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Lessons learned from NFL Week 4

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We are about one-fourth of the way into the NFL season, and if we have learned anything, it is that we know nothing. Three of the four undefeated teams went down last weekend, losing by an average of 12.6 points. The NFC favorites heading into the weekend, the Los Angeles Rams, were smoked quicker than a joint at a Grateful Dead concert by the Arizona Cardinals.

 

Perception is not reality, so it is important for handicappers to do more work than surface-level analysis of the results. This week we analyze the Buffalo Bills’ hot start, the underrated strength of the Cleveland Browns and the nightmare unfolding in South Beach for the Miami Dolphins.

 

Bills Still Have Much To Prove

 

The betting market seems to have bought into the Buffalo Bills. After a 40-0 demolition of the Houston Texans last weekend, the line for their Sunday night meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs easily moved through the key number of -3 and currently sits at -2.5 at most shops. On the surface it is easy to understand the infatuation with Buffalo. The Bills have won and covered three straight, have outscored their opponents by 97 points and have averaged 39.3 points per game. On the other side we have a Chiefs team that just covered its first game of the season and its second in 15 tries while saddled with one of the worst defenses in the league. These are facts, but another fact is that the Bills have faced absolutely no team of merit and Sunday’s game will be a massive litmus test for a team padding its resume against some of the league’s worst teams.

 

The Bills are the highest-graded defense by PFF standards (82.8) and second in defensive DVOA, according to Football Outsiders (-31.1 percent). This unit has pitched two shutouts and allowed just four offensive touchdowns while allowing the fewest yards per play (4.0). However, look at the level of offense it has faced. By DVOA standards, the best offense the Bills have faced is Washington, which ranks 20th (-4.3 percent). Pittsburgh, Houston and Miami rank 26th or lower in yards per play, and none is higher than 24th in PFF’s overall offensive grading. This unit is third in defensive average depth of target allowed (6.1) and air yards allowed (312), but Jacoby Brissett is the best quarterback Buffalo has faced from a PFF passing-grade standpoint. And not only does he rank 21st, but he also came in for an injured Tua Tagovailoa. Ben Roethlisberger, Taylor Heinicke and Davis Mills come in 28th or lower in that category. We have seen time and again that a defense is only as good as the offenses it faces, and this is a great example. 

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