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On the line from Vegas: Bills revert to low betting expectations

By Tim Graham

TAMPA, Fla. -- Things change quickly in the NFL.

Last week, we were talking about the Buffalo Bills being a favorite three, maybe four straight games.

Now we're back to the idea they probably won't be favored again for the rest of the season.

The Bills are 2.5-point underdogs this afternoon against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Raymond James Stadium. Next week, the Bills will visit the Jacksonville Jaguars, winners in four of their past five games.

Maybe the Bills will be favored when they host the Miami Dolphins in Week 16. Maybe.

First, though, let's take a look at the Bills' chances to cover today.

As always, Las Vegas handicapper and Sloan native Joel Staniszewski has some trends for us to consider:

  • Buffalo is 1-4 against the spread and straight up over its past five games.
  • Buffalo is 1-6 against the spread in its past seven road games (not counting Toronto because, ahem, that was a home game).
  • Tampa Bay is 4-1 against the spread over its past five games.

Staniszewski pointed out, "These trends would have you think that the Bucs are the play." Then he added these:

  • Buffalo is 4-0 against the spread after allowing more than 150 yards rushing.
  • Buffalo is 7-2 over its past nine games following an against-the-spread loss.
  • Tampa Bay is 4-17 against the spread in its past 21 home games versus a team with a losing record.
  • Tampa Bay is 1-6 against the spread over its past seven games after allowing more than 250 passing yards previous game.

"Looking at these trends," Staniszewski said, "it's hard to try to find a play here.

"If we can establish a strong run game and hang onto the football this week, the Bills have a good chance to win this game. Let's hope for the best."

The Bills are 6-6 against the spread for the season. The Buccaneers are 5-7.

On the line from Vegas: Bills in strange role as repeat favorites

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills didn't project to be betting favorites much this year, if at all.

Now they're on a little streak.

The Bills were favorites for the first time two weeks ago, albeit by one point against the New York Jets, and come out of their bye favored again Sunday versus the Atlanta Falcons in Toronto.

The Bills have been favored in consecutive games only three times since the 2009 season began. The last time they were favored three straight games was in 2008, when they gave points to four opponents in a row.

Depending on what happens this weekend, there's a possibility the Bills could be favored again next week at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the week after that at the Jacksonville Jaguars.

How about that?

The betting public doesn't quite believe it either. The Bills opened as 3.5-point favorites over the Falcons. That quickly was bet down to a field goal as Falcons money came in.

"This is getting into scary territory, where you get some hope and you're afraid to think about the Bills playing good," Las Vegas handicapper Joel Staniszewski said. The Buffalo State grad is a diehard Bills fan.

"You know the Falcons are a good team, and the 2-9 record doesn't match their talent level. But this is the prime game for the Bills to show if they're really turning the corner or not."

Some trends to consider:

  • Atlanta is 1-4 against the spread and 0-5 straight up over its past five games.
  • Atlanta is winless on the road.
  • Buffalo is 6-1 against the spread over its past seven home games.
  • Buffalo is 4-0 against the spread over its past four home games versus a team with a losing record.
  • Buffalo is 1-3-1 against the spread in its five Toronto games.

Oddsmakers consider the Rogers Centre a home venue for the Bills and not a neutral site despite the dispassionate atmosphere we've seen since the series began.

"It won't be a great home atmosphere, but you expect the Bills to do well here," Staniszewski said. "It's still a longer trip for Atlanta, and for Buffalo it's not that far."

But this will be a new stadium for Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, who hasn't won away from Ralph Wilson Stadium in three starts. And the Bills proved against the Jets they can play well in cold and windy weather, while the Falcons are a dome team.

"You're giving up that advantage you want at The Ralph," Staniszewski said. "When you go into a dome, you lose something."

Buffalo has been favored in Toronto once before, the obliteration of Washington in 2011. That's also the only time Buffalo has covered in Toronto.

On the line from Vegas: Wise guys dumping money on Bills this week

By Tim Graham

Las Vegas wise guys love the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

The savviest bettors, the ones that make sportsbooks jump, have bet enough money on the Bills throughout the week to cut the spread in half.

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened as five-point favorites, but the spread has dwindled to 2.5 points at some offshore betting sites as of this posting.

"I thought five was a little high, especially with the possibility of EJ Manuel playing," Las Vegas handicapper and former oddsmaker Joel Staniszewski said. "As the week went on, it started to drop and drop and drop. With the announcement EJ Manuel's going to start, it dropped to three and with heavy juice on the Bills.

"They're definitely getting lots of bets. People who are betting enough money to move a line are the sharp bettors."

Who would've expected this three months ago?

The Steelers are perennial contenders. They haven't had a losing record since 2003. But they are 2-6 entering Sunday's game at Heinz Field and are coming off a loss in which they allowed a club-record 55 points.

"They appear to be teams in two different directions," Staniszewski said. "Pittsburgh appears to be getting older, where the stars just aren't performing like they used to. Buffalo has the young, up-and-coming players that might be one draft and offseason away from doing some damage."

Some trends for informational purposes:

  • Buffalo is 1-4 straight up over its past five games.
  • Buffalo is 1-5 against the spread over the past six games on the road.
  • Buffalo is 1-7 straight up over the past eight games on the road.
  • Buffalo is 1-8 against the spread and straight up in its past nine games against Pittsburgh.

However, and more importantly:

  • Buffalo is 6-1 against the spread after its past seven straight-up losses.
  • Pittsburgh is 1-5 against the spread over its past six straight-up losses.

"Those two stats are key for this year," Staniszewski said. "It's showing you the Bills, although a young team that has trouble finishing games, come back and play well -- even with Thad Lewis or Jeff Tuel at quarterback.

"The Steelers have done poorly and just are not playing well. Ben Roethlisberger is off his game. Their run game is not doing well. They're definitely on the decline."

A critical matchup is Buffalo's pass rush against a ramshackle Pittsburgh offensive line. Buffalo is tied for third with 29 sacks. Pittsburgh has surrendered 32, tied for second-most.

The Bills are 5-4 against the spread after starting the season 5-2.

On the line from Vegas: Bills a trap game for Chiefs? Don't bet on it

By Tim Graham

Las Vegas probably should've posted the Buffalo Bills as bigger underdogs this week even if Thad Lewis was healthy, said handicapper and former oddsmaker Joel Staniszewski.

Once the Bills declared Lewis doubtful for Sunday's game against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs in Ralph Wilson Stadium, laying the points became an even juicier bet.

"It seems a little strange to me that the Bills are only a three-point dog," Staniszewski said. "And that line hasn't really moved all week.

Continue reading "On the line from Vegas: Bills a trap game for Chiefs? Don't bet on it" »

On the line from Vegas: Bills have been a solid bet so far

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills have broken even so far this year.

But they've been profitable to those who've wagered on them.

The Bills have been underdogs every week and will be again tonight, when they play the Cleveland Browns in FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Bills have gone 3-1 against the spread, failing to cover only against the New York Jets. The Bills' two victories on the money line (straight up bets without taking the points) have outweighed the two losses.

Continue reading "On the line from Vegas: Bills have been a solid bet so far" »

On the line from Vegas: Field goal seems low for Ravens spread

By Tim Graham

Joel Staniszewski doesn't always agree with the point spread. But as a handicapper and former oddsmaker, he usually understands how it came to be.

The St. Joe's grad was forced to muse on the number for Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"I'm just surprised at the line," Staniszewski said today from Las Vegas. "The defending Super Bowl champs are only a three-point favorite. I thought it would be more.

"The trends that I've looked at basically affirm that the Ravens are the team to bet here."

Continue reading "On the line from Vegas: Field goal seems low for Ravens spread" »

On the line from Vegas: Underdog Bills the better team

By Tim Graham

On a national level, the Buffalo Bills are considered a doormat franchise.

Due to that reputation, oddsmakers probably don't respect the Bills as much as they should early each season.

That's suggested by the Bills winning both of their games so far against the spread and the Bills being 4-1 with the points in their past five September games.

St. Joe's and Buffalo State grad Joel Staniszewski, a Las Vegas handicapper and former oddsmaker, believes the Bills are the better team again Sunday although they're underdogs to the New York Jets.

The Jets are favored by 2.5 points. The over/under total is 39 points.

"The trends for Buffalo on the road are not very good," Staniszewski said, "and historically the Jets have done well against Buffalo. They've been a much better team than the Bills.

"But if you look at each franchise, an unbiased person or an oddsmaker would think the Bills are in a much better place right now."

The Jets are favored, Staniszewski pointed out, only because the game is at the Meadowlands.

"That makes all the difference," Staniszewski said. "It's going to be interesting to see how EJ Manuel responds on the road and in a hostile environment.

"I think it's a fairly evenly matched game. If the Jets were in better shape like they were in previous years, the spread might be 7.

"The spread says the Bills are a slightly better team than the Jets are right now, but you've got to give them a little bit of credit because they're playing at home."

Some trends to consider:

  • The Jets are 5-2 against the spread in their past seven games against the Bills.
  • The Bills are 4-10-1 against the spread and 2-13 straight up over their past 15 road games.
  • The Jets are 1-4 against the spread in their past five home games.

"It will be interesting to see how these trends hold up with new teams and new quarterbacks," Staniszewski said. "But the Jets are in disarray."

On the line from Vegas: Bills won't be favored often in 2013

By Tim Graham

From our barstools at the Swannie House downtown, New York Post NBA reporter and St. Bonaventure alum Tim Bontemps and I squinted at the Buffalo Bills' schedule on the storage-room door and wondered how many games they'll be favored to win this year.

One? Two? None?

Those guesses might sound low, but take a look at that schedule and consider the Bills are three-point underdogs at home Sunday against the 0-1 Carolina Panthers.

Continue reading "On the line from Vegas: Bills won't be favored often in 2013" »

On the line from Vegas: Trends eclipse changes until further notice

By Tim Graham

Last year's quarterback class has been toted as the best since 1983.

Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson were phenomenal. Ryan Tannehill performed solidly. Brandon Weeden was passable.

All around, a remarkable first year.

Nevertheless, they went 1-4 in their NFL debuts. They were 2-3 against the spread. Luck and Tannehill were blown out by 20 points. One of the quarterbacks who covered, Weeden, threw four interceptions.

"This quarterback class is considered poor compared to last year's class," said Las Vegas oddsmaker Joel Staniszewski, "and last year's class didn't do well on opening day."

That's one more consideration that doesn't bode well for EJ Manuel and the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

Staniszewski, a Sloan native and Buffalo State grad, is an oddsmaker for Cantor Gaming, which operates race and sports books at the Venetian, Tropicana, Hard Rock, Palms, Palazzo, M Resort, Cosmopolitan and Silverton casinos in Las Vegas.

Staniszewski has provided oddsmaking analysis for the Press Coverage blog and is back for another season.

The New England Patriots are favored over the Bills by 10 to 11 points, depending on the sports book. The over/under total is 51 points.

Staniszewski groaned as he listed the trends that go against his Bills.

  • The Patriots are 18-1 straight up in their past 19 games against the Bills.
  • The Patriots are 11-2 straight up over their past 13 games in Ralph Wilson Stadium.
  • The Patriots are 7-1-1 against the spread in their past nine trips to The Ralph.
  • The Patriots are 40-23 against the spread versus the AFC East since 2001.
  • Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is 113-78 against the spread over his career.

But how does Las Vegas apply those trends when considering the Bills have reinvented themselves?

Aren't betting trends irrelevant against these Bills?

"It's not as difficult as people think," Staniszewski said of establishing a spread. "You can say the trends don't matter because it wasn't against this coaching staff and EJ Manuel.

"The fact remains it's still the Bills versus the Patriots. The betting public doesn't necessarily care whether it's EJ Manuel or Ryan Fitzpatrick. You can put up a number that's smaller because it's a different regime, young hungry coaches, team on the rise.

"But people who bet think, 'Tom Brady versus the Bills.' You can't give the Bills the benefit of the doubt until they prove us wrong."

Staniszewski noted the spread fluttered a tad when over talk undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel might start at quarterback instead of Manuel. The line settled after Manuel was declared the starter.

"But when the Bills play the Patriots," Staniszewski said, "everybody loves the Patriots."

On the line from Vegas: Super Bowl XLVII betting analysis

By Tim Graham

NEW ORLEANS -- Las Vegas oddsmaker Joel Staniszewski of Sloan has been delighting us degenerates all season with his betting observations on the Buffalo Bills and the postseason.

Here are his thoughts and trends for Super Bowl XLVII.

San Francisco 49ers versus Baltimore Ravens

Spread: Niners minus-3.5

Total: 47.5 points

• Ten teams from the wild-card playoff round have reached the Super Bowl. They are 10-0 against the spread and 7-3 straight up.

• In the last 11 Super Bowls, the underdog is 8-3 against the spread.

• San Francisco is 5-1 against the spread in its past six games against a team with a winning record.

• Baltimore is 4-0 against the spread in its past four postseason games.

• Baltimore is 4-1 against the spread in its past five games overall.

Baltimore beat San Francisco, 16-6, at home on Thanksgiving 2011. Staniszewski points out the Ravens pretty much have remained the same, but Niners quarterback Alex Smith threw for 140 yards, ran for 12 yards and got sacked nine times in that game.

• In nine starts, Colin Kaepernick has averaged 233 passing yards, 48.5 rushing yards, 1.9 touchdowns (passing and rushing), 0.4 interceptions and 1.5 sacks.

And because Staniszewski was incredulous someone would think to track such a thing:

• The team from the city with the lowest unemployment rate has won 20 of the past 25 Super Bowls. Baltimore's unemployment rate in 2012 was 7.2 percent, while San Francisco's was 8.2 percent.

Staniszewski's take:

"My initial thought when the line came out was that San Francisco was the play. But the more historical research I've done, the more I'm leaning toward Baltimore as the play. Also something to keep in mind is that if you think Baltimore is the play, then take the under because they have a better chance to win a low-scoring game. If you like San Francisco, then you should take the over."

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |