As a league, one of the calling cards of the NFL is the concept of parity. Theoretically, there shouldn’t be giant gulfs between talent levels in football. A natural result of this is that many games are decided by a single score (8 points or less). A large chunk of these close games went the Buffalo Bills’ way in 2020, some in dramatic fashion. What if they hadn’t? Let’s take a look game-by-game and examine this terrifying “what if?” scenario.
Week 2: Bills 31 - Miami Dolphins 28
This one was somewhat feasible. The Dolphins pulled within three points with a touchdown and two-point conversion with just under a minute to play. If they had snagged the onside kick, they had 49 seconds and one timeout to get in field goal range. Once you hit overtime, who knows what can happen.
Week 3: Bills 35 - Los Angeles Rams 32
This one wasn’t just feasible—the Rams had a solid path to victory. After going up big, Buffalo allowed a comeback, with Los Angeles taking the lead with four-and-a-half minutes to play. The Bills pulled it out with only 15 seconds left on the clock. Buffalo converted a 3rd-and-22 and benefited from a defensive pass interference call on fourth down on their final drive.
Week 4: Bills 30 - Las Vegas Raiders 23
The Raiders would have had a little tougher time than the Dolphins. They pulled it within seven with less than two minutes to play and one timeout. Like Miami, an onside kick was needed. Unlike Miami, they needed to drive the entire length of the field.
Week 7: Bills 18 - Jets 10
On paper it looks like the Jets had an easier time than Miami or Las Vegas. With two minutes and a timeout, they had the ball and needed one good drive and two-point conversion. Totally feasible. But remember this was the game where they moved the ball a net of four yards in the second half.
Week 8: Bills 24 - New England Patriots 21
If it wasn’t for Justin Zimmer this game was going to overtime at the very least. New England also had a good chance of winning in regulation. This was the narrowest of the single-score victories in 2020.
Wild Card round: Bills 27 - Indianapolis Colts 24
First of all, from Week 8 to the Wild Card round the Bills won by nine or more points in all their contests. Games stopped being quite so close, which is remarkable. This was the second-closest game as Buffalo gave the ball back with 2:30 left in the fourth and the Colts only needing three to keep the game alive. The defense tightened up and it was on to the division round.
What if they lost these games?
For the regular-season games it would have been quite a swing. Rather than 13-3, they’d have been 8-8 and no postseason. Now most teams aren’t unlucky enough to lose all their one-score games so what if they were a toss up?
Buffalo had lost only one single-score game (Arizona Cardinals) for six total. Balancing those out would add two losses. At 11-5, things get dicey for Buffalo, especially if the two extra losses were against Miami and one other division foe.
Since we’re here, what happens if Buffalo won that Arizona game? They move to 14-2, tied with Kansas City. However they lose the head-to-head still and remain the second seed.
The good news for Bills fans is this; there’s not much reason to think the Bills outperformed based on one-score-game outcomes. As noted above, most of these games weren’t true toss ups. Three of the five would have required some solid heroics from the opponent.