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Mr. B’s Breakdown: Bills need to turn the tables on turnovers

Turnovers are hurting the Bills, but can they bounce back against the Vikings?

The Buffalo Bills came into their Week 9 matchup against the New York Jets looking for their first divisional win of the 2022 NFL season. Anyone like me, who thought the Bills would win the division with ease, obviously looks foolish. One of my favorite preseason bets was Buffalo under 1.5 division losses. Not only did the Jets get the cover of the double-digit spread (-10.5 at kickoff), they provided us with the second-largest upset of the NFL season, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 7 was the only larger upset thus far. Teams giving double-digit points are now 4-9 against the spread this season, with Buffalo counting as two of the nine losses—the other being their Week 8 win over the Green Bay Packers.

So, what went wrong? This week’s edition of Mr. B’s Breakdown is all about turnovers. The offense (i.e. quarterback Josh Allen) turned the ball over twice, throwing two bad interceptions. Without these turnovers, Buffalo may have been able to overcome the injuries to important personnel, anemic offensive performance and poor run defense. But instead, the Bills took the loss to a lesser opponent.

Importance of turnovers

The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective conducted a study in 2020 to determine the impact turnovers have on an NFL football game. It was found that if a team wins the turnover margin in a game, they win 69.6% of the time. The effect compounds as teams winning the turnover margin by two won 83.9% of the time and winning the margin by three accounts for a team victory in 90.7% of cases.

In the NFL this season, it’s no surprise that the one remaining undefeated team, the Philadelphia Eagles, have the best turnover margin in the league at +15. Buffalo is 14th, at +1. The Bills are not in good company regarding turnovers. The Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons—two teams with losing records and no real Super Bowl aspirations—rank higher on this list. Buffalo’s opponent this week, the Minnesota Vikings, are fourth in the league at +6. If Buffalo turns the ball over against Minnesota, especially if injuries keep key players out of the lineup, it may be too much for them to overcome.

Allen knows this. He’s no longer the raw rookie we saw make boneheaded throws in untimely situations. His interception here during the Bills’ first drive of the game against the Jets surely took points off the board. This simply cannot happen if the team wants to be successful.

“It’s tough to win in this league when you’re playing a good team and your quarterback plays like s---,” Allen said after the game. “[I] made some bad decisions tonight, really cost our team. Lot to learn from, lot to grow from, but that’s not the standard we hold ourselves to. That’s not the ball that we play.”

With their six-game winning streak on the line, the Vikings will need that team ball security to continue to be a driving force to victory. Since throwing three interceptions in their only loss of the season to the Eagles, Kirk Cousins has thrown just three during their winning streak. Buffalo’s defense has recorded 11 interceptions on the season, but four of them belong to injured safety Jordan Poyer. Without him, Damar Hamlin and Jaquan Johnson have no interceptions yet. The lack of big plays coming from the safety position with Poyer sidelined has clearly hurt the Bills, who have grown accustomed to their pair of All-Pro safeties changing the course of games with big plays in key moments.

Wide receiver Justin Jefferson is coming off a 125-yard performance in their Week 9 victory, and Buffalo will surely have to game plan for him.

Take a look at this pair of catches Jefferson made against the Washington Commanders. On both plays, Jefferson beats his man and makes the catch with no extra help over the top on defense. Quarterbacks generally have to fear both sides of the field when Poyer and Micah Hyde are in the lineup, but the duo of Hamlin and Johnson wouldn’t put fear in me if I was the opposing offensive coordinator, particularly looking at the matchup against Jefferson. I’d target those safeties until they can prove capable in stopping it.

If cornerback Tre’Davious White makes his return this week, it will be a massive task for him to come in after missing so much time and matchup against a star like Jefferson. Containing him will be a huge focal point for defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier, and if they can catch an interception from Cousins, it could change the game.

Importance of Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook has established himself as a star running back in the NFL. His success continues in 2022, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and having scored five rushing touchdowns. He is the key to the balanced approach the Vikings apply. His ball security on the season has also aided in their terrific turnover ranking; he has only lost one fumble through eight games, proving to be someone Minnesota can trust with the ball. Cook can also make plays catching the ball out of the backfield, as seen here on this throw.

Another reason to be wary of Cook’s impact on Sunday is due to the addition of former Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson. After acquiring him shortly before the trade deadline, Hockenson brings his 6’5” frame with passing and blocking abilities to the Vikings’ offense. Watching the film, Cook’s TD catch doesn’t happen without Hockenson. Washington targeted Hockenson and prevented him from getting open, but by doing so, they allowed Cook to draw a one-on-one match up—which he won, resulting in the score. Buffalo will have to game plan for this type of scheme from the Vikings and come up with an answer if they hope to come away with a victory.

Bills-Vikings prediction, final thoughts

I don’t like this matchup for Buffalo. A depleted secondary, coupled with young and inexperienced corners, could significantly favor the Vikings. Buffalo’s linebackers will need to be up to the task of containing Hockenson and Cook, as well. The line on the game has fluctuated with the Allen injury news, leaving Bills fans uneasy about his status on Sunday. Head coach Sean McDermott called Allen hour-to-hour going up to Sunday. Even if Allen plays, I think the Vikings come into Orchard Park and walk away with a win this week. Games like this will build character for Buffalo’s young players, but Minnesota’s talent will be too much this week. Add in the weather forecast—it’s projected to be a cold, wet, and windy day—I point the advantage to the Vikings.

Prediction: Vikings 27, Bills 24

What do you think will happen on sunday? Will Buffalo bounce back, or will the Vikings be too much for them to handle? Sound off below!