The Buffalo Bills are one of the more intriguing teams entering the 2013 season. While most believe Buffalo will finish in the basement of the AFC (and who can blame them) there are some advanced metrics that suggest they may not be as bad as the consensus have projected them to be. The Bills are certainly not winning the Super Bowl this year, but a new head coach and offensive scheme and a deeper look at some quantitative and qualitative data, might, at the very least, give Bills fans a glimmer of hope that Buffalo could be competing for the second Wild Card spot come week 16.
Strength of Schedule
Strength of schedule is arguably the hardest factor to determine when predicting a team’s win-loss record. Last season, the Bills faced one of the easiest schedules in the league; but when you skim over their 2012 matchups, it’s fair to say the Colts, Seahawks, and Rams, were a lot better than most thought going into 2012. Buffalo was also blown out in a number of games last year. They were embarrassed by the 49ers 45-3, defeated by the Seahawks 50-17, lost to the Patriots 52-28, and, of course, gave up 48 points to the woeful Jets in the season opener. Now, predicting blowout wins is about as difficult as it gets, but I think a regression to the mean (and in this case, a good one) is the most likely scenario for the Bills in 2013. That doesn’t mean they’ll win more games facing better competition, but it will give them the opportunity to be in a position to win if the game is still within reach.
It seems contradictory for me to even evaluate Buffalo’s schedule this season given that I just spent the last paragraph claiming strength of schedule is nearly impossible to predict. But I’m a glutton for punishment. Buffalo’s schedule, when looking at it objectively, is not that daunting. The Bills face the AFC North and the NFC South this season, and at this point, the Bengals, Falcons, and Saints (in the Super Dome) are all but guaranteed losses. However, the Steelers, Ravens, Browns, Buccaneers, and Panthers are all winnable games. Additionally, they play the Patriots, Jets, and Dolphins, twice, which, right now, doesn’t seem like an insurmountable feat. New England will take a step back in 2013 with Tom Brady losing 4 of his top 5 receivers from last season. The Jets will have one of the worst offenses in league history. And if we use the past to predict the future, signing big-name free agents in the offseason doesn’t necessarily equate to wins, which, apparently, is a trend the Dolphins are looking to buck.
Fumble Recovery Rate
Generally, when a team fumbles, the chances of recovering the ball hovers at around 50 percent. However, when an oddly shaped ball made of synthetic leather hits the ground, it’s harder to gauge its direction. Last season, Buffalo picked up only 30.6 percent of its fumbles, which was the worst percentage of any team in 2012. Given that the average is around 50 percent, the likelihood of Buffalo regressing back to league average in 2013 would be an expected outcome. Fumble recovery rate isn’t the greatest measure in predicting wins — Denver was 27th in the league at 37.5 percent — but if Buffalo can increase their FRR by at least 15 percent, chances are they’ll be more competitive in games this year.
Adjusted Games Lost
Introduced by Football Outsiders, adjusted games lost quantifies how much any given team was affected by injuries by measuring the loss of starters and replacement players. Moreover, AGL also reflects whether a player was out, doubtful, questionable, or probable. Last season, Buffalo had an AGL of 79.7. In 2012, only nine other teams had a worse AGL — the Lions, Giants, Steelers, Browns, Cowboys, Redskins, Colts, Jaguars, and Packers. The Packers and Redskins are the outliers in this a equation, seeing as how they had two of the leagues most efficient quarterbacks whose talents were enough to overcome certain injuries. Like with all metrics, AGL is not a perfect science in predicting how a team will perform over the course of the year. But if the Bills can trend towards the middle of the pack in AGL this season, their chances of grabbing one of the two Wild Card spots will increase.
New Offensive Scheme
Newly hired head coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will carry over an offense from Syracuse that propelled them to an 8-5 record and a victory over West Virginia in last year’s PinStripe Bowl. The offense, detailed in this piece by Grantland’s Chris Brown, will utilize a combination of “packaged” plays that allows an offense flexibility by reading the defense and simply reacting to their formation. This simplistic, read-option based scheme, gives the quarterback — and in this case Kevin Kolb or E.J. Manuel — the option to either keep the ball and run, hand the ball off to the running back, hit a quick slant where the linebacker typically would be cheating in to stop the run, or, throw a screen pass. Stylistically, the offense makes sense, given the explosiveness of C.J. Spiller and Manuel’s ability to run.
The Verdict …
Like I said, the Bills are not winning the Super Bowl this season. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they missed the playoffs altogether. But if Buffalo can show signs of improvement in both fumble recover rate and adjusted games lost, and go at least .500 in their division, a playoff birth is certainly not out of the question.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @OGDelicious