What would 8-8 mean for Bills?

A .500 record likely isn't playoffs, but could signify progress

Mike Schopp
July 16, 2019 - 10:43 am

Photo: Rich Barnes - USA TODAY Sports

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Remember a late 2013 Buffalo Bills game in Jacksonville where after Chad Henne threw a touchdown pass to Marcedes Lewis, the Bills countered with an E.J. Manuel-to-Frank Summers score to take a 27-20 lead they would not relinquish?

OK, neither do I. But it turns out that since that December win six years ago, the Bills' record is 41 wins and 42 losses. If they beat the Jets in the 2019 opener they'll be .500 for their last 84 games.

They've won one of their last two, three of their last six, 22 of their last 46, 34 of their last 70, 39 of their last 80. 

At this early stage, 2019 doesn't set up to be much different. The BetOnline.com over/under win total for Buffalo is 7, and the money is modestly toward the over.

8-8, or .500, might be the likeliest 2019 Bills record.

But is it good?

In a strict sense, the answer is no. 8-8 almost definitely isn't a playoff record, especially in the New England Patriots-run prison in which the Bills are trapped, the AFC East. If you're not a playoff team, so what what your record is? In that realm, worse is actually better.

From the standpoint of year-to-year progress, however, 8-8 is an improvement over last year's 6-10. If you're two games better than last year and you weren't coming from rock bottom, there's cause for satisfaction, if not celebration.

So it's debatable whether the seeming likeliest outcome for the 2019 Bills is actually one we should be impressed with. 

If the "what" is 8-8, whether it impresses you at all probably will depend on the "how".

The first and obvious swing factor is the play of Josh Allen, who himself is a microcosm of the situation. Allen's big-play potential -- both passing and running -- have many if not most Bills fans expecting big things; his rookie season featured several of those moments but amounted to 10 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, a smidge over 2,000 passing yards in 12 games, and a paltry completion percentage of 52.8%. These numbers will need to look not just better but decidedly better for the Bills to deserve to be confident in their quarterback beyond 2019.

WGR's Sal Capaccio has used Chicago's Mitchell Trubisky as a comparison for Allen going from Year 1 to Year 2. That's reasonable enough; Trubisky completed 59.4% of his passes as a rookie but otherwise his numbers come fairly close to Allen's. In his second season, Trubisky upped his touchdown passes from seven to 24, and his completion percentage to 66.6%. Chicago's defense was third last season in yards allowed. Buffalo's was second, although only 18th in points allowed (Chicago was first). If Allen does well, a defensive effort in 2019 similar to the Bears' of last year should catapult the Bills to a playoff season.

But we're talking about 8-8 here. If the defense is really good and the team goes 8-8, it's likely that the offense would have sputtered. That's a scenario where 8-8 would not impress me anyway. We've been over-and-over in this space and on the air about the difficulty of sustaining quality defense. Quarterback, meanwhile, is when good tends to stay good. It's much better for the future of the Bills if Allen shines in an 8-8 season than if their defense does.

Another approach to analyzing an 8-8 year would be to look at point differential. (Truth be told, I'll want to take that more seriously than record in every single situation.) There's a lot of luck in sports, and as such there can be tremendous disparities between teams with the same records. The 2017 Bills went 9-7 and made the playoffs despite a minus-57 point differential that ranked 21st in the league. All four seasons prior to 2017, the Bills had a better point differential and didn't make the playoffs once. For my money, these last two Bills teams are the two worst of the last six years.

Oddly there were no 8-8 NFL teams in 2018. Miami came in at 7-9 despite an astonishingly bad for that record minus-114 point differential. Washington was 7-9 with a minus-78. Denver was 6-10 with only a minus-20. On the flip side, Dallas was 10-6 with a small point advantage of plus-15. The reality is that 10-6 Dallas and 6-10 Denver were of about the same quality.

So, 8-8s are not created equally. If the Bills post that record this year, did they show dominance at times? An 8-8 team with a few blowout wins coupled with some very close losses is probably a pretty good one. That'll be something to watch.

One more facet to this will be how the Bills compare with their division rivals, the New York Jets. I don't want to assume Miami will be bad, but most people think Miami will be bad. Neither do I want to assume New England dominates again, but, probably, New England dominates again.

The Jets, meanwhile, enter 2019 a tick above the Bills in terms of expectations. Their win total and playoff odds are a touch higher. Both teams' quarterbacks are entering their second seasons. Like the Bills, the Jets augmented this offseason at skill positions, most notably by signing Le'Veon Bell. (I also really like new Jets receiver Jamison Crowder, late of Washington.)

There probably isn't room for both the Bills and Jets to seriously contend for a playoff spot. Which one of them will, or will neither do it? If I know the Bills are going 8-8 and the Jets go 10-6, I'm not as high on the situation here as I would be if the Jets instead went 6-10. The Bills already have an impossible time competing with New England, if the Jets pass them and look legit that's just another obstacle in their way.

Most other seasons than 8-8, you'll pretty much be able to tell where things are at. At 8-8 -- the likeliest Bills record in 2019 -- that gets tricky.

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