This will be the first year that Buffalo has not had a losing record since 2004, and only their third non-losing season thus far in the millennium (2002 saw the team go 8-8, and 2004 9-7). Here’s how:
Step 1: Trick me into believing that this wouldn’t be the year that Buffalo has a chance to go 9-7.
Step 2: Put together a top-notch defense. As of week 14 (meaning that things will probably look even better after beating the Packers), Buffalo had the second-best defense in terms of DVOA. This includes a top-ranked pass defense and a top-third rushing defense. Most of their pass defense comes from an outstanding front four putting a lot of pressure on quarterbacks. They’re also pretty good at shutting down #1 receivers (mostly the Gilmore effect), tight ends, and running backs. But again, most of this falls on the line: they’re atop the league in sacks and adjusted sack rate, 4th in adjusted line yards, and 3rd in run stuffing. You can run around the defensive ends, but the Bills rank 5th (Left Tackle), 2nd (Mid/Guard), and 4th (Right Tackle) in rushes between the right end and left end.
Step 3: Have special teams make up for a bad offense. Dan Carpenter has a strong leg and is accurate enough to hit field goals in the crazy weather conditions Ralph Wilson Stadium provides. The Bills are above-average in all special teams respects Football Outsiders collects (FG/XP, kicking, kick returns, punting, and punt returns), something that no other team can claim.
Step 4: Get lucky. Buffalo’s offense has been terrible this year, with the team completely misusing CJ Spiller (until his injury), a “run-focused” team struggling to run the ball, and an offensive line which is offensive, ranking 25th in run blocking and 20th in pass protection. EJ Manuel was terrible and Kyle Orton really hasn’t been much better…but in the AFC East, that still makes Orton the third-best quarterback after Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill. The Bills eeked out several wins this season, including a last-second miracle win against the Vikings.
We’ll see if this holds through the Oakland game this weekend. I doubt the Bills will be able to beat New England, and given how strong the AFC is this year, they might not even make the playoffs at 9-7. Maybe Buffalo should apply for the NFC South, where they’d probably go 10-6 every year, getting 6 freebie wins…