The Buffalo Bills broke the longest active playoff drought in the NFL during the 2017 season, posting a 9-7 record and earning the No. 6 seed in the playoffs before falling 10-3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Wild Card round. One of the biggest reasons the Bills made the playoffs was their strong special teams play, which under first-year head coach Sean McDermott experienced tremendous growth.
Thanks to the accuracy of new placekicker Stephen Hauschka, the punting excellence of Colton Schmidt, and solid contributions from the kick coverage team, the Bills climbed 17 spots in columnist Rick Gosselin’s annual NFL special teams rankings.
One year after finishing 24th in the NFL for special teams, the Bills improved to seventh overall under McDermott and special teams coordinator Danny Crossman. It was the best single-season improvement in 2017.
The Bills compiled 309.5 total points, tied with the Oakland Raiders for seventh in the league. In Gosselin’s rankings, the league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 kicking game categories and assigned points according to their standing – one for best, 32 for worst.
The fewer points accumulated, the better the special teams unit fared in 2017. The only teams that fared better than Buffalo in special teams were the Los Angeles Rams (196.5 points), the Kansas City Chiefs (229.5), the New England Patriots (231.5), the Baltimore Ravens (233), the Dallas Cowboys (250.5), and the Detroit Lions (274).
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the worst special teams unit was the New York Giants (514), followed by the Denver Broncos (472), the Arizona Cardinals (471.5), the Los Angeles Chargers (461.5), the Cleveland Browns (447), and the Chicago Bears (447).
A large reason for the increased special teams ranking was Hauschka, who signed with Buffalo as a free agent during the offseason. Hauschka made 29 of his 33 field goal attempts, with a league-best seven field goals of 50-plus yards.
Buffalo ranked fifth in punt coverage (allowing 5.5 yards per return), third in opponent punting (43.06 yards per punt), and fourth in opponent net punting (38 yards per punt). They were one of six teams not to miss an extra point in 2017.
The Bills were one of 15 teams who did not give up any touchdowns on special teams, one of 13 who did not commit any giveaways, and one of nine who did not allow a kick to be blocked. Conversely, Buffalo was one of eight teams that failed to block a kick and one of 17 who did not score a touchdown.
In the coverage game, Lorenzo Alexander and Shamarko Thomas tied for the team lead with nine special teams tackles apiece, while Deon Lacey and Joe Webb each were in on eight tackles.