Most people that know me personally are well aware that I’m a math guy. Numbers fascinate me because of what they can tell us, but more importantly what they can’t. Humans have a funny way of taking statistics, turning them on their side and mocking them. Football stats are no different, but they can tell us things if we look at the right numbers. Okay all of you mathematicians out there, can you correlate this number string?
4, 2, 2, 1, 2, 6, 4, 5, 2, 1, 6, 4, 4, 1
For those of you NOT looking too deeply at numbers in a football article, I’ll go ahead and tell you that those are the playoff seedings of every Super Bowl champion since 2000. So what exactly do these numbers tell us? Well, other than the fact that the perfect playoff seed is pretty darn close to pi (3.14 seed average), just getting to the playoffs is more important these days than it has been in the past. From 1975, the first year home field was based on a team’s record, through 1999, only three teams won the championship without being a 1 or 2 seed. In the last ten years, it happened three years in a row – TWICE!
This week’s loss was pretty devastating, so I realize that talking about making the playoffs may seem like the last thing on everyone’s mind. It’s even harder to write this as we go through a quarterback change. Going back to the numbers, if you look at the stats since the 12 team playoff format was introduced in 1990, we had a 62.3% chance of making the playoffs after our 2-0 start. Now that we’re 2-2, it drops almost in half to a dismal 36%, which is about where we started when all teams were 0-0 (37.5). Yes, things look bleak for our Bills, but let’s try to put things in the coach’s perspective.
Doug Marrone always talks about Buffalo “winning each quarter,” meaning that the season is chopped up into 4 game stretches. His philosophy is that if we can win each quarter, making the playoffs will be an afterthought. This way of looking at a season and its playoff implications has a very high degree of logic. The only way you can “win” a quarter of the season is by going 3-1 or 4-0 in the four games; win each quarter and you’re a virtual lock for the playoffs. The problem right now is that we’re 2-2.
I’m sure a draw wasn’t what coach Marrone was looking for, but the reality is that it happened, and nothing can change that. Let’s take a look into the schedule and see what the Bills need to do in the three remaining quarters:
QUARTER 2: @Detroit, New England, Minnesota, @NY Jets
Is it bad that Detroit scares me more than New England? Buffalo’s defense is absolutely amazing against the run, but pass coverage has been a liability. Detroit will look to exploit that weakness early and often. New England barely beat Oakland and were demolished by the Chiefs on Monday Night Football. Minnesota and the Jets look more like science projects than football teams. I can see Buffalo going 3-1 during this stretch and winning the second quarter.
QUARTER 3: Kansas City, @Miami, NY Jets, Cleveland
Yes, Kansas City put a whooping on the Patriots, but Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis did most of the dirty work on the ground. Buffalo’s run D should be able to take care of that, but I worry about Charles’ ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Miami and NY should be winnable games, but I’ve learned to never underestimate a divisional opponent. Honestly, I cannot for the life of me get a read on Cleveland. The Browns have so much talent on their team, yet somehow cannot pull it together for a whole season. I see this quarter going anywhere from 3-1 to 1-3, with three of the four games being coin flips along with another beat down of Miami.
QUARTER 4: @Denver, Green Bay, @Oakland, @New England
Glancing over the schedule, this easily looks like the hardest stretch of the season. It would seem the NFL scheduling gurus stacked the deck against the Bills late to see if they’re playoff worthy. Three of the four teams started the season ranked in the top 5 on many “power ranking” charts. Fortunately, the way the season is unfolding reminds me of the stats I mentioned at the top of the article; everything is turning on its’ side. The Packers and the Patriots don’t seem to be the powerhouses they were purported to be, Oakland somehow looks worse than last year, and we get to play Peyton Manning in the snow. Going 1-1 in the first two games is a must if we want to keep our playoff chances alive late in the season.
The way the season is playing out so far, I don’t see Buffalo winning all three “Marrone Quarters” left in the season. I do, however, see a tight race brewing in the AFC East for the division crown. Look for the season finale at New England to be a “win and you’re in” game for the right to host a wild-card game. I’m not saying we’re championship bound, but a three or four seed sounds just as good as home field these days.