Penalty Harm: Patriots at Bills

Bills lost. It sucked. The Pats looked crazy good and I hate it. I liked Tyrod Taylor's decision making overall, just wish for a little more accuracy. Oh yeah, it would help if our skill position groups didn't look like a scene from M.A.S.H. after heavy artillery fire.

Please Football Jesus, my prayers aren't that outrageous.

Anyway, you came here for penalty breakdowns so here's my "let's feel good about our team" thought:

At least we aren't the Oakland Raiders. They committed 23 penalties to set a NEW LEAGUE RECORD for penalties in a single game! They were dinged for 200 yards on those. They also had three penalties declined and one offset for a total of 27 committed penalties in their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers!

Oh...hmmm...they won? How 'bout that...


For a project explanation, check out this FanPost and let's get on with it

Traditional Penalty Metrics

This week could really just be a string of profanities (for both teams) regarding this topic. Just want that out of the way

The Opposition

  • The New England Patriots came into the game doing somewhat better than the Buffalo Bills on penalties. The Bills, you might recall had hit 7.0 penalties and 65.57 yards per game. New England was averaging 6 penalties per game for 54 yards per game
  • Penalties to expect include Offensive Holding and False Start. New England only had 3 Defensive Pass Interference calls prior to might wanna keep that in mind

Buffalo, Year to Date

  • Yuk. Remember last week I got to celebrate the tiny "below average" penalties per game before Houston had to go and be d**** about it. The Bills had exactly seven per game. With this poor showing, they leap back up to 7.625
  • With this week performance, they also raised their yards per game from about 65 to 67.88 yards per game. Not cool

New England at Buffalo

  • Buffalo was hit for 12 penalties (easily the highest of the year) for 84 yards. This comes out to 7.0 yards per penalty which isn't actually all that bad
  • New Englad had 10 for 116 yards, which is 11.6 yards per penalty. That's actually really bad
  • I want to stress that this game was an anomaly for both teams. By these metrics, it's a split. Buffalo hurt themselves more often, but New England hurt themselves worse each time
  • For reference, following this week, the league averages are 7.02 penalties and 60.71 yards per game

Penalty Harm

I'll be doing things a bit different this week. Due to the overall high numbers (and the way this analysis shook out), I won't really get into "boo boo" penalties. Usually I call anything that rates lower than a 1.0 harm as one of these. I'll even be avoiding most penalties between 1.1 and 2.0 as these are generally only "somewhat bad" penalties. From this season's data, it's my opinion that once you break the 2.0 barrier, you're looking at something you'd really wanna take back. I'll go through each team (like usual) but chronologically go through their "interesting" penalties. Starting with the Home Team


  • The Bills had no offset or declined penalties making their "true penalty count" the same as above (12). Their true yardage (yards assessed + yards affected) becomes 112 with 28 yards affected by penalty. This brings them to 9.33 yards per penalty that they hurt themselves. This still isn't too bad
  • Buffalo's first "interesting" penalty came in the second quarter. An Illegal Formation penalty wiped out a big gain that would have taken the Bills from 2nd to 1st down. For the math: 5 yards assessed + 18 yards negated + 1 down given away = 3.3 Harm
  • Later in the quarter, Eric Wood had himself a Holding call which negated a 10 yard run (on 1st down, so no negated downs). This came out to a clean 2.0 Harm (Wood had another Hold in the same quarter that rated 1.1)
  • A 12 Men on the Field call actually negated a 1 yard run by Blount. Based on yardage only it would have rated 0.4 harm. However, it also gave up two downs (Patriots were 3rd and 5) and was assessed at 2.4 Harm. Now, the Pats were already in FG range, but a drive extender is never a good thing
  • I have one interesting "boo boo" for everyone. We tend to think of Unnecessary Roughness and other 15 yarders as the worst penalties. Nickell Robey-Coleman had one of these guys and it only rated 0.6 Harm using my scale. Why? Well the Patriots already had their first down and were near the goal line. He inched them closer sure, but they were already in good position. It hurt, but not a lot
  • Shaq Lawson's first NFL sack (on a future HoFer to boot) was quickly followed by his first Roughing the Passer call. 15 yards and 2 free downs = 3.5 Harm
  • Stephon Gilmore had a rough day with two penalties. The second was Defensive Holding (5 yards) that gave up two free downs for 2.5 Harm rating
  • If you're playing along at home, that's SIX of their twelve penalties that were pretty bad news. Traditional metrics are a mixed bag with a high count and somewhat low yards per penalty. But with everything I rate, their cumulative harm for this game was 19.2. The cleanest game to date (that I've rated) was a 6. The worst was damn near 40. Anecdotally, anything reaching the teens has been a day I consider bad. In short...the Bills had a BAAAD day


  • The Patriots had one declined penalty, raising their count to 11 (Spinal Tap'd that ****). They had 73 yards affected by penalty to go with their 116 for a total of 189 yards. This results in 17.18 yards per penalty using my method. There's no question that this is terrible. They hurt themselves big time based on this measure
  • They must like starting off their penalty day with a doozy against us. Last time was the Chris Hogan double penalty that rated over 9. This week wasn't as bad, but Danny Amendola's OPI call yielded 3.6 Harm as a result of the 10 penalty yards and wiping out a 26 yard gain
  • Their next penalty was due to having an Ineligible Player Downfield. This wiped out a 47 yard passing play that came on 3rd down. It rated 7.2 Harm
  • An illegal contact call on Devin McCourty gave the Bills a paltry 5 yards on 1st and 10. Oh yeah, it wiped out an interception which is scored as negating 4 downs of opportunity. The total on the penalty was 4.5 Harm
  • It "only" rated 1.9 Harm, but a DPI call on Justin Coleman set the Bills with 1st and goal. The Bills were in decent shape already, but this isn't one I'd overlook
  • To close out their penalty day, Eric Rowe had a DPI himself. A 3rd and 8 pass from EJ Manuel went incomplete. The penalty gave up 29 yards and 2 downs or 4.9 Harm. I know the game was already over at this point, but you still don't wanna be doing these
  • New England had themselves a downright terrible day with 29.9 Cumulative Harm

Final Thoughts

I'm skipping the player notes section this week and intend to focus on that a little more during the bye week. However, I'd be remiss for not mentioning Jerry Hughes at all. It's likely he was one of the 12 Men on the Field at least one of the two times we got hit with that. But apart from that...another penalty free game from Mr. Hughes! He's back on track for only 8 on the year with only 4 on the season so far (assessed, he's had one declined).

As for this game, both teams giddily set about giving the other opportunities. I'd like to say "if Buffalo had a cleaner game they coulda won." And actually that's likely true. Take away a few bullets to the foot and there could be a nice swing. However, both teams were abnormally high when compared to the league average, but also their own recent history. So while I can say Buffalo had a decent shot at winning with a cleaner game, it's just as true that New England could have had a bigger rout if THEY had a cleaner game.

And if both teams played a cleaner game, the outcome would look much the same I'd wager.

Stepping away from the "What if" musings, this game still stands out. Take away whatever conclusions about emotions and "getting inside their heads" (on both sides) you will. It seems clear to me that both teams had a brand of ugly, mistake prone football on Sunday. One team just did a better job of bandaging their self inflicted wounds.

And I hate them for it

Just another great fan opinion shared on the pages of