The Buffalo Bills have been losers out of the gate this season, dating back to their 2021 NFL Divisional Round playoff loss to the Kansas CIty Chiefs. Preposterous as that sounds, it’s because flipping a coin just hasn’t worked out lately in their favor. Prior to losing the coin toss against those Chiefs, the Bills had been on something of a good roll with lady luck. Suddenly, they’ve come up empty four times in a row. Zero. Ziltch—when matched up against Kansas City, the Los Angeles Rams, Tennessee Titans and, most recently, the Miami Dolphins.
Many people believe it’s bad luck to lose the coin toss to an NFL opponent—that it’s better to instead receive the first possession after halftime. That no team should ever want to receive the ball on offense first. A win by deferment.
But an old-school football opinion may be coming back around as it relates to these Bills. You see, back in my formative years, teams would have never dreamt of deferring to the second half against Marv Levy, Ted Marchibroda, and Buffalo’s star-studded K-Gun offense. The same was true of other high-powered offenses such as the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, and Houston Oilers—just to name a few. There was zero reason to think kicking off to any of those teams was a good idea, unless the idea was to find yourself in a hole early and far behind late. Now, understand this: it was good luck to win the toss, of course. But teams wanted to win it because they wanted to have their offense take the field first. So, what happened to this way of thinking?
Perhaps it all changed with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belicheck, who I seem to recall being one of the early adopters of deferment. He’s a trendy sort of fellow, apart from his wardrobe of course. The rest of the NFL spent DECADES trying to keep pace with his decisions, and almost every one of them failed when attempting to copy his methods. Except, of course, that kickoff thing. Every NFL team thinks they’re brilliant when they win the coin toss and put their opponent on the offensive first. “Yes, let’s make them run the plays they’ve scripted and practiced ad nauseum, while we try to figure out on the fly how to stop their plan!”
Why in the world do teams want to expose their defense to such stress early in a game? Some of it has to do with getting the edge out of the tunnel at halftime, and some of it has to do with a team’s strength—namely ones that are defensively strong. Perhaps the idea is that a team is more likely to come out of the gate slower on offense, less prepared for what the defense will throw at them. But again, remember each week NFL offenses script a fair amount of plays and drives to begin games. How many times over the years has Bills Mafia witnessed Belichick completely adapt to what Buffalo was doing well in the first half, but only once the third quarter began? If the Bills received the second-half kick, it was quite likely Belichick’s defense was much better prepared—and ready to force a punt...or worse. Why would you want to defer on offense when it’s more likely the opponent will have a better idea how to stop you?
Years ago, while facing the Packers, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck famously exclaimed: “We want the ball and we’re gonna score!,” as the teams met at midfield for overtime of their playoff game. Of course, that was the correct decision and generally the right attitude. That moxy was infectious, but the result didn’t receive rave reviews. You may remember that Green Bay’s defense DID win in the end, thanks to Hasselbeck’s overconfidence while taking his offense down the field in hopes of scoring the winning touchdown in overtime. Sometimes, great confidence meets great individual play. Worlds collide.
Isn’t it curious how teams are afraid to score first at the outset of a game, but afraid not to score first in overtime. I wonder if the 1985 Chicago Bears or 2000 Baltimore Ravens would’ve chosen to start on defense in overtime?
Waxing nostalgic for NFL history is great, but getting bogged down in the game’s past and also the Bills’ often futile gameplans against the Patriots only takes us so far with this exercise. While it allows us to think outside the box a bit, what’s most important is how today’s game is played. Teams simply don’t believe there’s a competitive advantage to receiving the kick first, and I can’t seem to find any grand explanation to the fact. The general consensus seems to believe that it’s advantageous to double-dip on offense—scoring both before and after halftime. But still, I believe when a team defers against the modern-era Bills, they’re taking the field with their tails already between those collective legs. So, who’s making the decision? Is it team captains alone? Do they have the coaches’ ears to collectively decide before any flip happens? Or is it the coaching staff alone making the call?
No matter what the reason is, to me it seems as though teams playing the Bills are running scared. Horrified of what’s to come if they let Buffalo have the ball first after halftime. Or maybe it’s a bit to do with a fear of getting the ball first and failing to score against the Bills. Sure, that’s an argument I can get behind. But today’s NFL is set up for offenses to succeed, and I would think it’s a great idea to put your offense out there first in an effort to send a message and establish an advantage on the scoreboard.
Furthermore, much of the fanbase is keenly aware how the team struggled during the third quarter of games prior to this season. I’d think someone running analytics would point that situation out to the decision makers. Sure, the 2022 version is different than every version before them, but sometimes trends establish for the long haul. Why not try to see if that’s true in this situation?
People are starting to take note of the curious decisions made against the current Bills. During the Week 2 broadcast, ESPN play-by-play announcer Steve Levy found it very surprising the Tennessee Titans would chose to kick off to the high-scoring Bills. Similarly, in Week 3, play-play announcer Kevin Harlan and color analyst Trent Greene also pointed out the curiosity in kicking off to red-hot Buffalo. Sure enough, the Bills went down the field, chewing up vital clock en route to another first-possession touchdown.
Remember, Buffalo just tied an NFL record in Miami with their eighth-consecutive game scoring a touchdown on the team’s opening possession. Starting on offense is so old school, isn’t it? Teams best prepare for the worst because the Buffalo Bills are coming for your coin toss. They don’t care if you win it. They’ll gladly take the ball and shove it down your throats after only a few ticks of the game clock.