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Penalty Recap: Buffalo Bills vs. 2017 opponents

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We did the weekly thing, but for the season on the whole, how did the Bills stack up against their opponents and the league?

What a season from the Buffalo Bills! From tanking to the drought ending, every week had a heck of a story to follow. For penalty nerds such as myself and the literal twos of others out there, no story put us further to the edge of our seats than tracking those little yellow flags the striped fellas toss on occasion. We’ve recapped the top ten “worst offenders” for the Bills, and now it’s time to compare the Bills against their opponents.

Standard and Advanced Metrics

Count and True Count

Count = number assessed. True count = number assessed + number declined/offset

There’s pretty much no difference between Buffalo and their opponents when it comes to count. Both the Bills and the collective of who they played against were a little below league average in both assessed and true penalty counts. Around mid-year we began looking at officiating crews and the common refrain was that the Bills had landed “lenient” officials more often than expected. This could certainly have been a contributing factor. For readers who like ranks, the Bills were 23rd in penalties per game or 10th-best in the league. Opponents ranked from 2nd to 32nd with a good cross section in between.

Yards and True Yards

Yards = Yards assessed. True yards = Yards assessed + Yards negated by penalty

Again, we see no significant separation between the Bills and who they played against. The Bills’ assessed yards are one yard per game more than their opponents, which is hardly anything to fret about. When we start discussing yards impacted by penalties in addition to the assessed, the Opponents very slightly edge out the Bills.

Penalty Harm

Well, no need for a conclusion section this go around. Even penalty harm has the Bills almost identical to their opponents for this year, with less than 2 harm units difference the entire season. The rest of the table is just fun information on the breakdown. As noted above, yards and true yards were almost identical (which factor into harm rating) and this table covers the other elements in “harm.” The Bills gave up a few more downs, while their opponents negated a couple more points and a turnover.

For the sake of making this more interesting than the data:

  • Against the Chargers, Charles Clay was hit with OPI which negated his own TD. The Bills managed to get the TD anyway to mount their comeback.
  • While visiting the Jets, a Josh McCown pass to Austin Sefarian-Jenkins resulted in a TD. Matt Forte was flagged with OPI which negated that TD.
  • OPI strikes yet again, negating a two-point attempt by the Indianapolis Colts in a game where weather played a small part. The pass from Jacoby Brissett to Jack Doyle resulted in the Colts having to go for the extra point to force snowvertime thanks to Kamar Aiken’s mistake.
  • The Miami Dolphins were starting to rally to end Buffalo’s playoff hopes, and a turnover could have made quite a bit of difference in the outcome of the game. The Dolphins had one too, except a face mask call on Cameron Wake occurred before the fumble and Miami recovery.

Before we wrap up, here’s one more graphic to tie into the overall conclusion. This one shows the split of the penalty harm for each game, and quickly shows who had more. As it’s percentage based, note that you can’t compare one game to another. This is strictly for assigning a penalty “winner” for each game. For example, Buffalo lost pretty big to the Chargers in penalties as well as the score as the Bills (always the blue section) had more than 50% of the harm in that game.

Put in the easiest terms, it’s better for the blue section to be below the white line.

Here’s the big “conclusion” if you’re ready for it. Over the course of the entire season, the Bills had nearly identical penalty performance in comparison to the aggregated data of their opponents. In order to see how penalties impact wins and losses, you’d need to look at every game individually. Which we did already.