If you haven’t been by our Fanpost section lately, check it out. Buffalo Rumblings is the best place for Bills Mafia and that leads to the best community posts you can find. While you’re there, check out one from Brian987 titled “The team our Front Office built never* played in 2022.” Brian expands on a sentiment we’d seen a lot this past season. Namely that injuries plagued the 2022 Buffalo Bills. The intriguing concept is the notion that the envisioned roster One Bills Drive put together before the season wasn’t ever on the field together.
The obvious rebuttal to Brian’s post is “All teams deal with injuries, so what?” That got me thinking about what data we could collect to see if the Bills really were more injury-plagued than the usual. Let’s dive in!
We’re starting with a proprietary metric that lives behind a paywall because it’s a pretty cool set of stats and has a fun graphic, and I can’t really expand on what they’re willing to publish publicly. Here’s a tweet with a graphic from the main account for Man-Games Lost.
NFL 2022 regular season injury plot. Games missed to injuries and health protocols versus team wins. Bubble size represents cumulative quality of players lost for games (Lost-av metric) https://t.co/HBPgJxYIPz pic.twitter.com/oBHD5oQubB— Man Games Lost NFL (@ManGamesLostNFL) January 12, 2023
Buffalo is the top-left blue bubble. Don’t worry about the Y Axis (the vertical one) as that’s tallying regular-season wins. It’s a good comparative item to add here, but we already know that number. The X Axis is the number of games lost due to injury. If you’re into OSHA or HR measures, this is kind of like calculating the total labor hours lost due to injury. What’s surprising here is that Buffalo is really far to the left, third most in fact. That means they had one of the LOWEST totals of games lost due to injury in the league. I was not expecting that.
You may have noticed that the bubbles are different sizes though. Man-Games Lost weights players injuries where a starter losing time would count more than a backup. Despite a low number of games lost, Buffalo has a pretty big bubble. Or in other words, they didn’t have a high quantity of players injured compared to the rest of the league, but according to Man-Games Lost, they had a high quality of players lost. That corroborates Brian987’s post concept. Losses such as edge rusher Von Miller, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, and more were a major factor this past season. And per the graphic, more so than many other teams.
The NFL tracks a ton of data. So much so that there are dark little stat corners that rarely see the light of day. One of these hidden gems is lineup combinations. This stat is exactly what it sounds like — a tally of unique lineup combinations that a team used during the season.
On offense, the Buffalo Bills had 11 unique starting lineup combinations during the regular season. The league average was 14.3 combinations, which means Buffalo was relatively low (more than one standard deviation lower if you’re into that sort of thing). Teams ranged from nine to 17.
On the defensive side of things, Buffalo used 13 unique starting lineups, which was pretty much right at the league average of 13.8 unique starting lineups. This also ranged from nine to 17 across the league.
That’s starting lineups. But for total unique lineups? The Bills used 370 different combinations on offense. Sounds like a lot right? Not really, It was about 37 higher than league average, but well within one standard deviation, meaning this is a perfectly normal number. This had very high variability, from the Minnesota Vikings at 122 to the New Orleans Saints at 556. I want to hold on to this thought for a second.
On defense, they used 361 combinations total, which was well within one standard deviation from the mean of 410.6 lineups.
Comparison to The Ghost of Bills Past
Lineup combinations aren’t necessarily tied to injuries. Scheme and personnel tendencies could play a big factor. A word I’ve used endlessly to describe the Buffalo Bills’ personnel preference in the era of head coach Sean McDermott is “versatility.” Buffalo like players who are positional-diverse, which could lead to actively avoiding lineup changes. What have past versions of the Bills done?
Here’s a table:
The sample size here isn’t big enough to worry about standard deviation, so we’ll just eyeball it from average. For the number of starting lineups, nothing about the 2022 season really jumps out. On offense they’re a bit low and on defense a bit higher than the average. But there are enough similar years where it’s hard to make a judgment. Now if we’re thinking about this, it makes sense. With only 16 or 17 games in each season, that’d be your upper limit for possible starting lineups. Injuries might impact this, sure, but with the smaller numbers it’s harder to tell how much.
For all lineups on offense, 2022 was the second-highest total in the McDermott era and significantly higher than every year that’s not 2018. In that season, the team was looking at a rookie in quarterback Josh Allen and had rotating quarterbacks all season too. Speaking of which, this season had a new offensive coordinator. While injuries likely played a part here, there are other variables to consider.
On defense, by one lineup combination the 2022 season broke the McDermott era record. While there is some fluctuation on the defensive side of things, this last year does seem to be higher than what the Bills appear to prefer. There was less coaching volatility here, so this might be a better confidence level for the injury hypothesis. I know this is getting long, but we’re not quite done yet.
Like lineup combinations, it’s exactly what it sounds like. How many players took the field for a given team during the season.
We can likely do this via easy bullet points:
- The Bills had 73 players take the field total this year, which is just 1.6 higher than league average (range of 61 to 86, and SD of 6.1).
- On offense 33 players saw some time. That’s effectively one more than the league average of 32.03 (range of 25 to 47, and SD of 4.4).
- 35 players received playing time on defense, or 2.8 more than the league average of 32.2 (range of 27 to 40, and SD of 3.2).
- The Buffalo Bills list of 60 players on special teams was nearly perfectly average compared to the league number of 59.8 (range of 50 to 74, and SD of 5.12).
So yes, this merely reinforces our first graphic courtesy of Man-Games Lost. The Bills were thoroughly average when it came to the number of players who saw the field. Let’s do what we did before though, and compare to prior teams.
Comparison to The Ghost of Bills Past
As we did above, here’s a handy table.
This plays out similar to the lineup combinations. There’s more change on the defensive side of things, with 2022 having the highest numbers of players to suit up for the Buffalo Bills in the McDermott era. The offense seems pretty typical, with 2018 and 2019 looking more like the outliers.
First and foremost, not a single data point here should be considered conclusive to the main premise that the Buffalo Bills were inordinately impacted by injuries. There’s definitely some support to the idea though, starting with Man-Games Lost, whose data posits the idea that the quality of players lost to injury were a major factor.
When it comes to Buffalo Bills trends the data suggests that there was likely some chaos due to injury, which was Brian987’s thesis. This seems especially true on defense where Buffalo seemed to use more lineups and players than they seem to prefer.