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The Bills Are Proof That A Team Needs More Than Just A Good QB

The Buffalo Bills — yes, the same Buffalo Bills franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999 — enter their Week 11 matchup tonight against the New England Patriots with a 5-4 record. Coming into Week 11, that record was good enough for the Bills to hold the second wild-card spot in the AFC.

The Bills have remained in the playoff hunt in large part because of the shockingly good play of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

SEASON BILLS QUARTERBACK LEAGUE RANK IN ANY/A
2010 Ryan Fitzpatrick 18
2006 J.P. Losman 18
2008 Trent Edwards 18
2012 Ryan Fitzpatrick 21
2011 Ryan Fitzpatrick 22
2014 Kyle Orton 22
2005 Kelly Holcomb 23
2007 Trent Edwards 23
2004 Drew Bledsoe 25
2009 Ryan Fitzpatrick 26
2003 Drew Bledsoe 27
2013 EJ Manuel 27
2005 J.P. Losman 31

Taylor, who hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass in the NFL before this season, is the best quarterback the Bills have had in over a decade. Heading into this week’s games, Taylor ranked 13th in the league in adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A).1 As I noted when I wrote my AFC East seasonal preview, no Bills quarterback since 2003 has been in the top half of the league for passers who started at least eight games at quarterback in a given season.

Taylor rates so highly because he throws the ball accurately and for distance. Going into Week 11, he led the league in completion percentage (70.5 percent) and was tied for third in yards gained per pass attempt (8.2) and fifth in the rate of his passes that were touchdowns (6.3 percent). To top it off, he was third among quarterbacks in rushing yards per game, with 34.7. Even Taylor’s worst statistics (such as interceptions per attempt and sacks) are right around the league average.

Despite Taylor’s passing and rushing, the Bills have a 36 percent chance of making the playoffs. because of a tough remaining schedule. That they have only five wins is surprising — the Bills were projected to be a playoff contender before the season began, and that was when projection systems assumed that Taylor would be bad. Now that Taylor is playing better than expected, he should be putting the Bills over the top. Yet he’s only keeping them afloat. What’s wrong with the Bills?

Their biggest problem is defense, Rex Ryan’s supposed defensive genius be damned. The Bills were forecast to be second in the league. Instead, the Bills’ defense has been only average, no matter if you look at a simple statistic like yards allowed per game or an advanced statistic like Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average.

This leaves the Bills with two big questions for the stretch run. First, can the defense pick up its play? Second, can Taylor continue to perform above average even through a tough remaining schedule? This Bills fan is hoping that both will be answered in the affirmative. Otherwise, the Bills may end up wasting what so far has been the best quarterback performance by a Bill since the Red Sox were still cursed.

Footnotes

  1. The “adjusted” bit means the stat factors in interceptions, passing attempts, passing yards, sacks and touchdowns to create a broader passing measure.

Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

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