The Bills are coming off a somewhat embarrassing loss to the division rival New England Patriots, and are looking to snap out of what has been a three-game funk since their London loss to the Jaguars back in Week 5. The Bucs have lost back-to-back games since starting 3-1 before their bye week, and their offense has managed just 19 points across those two contests.
Will the Bills bounce back, or will the Bucs pull off the upset? We'll find out soon enough. Before we break down the matchup, here's a look at how you can watch the game.
How to watch
Date: Thursday, Oct. 26 | Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Location: Highmark Stadium (Orchard Park, New York)
Stream: Amazon Prime Video
Follow: CBS Sports App
Odds: Bills -8.5; O/U 43.5 (via SportsLine consensus odds)
When the Buccaneers have the ball
Expected to take a nosedive on offense after swapping out Tom Brady for Baker Mayfield, the Bucs have instead been just a run-of-the-mill below-average offense so far this season. They check in 23rd in yards per game, 27th in points per game, 24th in FTN's DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), and 22nd in TruMedia's version of EPA/play. They were 15th, 25th, 18th, and 22nd, respectively, last year. So it's been more of a minor drop-off.
At least part of that is due to Mayfield's surprisingly effective play, no small part of which can be credited to an offensive line that has largely kept him clean in the pocket. Mayfield has completed 65.2% of his passes at an average of 6.7 yards per attempt, with eight touchdowns against four interceptions. He has a tiny 3.8% sack rate, and checks in 13th among 32 qualified passers in EPA/dropback, per TruMedia.
Meanwhile, Buffalo's defense has taken a significant step backward since losing Tre'Davious White and then Matt Milano and DaQuan Jones. The Bills made the New England offense look competent last week, did not force a turnover and gave up 20 first downs against the Giants the week before, and saw the Jaguars throw for 278 yards and run for 196 on them in London. The cornerback play, in particular, is not in great shape right now, which isn't ideal against a team with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Evans might see a lot of second-year corner Christian Benford simply due to Benford's size, because Dane Jackson is far too small to deal with Evans' physicality. Taron Johnson is likely to tangle with Godwin in the slot. Evans is off to a strong start to the year with a 30-468-4 receiving line, but he's not under contract beyond this season and this will be his last chance to show out before next week's trade deadline. (The Bucs should probably deal him. They're not contenders and clearly didn't want to pay him this past offseason.)
Tampa's biggest issue offensively this year has been its near-total inability to run the ball. Rachaad White ranks dead last among qualified ball-carriers in rush yards expectation overall, and second-to-last on a per-carry basis. Backups Sean Tucker and Ke'Shawn Vaughn haven't been much better. Chase Edmonds is off injured reserve and should be back in the mix, but he was so ineffective in Miami last season that the Dolphins traded him at the deadline despite having given him a multi-year contract months earlier and he's posted a rushing success rate above 48.5% just once in five NFL seasons, per Pro-Football-Reference. Buffalo checks in a mere 15th in rushing defense DVOA, but Tampa hasn't been able to run it against anyone.
What determines Tampa's offensive success here will likely be whether the offensive line can keep pressure out of Mayfield's face. Throughout his career, he has been a strong thrower when given adequate time and wide enough windows. But when things break down, he breaks down entirely. It will be up to the likes of Greg Rousseau, Leonard Floyd, Von Miller and Co. up front to muddy things up in the pocket.
When the Bills have the ball
Buffalo's offense has pulled quite the Jekyll and Hyde act this year. In Week 1 against the Jets, Josh Allen turned the ball over four times in a dispiriting 22-16 loss. In each of the next three games, Buffalo ripped off at least 386 total yards and 37 points while turning it over just once in wins over the Raiders, Commanders and Dolphins. But over the past three weeks, Buffalo hasn't scored more than 25 points, has turned it over twice per game, and has gained a maximum of 388 yards.
So, which Bills team will we see on Thursday night? It's honestly kind of hard to say. One factor here could be the Bills being forced into different personnel groupings due to injuries. After drafting Dalton Kincaid in the first round of this year's draft, Buffalo has dramatically increased its usage of two- and three-tight end sets. But Dawson Knox is out due to wrist surgery, and No. 3 tight end Quintin Morris is out as well. So we'll likely see the Bills return to more of the 10 and 11 personnel looks they favored in previous years, with more snaps for players like Deonte Harty, Trent Sherfield and Khalil Shakir.
No matter who picks up the excess snaps, we know where Allen wants to go with the ball: Stefon Diggs. On throws to Diggs this season, Allen is 55 of 78 (70.5%) for 678 yards (8.7 YPA), six touchdowns and two interceptions, according to TruMedia. He's averaged 0.36 EPA per dropback on those throws. When targeting any other pass-catcher, he is 119 of 168 (70.8%) but for only 1,163 yards (6.9 YPA), nine touchdowns and five interceptions. He's averaged 0.16 EPA per dropback on those plays.
Diggs lines up all over the formation (31% of snaps on the left, 32% on the right and 35% in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus), so he is likely to see a decent mix of Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean and Christian Izien in coverage. Tampa has struggled to cover opposing No. 1 wideouts this year, checking in 22nd in FTN's DVOA on those throws. The Bucs have also yielded the league's fourth-highest explosive play rate so far this season, per TruMedia, so it's possible Gabe Davis could find some success getting free for a deep ball.
The biggest issue for Tampa here is that Todd Bowles' defense has largely been unable to generate pressure despite blitzing at one of the highest rates in the NFL. Tampa ranks third in blitz rate but just 23rd in pressure rate, per TruMedia tracking.
That inability to get to the quarterback has likely played a significant role in the Bucs having the worst third-down defense in the NFL so far this season, with opponents converting for a new set of downs 50% of the time.
Tampa over the last several seasons has typically been incredibly tough to run on, and while the Bucs do check in 11th in run defense DVOA so far this year, that's a bit behind where the Bucs have ranked in recent years. Perhaps there is an opportunity for James Cook and/or Latavius Murray to get going on the ground -- especially considering Vita Vea looks unlikely to play after logging three straight DNPs in practice this week. Using Allen in the run game more often would probably help those efforts, but the Bills have been intentional about dialing back his usage in that area in an effort to keep him healthy and upright throughout the year. Still, Tampa is actually stopping a below-average share of opponent runs (17.8%, per TruMedia) at or behind the line of scrimmage this year, so Cook and Murray could keep the Bills ahead of the chains more often than usual.
Prediction: Bills 28, Buccaneers 16
We're putting some faith in Allen to snap out of it, and the Bills to rediscover their mojo by going back to more spread-out looks to allow him the type of field vision he needs. If the Bills can also get pressure on Mayfield, that should be enough to hold Tampa's offense down on a short week.
I'm pretty confident in my pick but you should check out Sportsline's take on this game. Vegas guru Micah Roberts is 16-7-1 with his last 24 ATS involving the Buccaneers. He has locked in his prediction for tonight's game and you should check it out here.