10-12 running back opportunities. The pure rushing matchup yields a slightly above-average 4.405 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Chicago defense allowing 4.73 yards per carry to opposing backfields.
The other area that the recent trends from Chicago’s defense are likely to influence is with the Bills pass game, which consists of a primary deep threat (Gabe Davis), the prototypical “X” wide receiver (Stefon Diggs), an all-around tight end (Dawson Knox), and multiple situational/role players (Isaiah McKenzie, Cole Beasley, John Brown, Nyhiem Hines, and Quintin Morris). Based on our discussion above, with the expectation that the Bears run heavier rates of zone coverage but also increase their blitz rates, it is reasonable to expect a slight uptick in the schemed involvement of Isaiah McKenzie, who is the Bills’ top situational piece against both the blitz and heavy zone coverages (although it’s likely a significant boost to the expectation for Stefon Diggs as well). Furthermore, there is legitimate potential for Justin Fields to keep the Bears within striking distance for the duration of the game, similar to our discussion on Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia pass-catchers last week (if you missed that one, we discussed it in-depth on The Slate podcast available to Inner Circle members – sign up at the discounted rate for the remainder of the season!). Basically, Stefon Diggs, Isaiah McKenzie, and even Devin Singletary and James Cook see an appreciable theoretical boost under the assumptions we’ve arrived at via the expected alignments from the Bears.