Thursday Night Football Best Bets Strategies - Week 11

An AFC East matchup for the... well, not quite ages, but it'll do.

Two Ryans enter, one Ryan leaves. Fitzpatrick or Tannehill: who will claim sole dominion over the first name Ryan for all Quarterbacking Time?!

OK, so maybe this game doesn't have too many storylines. But it's not yet hopeless for either Bills or Dolphins fans. Our current projections give the 4-5 Miami squad an 8.5% chance of making the playoffs entering Week 11, while 3-6 Buffalo still hangs on with a 4.8% chance of their own. And if either team has any hope and prayer, this is one game they need to have.

So which team takes it home on Thursday night? For our official predictions, you'll need to check out our official numberFire premium selections. But for a sneak peek into our thought process and the stats we're looking at for this game, read on.

The Spiller Effect

Surprising to those who have watched a football game in the past five seasons, the Bills' offense has been moderately effective so far this season. With numberFire's #13 opponent-adjusted offense, the Bills have only been slightly less efficient than either the Texans (#11) or Ravens (#12) so far this season. Fear the Fitzpatrick.

But that high rating is due to one player much more than the others: running back C.J. Spiller. As I noted yesterday, Spiller has been the most effective running back in the league this season, and it's not even close. His 0.20 NEP per rush would be the single-highest average of any running back with at least ten carries per game since 2000; Jamaal Charles's 0.18 NEP per rush in 2010 is second.

Especially when compared with Fred Jackson's numbers, it makes sense that the Bills should be an even more efficient team than normal with Spiller as the primary back tonight. In his 75 rushes, Jackson has been the polar opposite of Spiller: he's currently averaging -0.20 NEP per rush.

Shut Down, Shut Out

If you like really high-stakes bets, then you might not only want to pick the Bills to beat down the Dolphins, but to shut them out entirely.

At the very least, numberFire's analytics believe it could happen. We examined every game from the past 12 years, and the two historical games with the highest similarity to this particular matchup in terms of team composition and ability were shutouts favoring the Bills' side. The first, the Bills-Redskins matchup from last October, ended with a 23-0 Bills victory. The second game, a San Francisco (similar to Buffalo) against Chicago matchup from December 2000, ended as a 17-0 Niners victory. Both games have roughly an 88% similarity to this particular game.

But be warned: betting on the Bills' defense right now is a risky proposition. They're currently numberFire's dead-last defensive unit in opponent-adjusted efficiency so far this season. I'm just saying that if it's ever going to happen, the Dolphins would not be a bad team to bet on it happening against.

And the Panthers Will Feast

But another trend might indicate that the Dolphins do in fact have a solid shot at victory. We took a look at the most similar historical single teams to these two squads as well, and the highest similarity for either team is the current Dolphins squad to the 2007 Carolina Panthers. That year, John Fox's squad finished 7-9, with a five game losing streak in the middle of the season killing their chances.

Against the worst defenses in the league, however, those Panthers were able to get going. The Fighting Delhommes went 4-2 against the ten teams with the least-efficient defenses that season, splitting against division rivals New Orleans and Atlanta and defeating both the Cardinals and the Rams.

When comparing those results to tonight's Dolphins/Bills matchup, the Carolina games against New Orleans and Arizona stick out like the best indicators. Like Buffalo, both of those teams had average to above average offenses (the power of Warner and Brees), but absolutely dreadful defenses. And in going 2-1 against those teams, the Panthers combined for 17.9 points above expectation, stuffing the offense but still taking advantage of the weak defensive play.