Bills fans know the statistics all too well. They cringe whenever the numbers are regurgitated.
Off to its best beginning in 20 years, Buffalo’s 7-3 start can’t be mentioned without a “Yeah, but” caveat.
That, of course, is the weak schedule the Bills have played.
Their seven wins have come against Miami (twice, 2-8), Cincinnati (0-10), Washington (1-9), the Giants (2-8), the Jets (3-7) and Tennessee (5-5).
The collective record of those seven wins is 15-55.
And on deck Sunday, at New Era Field, is Denver (3-7) with the second meeting against the Jets still to come in the season finale.
IT’S BEEN said here before, but it bears repeating, NFL teams have no say in who they play. The schedule is formulaic with the pairings — home and away — set several years in advance.
For instance, next season’s slate looms as considerably more difficult.
Besides, the home-and-home meeting with AFC East foes New England, Miami and the Jets, Buffalo will play both the AFC and NFC west divisions. The Bills will host the Chiefs, Chargers, Rams and Seahawks and travel to Arizona, San Francisco, Denver and Oakland.
The other two games will be the teams that finish in the same spot in the standings as Buffalo this season, an AFC North foe at home (Pittsburgh?) and an AFC South opponent on the road.
Undeniably, though, the Bills, circumstantially, are facing one of the weakest schedules in their history as 10 of their 16 foes this season are in third or fourth place in their respective divisions.
WHAT’S CERTAIN, though, is that Sunday’s win against the Dolphins was absolutely critical.
After letting a win get away at Cleveland the previous week, a second straight loss to a struggling opponent on the road could have spelled disaster for the rest of the season. That’s especially true with games at New England (9-1), Dallas (6-4) and Pittsburgh (5-5) and home with Baltimore (8-2) remaining on the schedule.
But while the win was much-needed and produced Buffalo’s biggest point total and margin of victory this season, it wasn’t without flaws.
Two issues, in particular, stood out.
First, the Bills’ special teams’ struggles under first-year coordinator Heath Farwell continued as Miami not only easily recovered an onside kick, but also surrendered a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
When asked about his kicking units, coach Sean McDermott maintained, “Honestly, I thought in a lot of coverage phases we had performed well prior to this game – in particular the last two or three. We had Siran (Neal, safety) go down (with a concussion) which hurt us a little bit. They got to the edge and let’s face it, Jakeem (Grant’s) an explosive returner so you give him a seam and he’s going to hurt you.
“We’ve got to make some corrections like we always do, in this case it’s on special teams. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Heath and a lot of confidence in our players (on special teams) that they’ll get it done this week.”
THE OTHER potential problem was that rookie running back Devin Singletary got 16 touches (15 runs and a reception) and fumbled twice. The third-round draft choice, a fan favorite, was bailed out both times when teammates recovered.
“Devin’s a conscientious young man … we don’t take that lightly when you put the ball on the ground,” McDermott said. “I think that message is resonated loud and clear with our football team and as well as with penalties. Those guys have gotten that corrected. It’s a week-to-week deal, as it always is.
“We strive to play disciplined football and one of the areas we play disciplined is not turning the ball over.”
OF COURSE, he saw the biggest positive in both the offense and defense combining for a strong effort in the same game.
“That’s where we’re trying to go and I thought the players played that way,” MCDermott said. “They played with that type of mentality, that type of approach and it started during the week (with) veteran leadership in our locker room, guys that I count on to connect my message with the (players). Guys that I count on to give me a pulse.
“We’ve got a lot of (veterans) playing well and winning means a lot to them. That’s not always the case at times with professional sports, but I can tell you these guys take a lot of pride in playing well and in winning.”
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)