It’s bounce-back time on Thursday Night Football!
Both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-3) and the Buffalo Bills (4-3) enter this matchup coming off losses to fairly average teams in Week 7. The Bucs dropped a low-scoring affair against NFC South foe Atlanta while the Bills, somehow, couldn’t beat divisional rival New England on the road.
Things could be much worse for both franchises, of course, but through more than a third of the season the Bucs and the Bills are still on even or winning records and second place in their respective divisions.
These two have met each other a few times. In their 12 meetings spanning from 1976 (!) through 2021, the record is 8-4 in favor of the Bucs. They've only had two matchups in the past six years and a 1-1 split with the Bills winning in 2017 and the Bucs in 2021 … with Tom Brady manning the pocket. Time flies!
The Bills enter this game as the clear favorites boasting a -7.5 spread in their favor when the initial odds were released on Monday and the figure moved to -8.5 on Tuesday. The total points are set at an over/under of 42, with Buffalo currently averaging 28.3 points per game to Tampa Bay’s 17.2.
How do the Bucs and Bills arrive at their TNF matchup?
Let’s say they are not in the worst possible situation, but things could be much better for both sides had they been able to carry the momentum from their start to the 2023 season for a few more weeks.
The Bucs started the year with back-to-back wins and only lost one (vs. Philadelphia) of their first four games with Baker Mayfield looking as good as ever. Now, back-to-back (bad) losses have dropped Tampa Bay below Atlanta in the NFC South. Going against Buffalo, on the road, doesn’t look like the most optimal scenario to pull off an upset and bounce back to the winning column.
Buffalo is in a similar situation. Yes, the Bills lost to the Jets (sans Aaron Rodgers!) in Week 1, but then exploded for three consecutive victories including a 48-20 trouncing of the super-powered Miami Dolphins in Week 4. A trip to London one week later might have altered the Bills’ rhythm as they lost to Jacksonville in England, they barely got a win against the Giants in Week 6 and finally melted down last weekend against the Patriots.
The Bills haven't started 4-3 or worse since 2018, when they went 2-5 and their divisional losses to the Jets and the Pats are simply inexcusable. The Bucs are 1-1 in divisional games and 3-3 overall but they have yet to win a matchup since going on a bye in Week 5. Since then, they have scored 19 points combined in their last two games against Detroit and Atlanta.
In a fairly simplistic but realistic summary, both franchises are in need of a statement win that puts some of the questions floating around them to an end. The spread paints a demolition of the Bucs at the hands of the Bills by more than a touchdown, but having that outcome flipped wouldn’t surprise anyone at this point.
TNF Week 8: Injury Report
The most important incognita to clarify ahead of TNF was solved as early as Monday when Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott told reporters that starting TE Dawson Knox would undergo wrist surgery. The news automatically ruled Knox out for this and future games with an unknown return date.
Other than Knox, there was no real fantasy-relevant player in danger of missing TNF.
One stat that can swing the balance
Buffalo has scored seven or fewer points in each first half of their last three games… and the Bills always find themselves chasing opponents from behind late
The Bills offense isn’t clicking. Or rather, it's only doing so very late in games. As the above stat indicates, Buffalo has only scored 10 points in the first 90 minutes combined of each of the past three games they have played.
That means, of course, that ultimately they found a way to put the ball in the end zone, but only (for the most part) in the final 90 combined minutes of play of their last three matchups played against Jacksonville, the Giants and New England.
The split is a staggering 10-49 in points scored in first halves (10) compared to points scored in second halves (49). Looking at the last two games exclusively, the Bills have an even worse/more-radical 3-36 split in those two slices. For context, the awful Giants shut out the Bills for three quarters until Buffalo exploded for 14 points and a late win.
The Bills' offense isn’t even remotely close to bad, mind you. They are scoring the third-most points per game, passing for the sixth-most yards and they have scored 23 touchdowns from scrimmage while protecting QB Josh Allen nicely (third-fewest sacks, 10).
I haven’t mentioned the Bucs' defense yet, nor any of Tampa Bay’s statistics/units for that matter. It is not really necessary. For fantasy purposes, the way in which Buffalo operates always calls for a pass-heavy game script in which Allen is forced to search for and find receivers in order to help his team come from behind and win games.
Two players to start, two to bench
Start: TE Dalton Kincaid (BUF)
After his explosion in Week 7, this is a no-brainer for fantasy GMs who rushed to add the rookie tight end off the waiver wire this week. Tampa Bay hasn’t allowed many fantasy points to opposing tight ends, but Kincaid is coming off a perfect 8-for-8 pass-catching day at New England in which he racked up a season-high 75 yards.
Of course, following the announcement made by Buffalo at the start of the week regarding Dawson Knox's injury, Kincaid instantly turned into a must-start player with Allen already showing him love of late and not many more options getting used (and producing) as much as the rookie TE was last weekend.
Neither Knox nor Kincaid had gotten more than six targets in a single game before Week 7 but with the former out and no other pass catcher outside of Stefon Diggs getting many targets and receptions, Kincaid should be in a prime position to keep putting up numbers going forward.
Bench: WR Gabe Davis (BUF)
While Knox going down injured could benefit everybody in the Bills' offense if Allen decides to spread the ball a bit more, Kincaid should be the main beneficiary as the natural replacement at the tight end position.
Davis might get a bump up in targets, but he has been so unsustainably good that at some point he will stop doing what he’s doing. That regression, in fact, might have already started as early as Week 6 when Davis got four targets, catching three for 21 yards … only to follow that with a stinking 1-of-5 outing for six yards last weekend.
The Bills wide receiver started the season scoring a touchdown in four consecutive matchups from Week 2 through Week 5 while catching 16 of 22 targets. Nobody in the NFL has scored four or more touchdowns while getting fewer receptions (22) and targets (35) than Davis through Week 7.
The 16.6 yards per reception are wild, the scoring numbers are highly unsustainable and the past two weeks might be closer to the real version of Davis than the one we witnessed through the first five games of the season.
Start: RB Rachaad White (TB)
It is obvious that the running game of the Tampa Bay Bucs isn’t quite helping Baker Mayfield keep defenses honest and thinking about what the team will do and how that might hurt opponents.
The Bucs’ rushers are averaging 77.8 yards per game, the fourth-worst mark in the NFL through Week 7. That said, bear with me for a minute. Rachaad White is one of the very few RB1s flying under the radar on a weekly basis. Sure, the production and the efficiency aren’t otherworldly, but the role can’t be better and the chances will keep coming White’s way.
White has only scored one touchdown on the season while playing all games and carrying the ball 83 times for 266 yards. The 3.2 yards per carry are a bit mediocre, but he’s made up for that by catching 22-of-23 targets for 163 yards on pass plays.
The Bills have been great at stopping opposing quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends, but they have struggled against running backs this season: Buffalo ranks in the bottom third in fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs through Week 7 among all NFL teams.
Buffalo has given up 110, 144, 108 and 65 rushing yards in its last four games to go with 78, 48, five and 51 receiving yards to players at the RB position. White has caught at least three passes in each of the last five games he’s played and he’s carried the ball 13-plus times in all but one game, reaching 34-plus yards in all of them. It’s also probable that he ends up experiencing some positive regression when it comes to scoring touchdowns as the season progresses.
Bench: RB James Cook (BUF)
The Bills’ scoring struggles through the first halves of games have limited the production of Cook due to a lack of touches and opportunities with Buffalo forced to chase their opponents from behind, thus relying more on the passing than the running game.
Outside of Week 2 against Las Vegas, the only other time Cook hit a good fantasy score came from a 3-for-3 receiving for 46 yards and a touchdown in Week 7.
Cook has struggled to reach the end zone rushing even though he’s racked up 88 carries in seven games. He had a couple of explosive games in back-to-back weeks at the start of the season (98 and 123 rushing yards) but he’s been reliant on the odd touchdown to keep his fantasy value up in the other five games.
If the Bills eventually fix their early woes on offense, then Cook might actually become a bit more reliable as a weekly fantasy starter. Until then, I’d shy away from him and bet more on the passing game (QB/WR/TE) of Buffalo rather than their backfield.
One player to scout as a prospective waiver wire pickup
RB Chase Edmonds (TB)
Chase Edmonds is playing for a fourth team in the past three seasons following a four-year tenure with the Cardinals. Saying he “is playing” is a bit of a stretch, however, as he went down injured earlier this season and he’s been forced to miss the last four games after getting placed on Injured Reserve (sprained MCL).
The Bucs designated Edmonds to return from IR on Monday, opening a 21-day window in which he can rejoin the 53-man roster or sit out the remainder of the season if he doesn’t get activated at the end of it.
The expectation is that he eventually returns to the field, possibly even on TNF as he already was listed as an estimated “full participant” on Monday’s injury report.
Edmonds was an afterthought last season, splitting time between Denver and Miami. He got a combined 68 carries for 245 yards and two rushing touchdowns as well as getting 24 targets of which he hauled in 16 for 157 yards and one score.
With the Bucs' running game struggling, it’s not unreasonable to think they will try to at least get it going by giving Edmonds some opportunities when he returns. Tampa Bay signed the rusher earlier this year as a free agent and although he’s not a preternatural RB1 he should at least get some reps as the RB2, perhaps vulturing some touchdowns away from Rachaad White in close-to-goal situations.