Note: After this was published on Thursday, September 16, news broke that Will Fuller V will not play for Miami against Buffalo due to personal reasons.
In the NFL, regression to the mean is a powerful, unavoidable force.
In 2019, Miami was awful, posting a 5-11 record that probably seemed like a miracle after an 0-7 start. In 2020, despite breaking in a rookie QB midway through the season, Miami finished 10-6 and above average in my NFL team rankings.
Heading into 2021, Miami has potential in their second year with QB Tua Tagovailoa. When he took over as the starter in their 7th game, Miami’s offense was 13th in my passing success rate adjusted for opponent. They finished the season with the same rank.
This season, Tagovailoa has a new weapon. Will Fuller Jr. was 8th in yards per route among wide receivers in 2020 with Houston. He missed week 1 due to suspension but will play against Buffalo.
On defense, Miami was 17th in adjusted passing success rate in 2020. They have continuity in the secondary in cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones and the defensive mindset of head coach Brian Flores.
In the NFL, regression to the mean is a powerful, unavoidable force. It pulls like your five year old as you walk past an ice cream store.
Could Tagovailoa break out and lead Miami on a deep playoff run? Maybe, but regression suggests that Miami should look a lot like last year.
How does an NFL average team stack up against a Super Bowl contender at home?
Buffalo took an enormous leap forward last season under the miracle of QB Josh Allen. They also have a talented secondary that could be better than the 16th they finished 2020 in my passing success rate.
As I discussed in the podcast preview series, Buffalo helped out Allen with the use of analytics: throw more on early downs, call more play action. So far this season, they have continued to throw on early downs (more than 70% according to rbsdm.com, second most behind Dallas in 2021).
However, OC Brian Daboll only called play action on 14% of pass plays against Pittsburgh, down from the 30.4% from 2020. This might be a one game blip against a ferocious defense. However, with the increased efficiency on play action, this is a rate to track on Pro Football Reference.
Despite a loss to Pittsburgh, I still consider Buffalo a Super Bowl contender. However, life is difficult on the road in the NFL, despite an ever decreasing home field advantage. My numbers like Buffalo by 2.5 points, not far from the 2.7 points my model would have made this game preseason.
There is value in Miami +3.5.
Football betting with a PhD edge
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