In last week’s loss to the Jets, Bills quarterback Josh Allen appeared to injure his right elbow on Buffalo’s final drive. A few plays later, he threw a 70-yard bomb intended for Gabe Davis, the longest pass attempt in the N.F.L. in six seasons, inspiring some hope that his arm was fine.
By Monday, however, the status of Allen’s right ulnar collateral ligament, and his availability for Sunday’s game, was unknown. On Wednesday, Bills Coach Sean McDermott said Allen was day to day. The spread on the Bills’ game with the Vikings dropped precipitously from 9 points all the way to 3.5. Some major offshore sportsbooks took the game off the board entirely.
Football is a team sport, and every player contributes to a team’s performance. The quarterback, however, is distinctly valuable. Elite quarterbacks like Allen are worth a lot in the number of points they add (or subtract) from the point spread. We value Allen’s presence in the game for the Bills at about 6 points, not only because of his abilities, but also because of how steep the difference is between him and his backup, the 34-year-old veteran Case Keenum.
Backup quarterbacks are, by their very definition, downgrades to a team’s offense, but just how much of a downgrade is a difficult question to answer. Already this season we’ve seen some backup quarterbacks do nothing but hand off the ball (Malik Willis) and other ones lead a team to playoff contention (Jimmy Garoppolo). A team as strong as the Bills, who regularly lay two scores to their opponents, can afford a bit of a haircut on the point spread, but the final result may very well be up to Keenum.
Last week’s record: 10-2-1 | Overall: 71-63-2 (52.9 percent)
All times are Eastern.
Seattle Seahawks (6-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5), 9:30 a.m., NFL Network
Line: Buccaneers -2.5 | Total: 44
The N.F.L.’s first game in Germany kicks off at 6:30 a.m. Pacific, so set your alarm. The Seahawks have won four straight games, all by double digits, and sit atop the N.F.C. West. Their improving defense is a major factor in their success: Over their last three games, they’ve allowed only 4.2 yards per play, the fewest in the N.F.L. in that span, and the third-year linebacker Jordyn Brooks is currently the top tackler in the league.
The Buccaneers also lead their division, though it’s a dubious honor: No team in the N.F.C. South has a winning record. Tom Brady is now the only quarterback to reach 100,000 career passing yards (regular season and postseason combined), hitting the milestone in a come-from-behind victory on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams. Brady is only as good as the players who block for him and catch his passes, however, and he is still trying to find his rhythm with a different offensive line and receiving corps than the ones that he took to the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Pick: Seahawks +2.5
Minnesota Vikings (7-1) at Buffalo Bills (6-2), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Bills -3.5 | Total: 43.5
The Bills hope to avenge a loss to the Jets by defeating a quality opponent at home. The Vikings hope to prove their doubters wrong and cement their place in the Super Bowl conversation. For the Bills, injuries on defense continue to mount: They’re missing linebacker Matt Milano, safety Jordan Poyer, defensive end Greg Rousseau and cornerback Tre’Davious White.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s defense is improving. Linebacker Za’Darius Smith is tied for the league lead in tackles for loss, and he has 8.5 sacks. Tight end T.J. Hockenson made a huge difference in his first game with the Vikings last week after arriving from Detroit through a trade. He caught all nine of his targets for a total of 70 yards in Minnesota’s win against the Commanders. Josh Allen is day to day, and the point spread of 3.5 assumes he won’t play. We think the Bills are capable of covering this number with Case Keenum, but it’s close. Pick: Bills -3.5
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) at Kansas City (6-3), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Kansas City -10 | Total: 50.5
Kansas City has the top scoring offense in the N.F.L., and it’s hosting a solidly average Jacksonville team. The Jaguars snapped a five-game losing streak against the Raiders last week, but they were within one score in every one of those losses.
Since Travis Etienne got the top running back job after James Robinson was demoted and then traded to the Jets, he has been sensational, with 515 yards and four touchdowns in four starts. Etienne could be a difference maker for a team still in the hunt to win the A.F.C. South. Kansas City has taken heavy money early, moving the line to double digits. Pick: Jaguars +10
Dallas Cowboys (6-2) at Green Bay Packers (3-6), 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Packers +5 | Total: 43
The Cowboys have emerged as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, while the Packers have lost five games in a row. Green Bay is a seriously banged-up team: Last week, eight Packers left the game with injuries, including wide receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson — a huge loss to an offense already playing without Randall Cobb.
Without his starting receivers, Aaron Rodgers resorted to throwing passes to players on the opposing team. He threw three picks last week against Detroit and has seven on the season. According to Football Outsiders, Dallas now has the best defense in the N.F.L. The Cowboys’ running back committee of Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott should feast on Green Bay’s run defense, which has allowed 138.6 rushing yards per game. Pick: Cowboys -5
Los Angeles Chargers (5-3) at San Francisco 49ers (4-4), 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: 49ers -7 | Total: 45
The Chargers fight to the very last second. Four of the Chargers’ five wins were by one score, and in three of those games, they came back from double-digit deficits. Justin Herbert is famous for his long passes, but he has been helped by his running back, Austin Ekeler, who has 10 touchdowns in the team’s past five games.
The 49ers’ backs help their quarterback as well. With wide receiver Deebo Samuel still on the injured list, running back Christian McCaffrey has become a receiving threat, with 79 receiving yards and a touchdown catch in his first two games with the team. The 49ers are coming off a bye week and hope to have a number of injured players rested and ready to go. Pick: 49ers -7
Sunday’s Other Games
Detroit Lions (2-6) at Chicago Bears (3-6), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Bears -3 | Total: 48
There’s an N.F.L. quarterback breaking league rushing records this season, and it isn’t Lamar Jackson — it’s the Bears’ second-year quarterback, Justin Fields. His 178 rushing yards (including a 61-yard touchdown run) against the Dolphins broke Michael Vick’s record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a regular-season game. He has rushed for 408 yards in the Bears’ past four games, and his 602 total rushing yards put him just outside the top 10 of the league’s rushing leaders.
All those yards have still earned the Bears only a 3-5 record, and the team has yet to develop a passing attack to help its run game. The Lions, meanwhile, are making gradual improvements to their basement-dwelling defense.: After giving up an average of 34 points through their first five games, they’ve conceded 21.3 points per game over their past three. Pick: Lions +3
Denver Broncos (3-5) at Tennessee Titans (5-3), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Titans -3 | Total: 38
The Titans’ five-game win streak was snapped by Kansas City, as many expected it to be, but they played valiantly and forced Patrick Mahomes and company into overtime. Malik Willis has thrown for only 135 total yards in his two weeks as a starting quarterback, but Derrick Henry has kept the ship steady in Ryan Tannehill’s absence. Henry leads the league in rushing with 870 yards and has nine touchdowns. This week, the Titans will need to find a way through the Broncos, who have one of the league’s best defenses and are coming off a bye week. Pick: Titans -3
Cleveland Browns (3-5) at Miami Dolphins (6-3), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Dolphins -4 | Total: 48.5
The Browns exit their bye week and hit the road, hoping to win their first away game since Week 1. They’ll face a tall order against the Dolphins, whose offense is firing on all cylinders. Tyreek Hill has an N.F.L.-best 1,104 receiving yards on 100 targets and is averaging 14.5 yards per reception and 122.7 yards per game. He is the top wide receiver in nearly every category, and Jaylen Waddle isn’t that far behind him.
The Browns have their own top-ranked player in Nick Chubb, who has been a dominating force on the ground with a league-best 10 rushing touchdowns. But if the Browns are going to win this week, they’ll need to get it done in the air and take advantage of Miami’s abysmal passing defense. The Dolphins give up nearly 246 receiving yards per game. Pick: Dolphins -4
Houston Texans (1-6-1) at New York Giants (6-2), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Giants -7 | Total: 40.5
The Giants were off last week but still managed to lose a player to the injured list when the starting safety Xavier McKinney injured his hand on an ATV tour in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. This is as good as any time for something like this to happen: The Giants face the Texans this week and then the Lions — two teams with a combined three wins.
The Texans might be 1-6-1, but they are 4-3-1 against the spread. Last Thursday, they covered a two-touchdown spread against Philadelphia. If they can play within 14 points of the formidable Eagles, they should be able to play within 7 of the Giants. Pick: Texans +7
New Orleans Saints (3-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Steelers +2.5 | Total: 40.5
The Saints have lost three of their past four games, and some fans are wondering why the team doesn’t give tight end Taysom Hill a shot at starting quarterback, a position where he’s moonlighted in the past. They should get him involved more, at the very least. In their Monday night loss to the Ravens, Hill had one carry for 6 yards, one pass for 13, and no receptions on one target from Andy Dalton.
This would be a good week to get him in the mix, whether under center or downfield, because the Steelers’ defense has given up more than 300 yards in every game this season. Pick: Saints -2.5
Indianapolis Colts (3-5-1) at Las Vegas Raiders (2-6), 4:05 p.m., CBS
Line: Raiders -6.5 | Total: 43
The Colts went from benching their quarterback two weeks ago to firing their head coach this week. Frank Reich was dismissed on Monday, and the former Colts offensive lineman Jeff Saturday, who was working as an ESPN analyst and has never coached anything beyond a high school game, will take over the interim duties.
The Raiders are lucky to host a team going through its own dysfunction this week: Two weeks ago, Las Vegas was shut out, and last week, the team blew a 17-point lead (the third such lead it has blown this season). This game is as good of an opportunity for them to work out the kinks as they will get this season. Pick: Raiders -6.5
Arizona Cardinals (3-6) at Los Angeles Rams (3-5), 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Rams -1.5 | Total: 43
In yet another game thrown into doubt because of questions about the starting quarterback’s availability, Rams Coach Sean McVay announced on Wednesday that Matt Stafford is in concussion protocols and the team was taking it “a day at a time.” After the news, the line dipped from 3 to 1.5, though there is still a chance Stafford is cleared by doctors by game time and plays.
The Rams have only retained one member of their Super Bowl-winning offensive line this season, and the inexperience up front is having a major impact. They have one of the lowest rushing outputs in the N.F.L., and the pressure on Stafford combined with the lack of a realistic running threat has cost their passing game. Fortunately, Stafford has a capable receiver to throw to in Cooper Kupp, and he’s done so with abandon. Kupp has caught six of the team’s eight touchdown passes this season.
They host the Cardinals, who have put up a combined 81 points in their last three games. Despite lighting up the scoreboard, the Cardinals still lost their last two games, both straight up and against the spread. If Stafford is out, Arizona can cover. Pick: Cardinals +1.5
Monday Night’s Game
Washington Commanders (4-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-0), 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Eagles -10.5 | Total: 44.5
The Commanders have won three of their past four, and through their last three games, their defense has been one of the best in the N.F.L., allowing an average of 285 yards and 19 points.
The Eagles, of course, have won eight of their past eight. Their most recent win was last Thursday night in Houston, where they just barely failed to cover the 14-point spread. This week, they play at home on Monday night with nearly 11 days off to rest, re-evaluate and repair. A smaller point spread and a longer break could be the recipe for success. Pick: Eagles -10.5
Carolina Panthers 25, Atlanta Falcons 15
We picked the Panthers +3 despite the Falcons (4-6) having won their first meeting and Carolina having question marks about who starts at quarterback. P.J. Walker started over Baker Mayfield, and got a huge lift from the running game on D’Onta Foreman’s 31 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown. Laviska Shenault added a 41-yard touchdown run in the rain and the Panthers (3-7) continued to throw wrenches in the N.F.C. South standings.
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Buccaneers -2.5, for example, means that Tampa Bay must beat the Seahawks by at least 3 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, which is whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
Betting-market data is taken from Action Network’s Public Betting data, and lines are taken from Unabated’s real-time-odds tracker.