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Bills-Dolphins win-probability metrics: Buffalo nearly beat themselves

The Bills sure know how to Bills sometimes

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills advanced to the next round of the NFL playoffs after outlasting the Miami Dolphins, 34-31. Many Bills fans expected Buffalo to stomp all over Miami due to rookie third-string quarteback Skylar Thompson drawing the start. In textbook Bills fashion, this game was much closer than it needed to be, and the Dolphins stayed in the game until the very end.

We saw glimpses of “Playoff Josh Allen,” where he threw for over 350 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers. But we also saw his turnover spell follow him to the postseason, totaling three giveaways himself (two interceptions and a fumble). Buffalo’s offensive playmakers came through when it mattered, but the real shoutout goes to the defense for holding Miami to a 25% (4-of-16) third-down conversion rate, 3.3 yards per play, and just 231 total yards of offense.

Although the game wasn’t pretty, the Bills were still in control from start to finish. Even after Allen’s fumble that turned into a scoop-and-score, leading to the Dolphins taking their first lead of the game, the win probability metrics didn’t switch sides.

Let’s take a look at the win probability metrics provided by ESPN Analytics and how they favored the Bills throughout this emotional rollercoaster of a game.

First quarter, 7:57 remaining — BUF with a 96.9% win probability: The Bills didn’t waste any time on their second offensive drive, going 73 yards in just five plays, capped off by a touchdown grab from tight end Dawson Knox. The Bills then scored on their next possession, bringing the lead to 14-0 in just the first quarter. It looked like it was going to be the stomping we fans hoped for and even expected.

Halftime — BUF with a 86.7% win probability: After the explosive first quarter, the Bills quieted down in the second quarter. They couldn’t sustain drives and put consistent points on the board, resulting in the Dolphins netting 17 unanswered points. Kicker Tyler Bass was able to connect on a field goal right before half, giving the Bills a 20-17 halftime lead.

Third quarter, 13:59 remaining — BUF with a 74.7% win probability: The Bills did Bills things. Allen had two interceptions in the first half, and Buffalo had made elite halftime adjustments throughout the season — so we weren’t too worried. However, Buffalo can’t make it easy. Allen was sacked on the first play of the offense’s first second-half drive after forcing a huge three-and-out to stall momentum — and fumbled. The ball was scooped and brought back for a touchdown, and suddenly, the Dolphins were winning and Bills fans all felt their chests tighten.

Third quarter, 2:07 remaining — BUF with a 93.7% win probability: The third turnover might’ve been a good thing for the Bills. Allen started to take what Miami’s defense gave him rather than going for the big shot. As a result, Buffalo scored two unanswered touchdowns to bring the lead to 34-24. Wide receiver Cole Beasley was responsible for one of Allen’s interceptions, but made up for it with a touchdown grab. Also, “Playoff Gabe Davis” returned.

Fourth quarter, 10:39 remaining — BUF with a 71.9% win probability: This was the lowest the Bills were favored all game. Miami stayed right in the game and answered Buffalo’s back-to-back scores with its own to bring the margin within three points, 34-31. The win probability favored the Bills heavily, but the offense had a terrible three-and-out on a game-icing drive, and was unable to put away the game. Rookie cornerback Kaiir Elam made the game-winning play in coverage on wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and then running back Devin Singletary picked up the first down to officially ice the game.

It was ugly. It wasn’t what we expected. But, a win is a win, and that’s what matters in the playoffs. We’re on to the Cincinnati Bengals!