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Bills’ opponent preview: New England by the numbers

Sorry again everyone, another numbers dive rather than film

I’ll start with an apology as yet again I found myself in a time crunch that meant film study wasn’t feasible. I could have relied on the last time the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots played but, well...we all know that game is hard to draw a lot of specific conclusions from. Instead, let’s dive into league rankings for my favorite stats. Efficiency ones!

New England Offense vs. Buffalo Defense

This late in the season, most teams should have faced enough variety in opponents for relatively high validity for these. That doesn’t mean variation in single games isn’t possible, but these should all be considered good baselines.

  • The Patriots average 5.64 yards per play on offense—15th in the league. That compares to 4.70 yards per play allowed by Buffalo. That’s the best average in the league.
  • New England does better in passing, where Mac Jones’s high completion percentage (69 percent) benefits the team by reducing a lot of zeros, aka “incomplete passes.” They average 7.25 yards per pass, seventh best in the league. Buffalo is number one here as well on defense, allowing 5.4 yards per pass. And Buffalo is insanely comfortable in that lead, averaging 0.46 ahead of the next best team (Patriots). There are no other gaps between teams larger than 0.15 yards difference.
  • At 4.23 yards per carry, New England is firmly mediocre in run efficiency. Buffalo is 12th best against the run at 4.18 yards per carry allowed. Also pretty mediocre.
  • The Patriots are also average in interception rate (17th), decent at avoiding sacks (tenth), and good at converting third downs (seventh). Buffalo’s respective defensive ranks are third for interceptions (great), nearly bad with sacks at 23rd in the league, and fourth best at stopping third-down conversions.

Matchup summary:

On paper this is a pretty clear advantage for Buffalo. There are a couple bright spots for New England, specifically their yards per pass and third-down conversions. They’ve managed to use those advantage to have the tenth-best scoring offense in the league. But you all likely know how I feel about top ten by now. It’s close to being out of the average pack, but not quite. On the flip side, Buffalo’s defense only has a couple weaknesses, with overall elite production. Buffalo has the second-best scoring defense for a reason.

New England Defense vs. Buffalo Offense

Let’s see how this side shakes out...

  • Buffalo has the tenth-best yards per play at 5.76 yards per. New England’s defense only allows 5.06 yards per play, third best.
  • The Bills’ passing efficiency is a “meh” 15th best at 6.71 yards per pass. The Patriots I’ve nearly already spelled out. At 5.86 allowed, they’re the second-best team at stopping the pass.
  • New England struggles to stop the run. At 4.56 yards allowed per run play, they’re 26th in the league. Are you ready for this? The Bills average 4.75 yards per carry. That’s fourth best. My top tier in the rule of four. I know that doesn’t sound right, but a lot of the perception is driven by an average number of attempts leading to mediocre volume stats. And there is validity to the idea that the Bills struggle to assert themselves at the line (at least in my eyes that’s valid). When the dust settles though, Buffalo moves the ball on the ground better than most imagine.
  • Buffalo is pretty average in interceptions (20th), good at avoiding sacks (fourth best), and even better at converting third downs than New England is (fourth). The Patriots are ball hawks, having the second-best interception rate. They’re trending toward good when it comes to sacks at tenth in the league. And they’re right behind Buffalo’s defense stopping third downs, coming in at fifth on the charts.

Matchup summary:

This matchup is reversed, favoring the Patriots. Oddly enough, the numbers suggest that Buffalo should see more overall success on the ground, which didn’t pan out last time, though again that game was weird. Buffalo’s offense has a lot of individual traits that aren’t anything special, but mange to have the fourth-best scoring offense in the league. For scoring defense though, no one is better than New England.

Overall matchup

The script flips for the two teams, with both seemingly featuring more dominance on the defensive side of the ball. The difference then (again, on paper) is the relative disparity between the two teams. The numbers suggest an advantage to Buffalo mainly as a result of their better offensive traits.

Put differently, here’s the quick version. While both teams have a lot of mediocrity in their offensive stats, Buffalo has more that steer it toward “good” or “very good” territory. Meanwhile, while both teams have elite rankings for their defense, Buffalo’s flaws trend more toward average than “major issue.”