It's a stat that was introduced to NFL football by former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick. Turnover differential has always been a big factor in a team's fortunes through the course of an NFL season, but Billick took it a step further. He took turnover differential and added big plays made and big plays surrendered by a club (20 yards or more) for a big play differential and added the two differential figures together. The result was toxic differential.
Bills head coach Rex Ryan, who coached under Billick for seven seasons in Baltimore remembers the former Ravens coach talking about the statistical figure.
"Being with Brian all those years I remember he talked about it constantly," Ryan told Buffalobills.com. "He thinks those big plays create such a huge difference in wins and losses, and turnovers are a given. It's all the stuff that he believed and that came directly from Bill Walsh from his days coaching under him."
Billick sees the statistic as a tell-tale sign of how a team balances the risks and rewards of attempting and preventing big plays. He maintains that statistically teams that have a plus-two edge in turnover differential in a game have an 80 percent chance of winning. Likewise if a team has a plus-two edge in big plays they also have an 80 percent chance of winning. Billick claims if a team has both in the same game they have a 95 percent chance of winning.
Through the first half of the season the Bills are among the best teams in the league when it comes to toxic differential. According to SportingCharts.com, an NFL statistical site that dives into toxic differential deeper than most, Buffalo has a toxic differential of plus-24 by a combination of a plus-five turnover margin and a plus-19 big play differential. That's currently tied for the third-best mark in the NFL.
Their metric criteria are slightly different than Billick's as they include big run plays (10 yards or more) and require big pass plays to be 25 yards or more.
The Bills certainly helped their cause in toxic differential this past Thursday night when it came to turnover margin. They finished a plus-four in turnovers in the 22-17 win over the Jets. Big plays were won by Buffalo going by Sporting Charts figures by a count of 10 to five thanks in large part to the rushing exploits of .
Even Billick recognized Buffalo's success in a recent NFL.com column. Here is an excerpt of his analysis.
As has been the case most of the season, Buffalo kept Tyrod Taylor under 30 passing attempts while still creating explosive plays down the field in minimal tries. On the year, one in every six attempts for Taylor has resulted in a gain of 20-plus yards (tied with Arizona for best in the NFL coming into Week 10).
To Billick's point when it's come to offensive plays of 25 yards or more the Bills have enjoyed a sizable edge this season. Buffalo is a plus-nine in that department with 26 plays of 25 yards or more on offense compared to 17 such plays allowed.
Their run game has been a respectable part of that figure as they're tied for second in the NFL with 11 runs of 20 yards or more. In contrast Buffalo's run defense stands seventh in the league in 20-plus yard runs allowed permitting just four.
Not even added into the toxic differential equation are the big plays Buffalo has made after takeaways. Five of the team's 10 interceptions this season have been returned for 25 yards or more with the two longest (43, 44 yards) going for touchdowns.
To provide an idea as to how important toxic differential can be consider that three of the top seven teams in the category are undefeated. Carolina (9-0) leads the league with a plus-28 toxic differential, while Cincinnati (8-0) ranks fifth with a plus-21 figure. New England (9-0) sits in the seventh position with a mark of plus-15.
Obviously wins aren't guaranteed for every team that ranks high in this category, but over the last 15-plus seasons most of the Super Bowl champions finished in the top 10 in toxic differential.