Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) gets past Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Al-Quadin Muhammad (97) and safety Andrew Sendejo (42) in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)


Mike Shara

Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans, 8:15 pm, Nissan Stadium (Nashville, TN)

MONEYLINE: Buffalo -305 (DraftKings)

SPREAD: Tennessee +6 (-110 on BetMGM)

OVER/UNDER: Over 53.5 (-110 on FanDuel)

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You see it in sports all the time – good teams only can become great teams once they’ve beaten up the bully that had tortured them for years. It’s a rite of passage that we know when we see it – Jordan’s Bulls had to vanquish Isiah’s Pistons, George Brett’s Royals had to beat the Yankees and Steve Young’s 49ers had to eliminate the Cowboys before they could win championships and ensure their legacies in history. Gather round, children – we may remember this as the era when the Buffalo Bills transformed from being the picked on red-headed stepchild of the AFC into the muscular bully strolling on the beach with a girl on each arm, Charles Atlas style.

After starting the season with a dud of a loss to Pittsburgh, the Bills have been absolutely unstoppable for the last four games, bludgeoning teams by a combined score of 146 to 41. They look unbeatable right now – a force on defense and offense alike that is also starting to look like they know they’re good. That’s huge. Last week they strolled into Arrowhead Stadium and dismantled the Chiefs, the team that beat them in last year’s AFC Championship Game. They have already crushed division ‘rivals’ Miami 35-0 and will get two chances later this season to officially end the era of the Patriots’ rule in the AFC East. I wouldn’t bet against them at this point.

Despite a respectable 3-2 record, Tennessee has still felt like a bit of a disappointment so far this season. After looking like the second coming of Roger Staubach in his first full season with the Titans last year, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been…(squints)…okay so far this year. Their offense finished last season fourth in points scored – this year they’re not quite as prolific despite a pretty soft schedule, and their defense, ranked 24th overall last year, is in the exact same position as I write this. They have wins vs. ok teams like Seattle (when Russell Wilson was healthy) and Indy but dropped an OT loss to the Jets that good teams simply can’t allow to happen. They haven’t faced a team nearly as good as Buffalo yet this season.

Both teams appeared to be fairly healthy coming into the game. The Bills anticipate the return of star linebacker Matt Milano, meaning their defense is close to full strength again. One key factor to keep an eye on before kickoff is the status of Tennessee wide receiver AJ Brown, who is currently listed as questionable with an illness, though he has not been placed on a Covid list. The Titans are planning/hoping to have future Hall of Fame wideout Julio Jones back tonight after missing two games. So far Jones’ numbers have been a bit underwhelming with his new team, as he has yet to even reach the end zone. The best chance the Titans have in this game is to control the time of possession and grind the clock away with the NFL’s best running back, Derrick Henry. He has had over 110 rushing yards in four consecutive games but faces his biggest test of the young season tonight. He has struggled historically against Buffalo’s defense, never going above 80 rushing yards in a game against them and this year the Bills have the NFL’s second-best defense vs. the run, allowing less than 80 yards per game.

Almost all of the spread money in Vegas (95%!) is going on the Bills, and the number reflects that as it opened at just 2.5 and has now moved all the way to 6. Most betting folks also seem to think the Bills, who have both the NFL’s highest scoring offense and highest scoring defense, will be able to get the number OVER 53.5 and it’s hard to disagree with that logic. Adding to the “conquering the bully” narrative is the fact that Tennessee crushed Buffalo 42-16 last season, giving the Bills another box to check on their 2021 Revenge Tour. These teams have met four consecutive seasons and the underdog covered in each of the previous three.

Even if you’re a Tennessee fan, it’s pretty tough to bet against Buffalo here. Quarterback Josh Allen looks like a leading candidate for league MVP at this point (although Kyler Murray will have something to say about that), and they are an extremely well-coached, disciplined team that plays to its strengths with the confidence to dominate even on the road. Even if Henry and Tannehill do have good games, it’s difficult to imagine Tennessee’s defense slowing down Buffalo for too long. The weather tonight looks perfect for football – seasonally warm with no rain, which should mean plenty of scoring opportunities. I’m taking the BILLS to cover and I’m pretty convinced that this score is going to go OVER.

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