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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 7:00 PM

The more sports bettors study Thursday Night’s NFL matchup featuring the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills, the tougher it is to truly differentiate between the two teams. Sure, one has a much better defense (Miami), while the other has the more experienced quarterback (Buffalo). But, in the big picture, is one clearly superior to the other? Are Las Vegas oddsmakers giving too much credit to one team or the other?

Jim Hurley’s Sports Betting Notebook is here with key stats and indicators that will help you make those determinations.

MIAMI DOLPHINS at BUFFALO BILLS (8:20 p.m. on NFL NETWORK)

Las Vegas Spread: Buffalo by 1, total of 46

Home field advantage is worth three points in the NFL. So, the market is saying that Miami is two-points better on a neutral field. There has been some rumblings of possible line moves higher to -1.5 or -2 amongst sharp contacts. But, that didn’t happen right out of the gate…which tells you professional wagerers in Vegas aren’t particularly enamored with either side. The total of 46 suggests weather is going to be fine for mid-November in Buffalo. You saw totals plummet in Chicago and Pittsburgh in the two most recent prime-time games when it wasn’t fine. Monitor game day line moves just in case the forecast changes.

WON-LOST RECORDS (schedule strength according to USA Today)

Miami: 4-5 (28th ranked schedule)

Buffalo: 3-6 (11th ranked schedule)

Here’s where we get into the question marks. Miami has the better record. But, they’re only one game better…and they played a much easier schedule. If you give Buffalo the 28th ranked schedule (out of 32 NFL teams), they probably jump up to at least 4-5, and might be making a run as a darkhorse playoff contender like Indianapolis. If you give Miami a top dozen schedule, they probably fall back to 3-6 or worse. Already, we have evidence that the markets may be giving too much credit to Miami. Should Miami be -2 on a neutral field based on that data?

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL

Miami: -6

Buffalo: -10

Neither team has done well in the risk/reward area, which is why they both have losing records. For Miami, it’s understandable. They have a rookie quarterback who’s far from a sure thing to succeed at this level. For Buffalo, with a veteran quarterback, a number like -10 is very bad. The team is too reckless on offense, and becomes even more mistake-prone when playing from behind. Of course, if you reverse schedules, maybe those numbers reverse too. Miami’s -6 looks worse when you factor in what an easy schedule they’ve played.

OFFENSIVE STATS

Miami: 323.9 yards-per-game on 5.1 yards-per-play

Buffalo: 358.7 yards-per-game on 5.8 yards-per-play

Buffalo grades out much better on offense. But, some of that is because they’ve been playing from behind so often. It’s easier to post big yardage averages and yards-per-play numbers against prevent defenses who are just kind of laying back and hoping you make a turnover (which Buffalo usually does). Miami struggles on offense whenever Reggie Bush isn’t having a big game. This is not a team that wins with offense unless somebody busts a big play, or the defense sets up cheap points.

DEFENSIVE STATS

Miami: 372.2 yards-per-game on 5.3 yards-per-play

Buffalo: 410.1 yards-per-game on 6.2 yards-per-play

Edge here to Miami, though that’s a disappointing per-game yardage average. What’s happening here is that Miami’s inexperienced offense does such a bad job of running clock that the defense has to stay on the field longer. Allowing 5.3 yards-per-play is okay…but there’s a danger of wearing down if they don’t get any rest on the sidelines. Let’s say it this way…Miami’s defense is better than Buffalo’s (because almost everybody’s defense is better than Buffalo’s!)…but Miami’s defense isn’t as good as their media reputation at the moment.

Note that in per-game yardage differential, Miami is -48.3, while Buffalo is -51.4. That’s virtually dead even, with Buffalo having played the tougher schedule. The yards-per-play differentials are -0.2 or Miami, -0.4 for Buffalo.

LAST WEEK’S BOXES

TENNESSEE 37, MIAMI 3

Total Yardage: Tennessee 293, Miami 255

Rushing Yards: Tennessee 177, Miami 54

Passing Stats: Tennessee 9-22-0-116, Miami 23-39-3-201

Turnovers: Tennessee 0, Miami 4

Third Downs: Tennessee 47%, Miami 15%

Vegas Line: Miami by 6, total of 44.5

Miami played horribly last week, showing up very flat at home after two emotional efforts on the road against the NY Jets (divisional rival) and Indianapolis (nailbiter battle of the rookie QB’s). They clearly didn’t take Tennessee as seriously as they should have given the turnover debacle and poor run defense. They’re better than this. But, they have had issues over the past six games with running the ball and moving the chains. That could matter Thursday in Buffalo.

NEW ENGLAND 37, BUFFALO 31

Total Yardage: Buffalo 481, New England 347

Rushing Yards: Buffalo 162, New England 117

Passing Stats: Buffalo 27-40-1-319, New England 23-38-0-230

Turnovers: Buffalo 3, New England 0

Third Downs: Buffalo 64%, New England 58%

Vegas Line: New England by 13, total of 53

Buffalo was in position to win at the very end, but threw an interception in the end zone in the final moments. You can see that moving the ball wasn’t a problem against the soft New England defense. Turnovers were the difference-maker. Buffalo is 2-0 this year when winning the turnover battle (vs. Kansas City and Cleveland), but they just can’t find a way to do that very often.

 

BEST EXPECTATION

On one side, we have a struggling Miami offense that may have an easier time than normal moving the ball against this poor Buffalo defense. On the other, we have a Buffalo offense that has to avoid turnovers if they want to win the game. Those are the questions facing handicappers. Can Miami control the flow of play, as they did when scoring road victories in Cincinnati and New York? Can Buffalo play clean in a home game against an opponent playing outside of its climate comfort zone?  It’s hard to use the term “best expectation” when dealing with a rookie quarterback, or a mistake prone host. We’ve done our best to outline the key issues in the game.

In terms of the question we brought up at the very beginning about who the better team is in the big picture…it’s a toss-up once you schedule-adjust the stats. Buffalo doesn’t seem to be getting credit for that in the Vegas spread. Maybe they’re so turnover prone that they don’t deserve much credit even when you adjust for the schedule. Do-it-yourself sports bettors will have to determine if stat equality gets trumped by turnover potential.

JIM HURLEY has been studying this game from every angle because he knows how important it is for Las Vegas bettors to start out their week with a winner. Every dollar you win on Thursday can multiply itself over several times through Monday Night. He’ll post his final word on the side or total Thursday afternoon right here at this website (along with a bonus college football play in North Carolina-Virginia on ESPN). You can purchase it with your credit card. Or, you can sign up for service by calling the office at 1-800-323-4453.

This going to be a huge weekend from start to finish, highlighted by Stanford-Oregon in college football Saturday, then prime time “playoff preview” showcases like Baltimore-Pittsburgh and Chicago-San Francisco Sunday and Monday in the NFL. Don’t make a move in the biggest games of the week until you hear what JIM HURLEY has to say!

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