For the past two seasons at Buffalobills.com we've tried to shed some light on a relatively new metric category where most of the last 15 Super Bowl champions have ranked high. Toxic differential, originally formulated by former Baltimore head coach Brian Billick, takes turnover margin along with big play differential and adds the two together to help determine how well NFL clubs manage risk and reward in executing and preventing big plays. In 2015 Buffalo had their highest ranking in toxic differential.
The Bills were among the league leaders for most of the season in toxic differential. Now with the 2015 campaign over Buffalo posted its highest ranking ever in the category finishing fourth in the NFL according to SportingCharts.com.
Buffalo finished a lofty plus-35 in toxic differential, the highest figure the club has ever posted since the metric was published by analytic researchers in 2009. It's also the second time in three seasons the Bills have finished in the top 10. They ranked ninth overall in 2013 with their only other positive figure (plus-11).
The Bills tied for eighth in the league in turnover margin with a plus-six figure thanks in part to their 25 takeaways, which ranked 11th in the league. Three of Buffalo's takeaways were returned for touchdowns.
The second factor was Tyrod Taylor's ability to protect the football. Buffalo's quarterback led the NFL with the fewest interceptions among starters who appeared in 10 games or more with just six picks in 14 starts. His touchdown to interception ratio of 3.33:1 ranked seventh among quarterbacks in 2015.
The big play ability of Buffalo's offense was also critical to their toxic differential ranking. The Bills offense finished first in the NFL in big plays from scrimmage. According to SportingCharts.com, Buffalo had 70 runs of 10 yards or more and 32 pass plays of 25 yards or more. Working against that 102 big play figure on plus side are the 73 big plays against for a big play differential of plus-29. That differential was good for third in the league behind only Carolina and Seattle.
Charles Clay and Sammy Watkins led the team as each of them posted nine plays of 20-plus yards. LeSean McCoy had eight.
"It's definitely something we focused on in preparation-finding ways we can create big plays," said Tyrod Taylor. "We progressed each and every week."
"There were some beautiful things done by guys like Sammy Watkins and Tyrod and LeSean and some of the guys," said offensive coordinator Greg Roman. "We led the league in explosive plays and leave it at that."
Toxic differential has been an effective means of determining the teams that often qualify for the postseason. Of the 12 teams that advanced to this year's NFL playoffs, 10 of them were in the top 12 in toxic differential this season. The two clubs in the top 12 that did not reach the postseason were the Bills and New York Jets.
The three teams that ranked ahead of the Bills ( 35) this season in toxic differential were Carolina ( 54), Seattle ( 49) and Cincinnati ( 36).