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Bills toxic differential tells story

Posted Feb 15, 2012

We’ve heard for years that turnovers are a critical factor that often determines the outcome of games. Bills fans saw it play a big role in the team’s slide out of playoff contention in 2011 as Buffalo went from a plus-8 in the turnover category in the first half of the season to a minus-7 in the second half. But according to former NFL head coaches Brian Billick and Jim Mora that’s only half of a more popular indicator that has gained credibility in determining playoff success the last few years.

The more recent statistic that’s been used to gauge a team’s success in reaching the playoffs is called toxic differential. It measures number of explosive plays by a team’s offense (any play 20 yards or more) against explosive plays against a team’s defense. That differential is then added to a team’s turnover differential to obtain the team’s toxic differential.

In 2011 Buffalo was tied for 17th in the league in toxic differential with Cincinnati with a flat figure of zero. The Bills were a minus-1 in explosive play differential with 65 plays of 20 yards or more on offense while allowing 66 plays of 20 yards or more on defense. That matched up with a plus-1 in the turnover differential left the Bills even in toxic differential.

The Bengals meanwhile, who earned an AFC Wild Card playoff berth had fewer explosive plays on offense (57), but also gave up fewer (57) and were even in turnover differential (0). The full rankings list was compiled by Buffalobills.com.

What’s interesting is nine of the top 12 teams in toxic differential went to the playoffs in 2011. That postseason contingent was led by San Francisco. The 49ers had a league-leading plus-33 toxic differential thanks in large part to their league-best turnover differential of plus-28. The Niners offense managed just 57 explosive plays, but their rock solid defense only surrendered 52.

In fact the only playoff team with a negative toxic differential this past season was Denver (-16).

As far as the Bills are concerned their zero toxic figure was second best in the AFC East behind New England’s plus-5. Miami (-7) and the New York Jets (-9) ranked 22nd and 24th in the league in toxic differential. Both division rivals wound up in the negatives for both explosive play differential and turnover differential.

Buffalo’s offense is already committed to reducing their turnovers in 2012 as Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 23 interceptions led the league last year. It’s also not surprising that Bills GM Buddy Nix would like to add pass rushing talent to the defense and another big play receiver to the passing attack.

The Bills were 15th in explosive plays on offense and 19th in explosive plays allowed on defense. If the defense can scale back the big plays allowed with an improved pass rush and the offense can make 10-15 more big plays through the air, Chan Gailey’s squad could better their chances of reaching the postseason in 2012.