In a league focused on parity many games are decided by a single score. These razor-thin margins can have major repercussions. Let’s examine a hypothetical where the Buffalo Bills flipped their one-score victories into losses.
The 2019 Buffalo Bills finished the season at 10-6 and earned a trip to the playoffs as the fifth seed. Now obviously our scenario will not be a good one for the Bills, but how bad would it have been? During the regular season nine games were decided by one score (eight points or less). Let’s flip the losses to wins and see what happens.
- New York Jets, Week 1: A stumbling Bills’ offense needed some time to gel and won a dramatic comeback victory over the Jets by one point. This early loss in the division would have had repercussions down the line such as not resting the starters in Week 17.
- Cincinnati Bengals, Week 3: Another comeback victory for the Bills could easily have gone the other way. Both this game and the Jets considered alone wouldn’t change the season outcome. At 9-7, Buffalo would have been tied with the Tennessee Titans but with the head-to-head tiebreaker.
- Tennessee Titans, Week 5: This one’s a doozy. The Titans had plenty of time to come back and squeak out a victory over the Bills. If they had, the two teams would have flipped playoff seeding, sending the Bills to take on the New England Patriots for a third time.
- Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 15: This one is tricky. By changing just this seven-point victory to a loss it puts both Buffalo and Pittsburgh at 9-7. However, because Tennessee ALSO finished 9-7 we have a three-way tiebreaker scenario. Feel free to read the convoluted method here, but if I read it right Buffalo is the first team eliminated from the trio with a 6-6 conference record due to this loss. The Titans and Steelers both end with 7-5 in the conference and move to a two-team tiebreaker format, which is decided by common games (Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Bills, Los Angeles Chargers) where the Steelers’ victory over the Bills gives them a 4-1 record vs. the Titans’ 3-2. This is why the game was moved to primetime.
All of the changes
Now of course four extra losses drops the Buffalo Bills out of playoffs. All of the changes together push Tennessee into the fifth seed and Pittsburgh into the sixth. For those who are curious, Houston still takes the AFC South based on division record. The more interesting discussion for the Bills, however, becomes the perception of the team.
At 6-10 all of this offseason’s changes would be made with the goal of fixing gaps rather than enhancing a playoff roster. Despite a fairly similar statistical output being likely, the Josh Allen narrative swings hard in a different direction. With several comeback games removed from his slate he goes from Cap’n Clutch to a choke artist. The Magic Beane and Sean McDermott process show loses a lot of luster. A playoff team in year one would have fallen to 6-10 the following two seasons and there’d be some very warm seats in Orchard Park.
It’s very rare for a team to lose all its one-score games in a season so the above worst-case was far from likely ever happening. It should be apparent though that just one or two different results would have altered what was ultimately a very enjoyable season. NFL teams often live on a razor’s edge and it was good to be on the right side of it.