The Buffalo Bills are on pace to be the worst offense in modern NFL history.
The 2018 season has been a historic one for offense. But perhaps the most historic offense is the worst one in the league. The lows of the Bills are as impressive as the highs of the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams, especially once you adjust for era.
Football Outsiders' DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) ratings break down every play individually, looking for success based on down and distance, and adjusting based on situation and opponent. We've broken down play-by-play going back to the 1986 season, giving us 33 years of NFL history to analyze. After their 37-5 loss to Indianapolis, the Bills now come out as 53.2 percent less efficient than the average team this year. That's the worst offense we've ever tracked through seven games.
One of the important aspects of DVOA is that every year is normalized so the average team is zero. That helps put Buffalo's offensive impotence into the context of all the rule changes and strategic advances that have given 2018 the most offense-friendly environment in NFL history. Right now, the entire league is averaging 363 yards per game, which would easily surpass the previous record of 350. Buffalo is averaging just 234 yards per game, over one-third less than the league average. No team has had an average that low since the 2005 San Francisco 49ers ... but in a season in which the league average was just 316 yards per game.
Do you prefer to look at scoring offense? NFL teams are averaging 24.1 points per game. The Bills have less than half that, 11.6 points per game. The Bills are averaging 3.92 yards per play compared with a league average of 5.67. They lead the league with 12 interceptions. They are tied for 29th with 26 sacks, but they lead the league in sack rate. They rank 31st in third-down conversion rate at 27 percent. Rushing the ball? The Bills are a little better there than they are passing, but they still rank 28th with 3.85 yards per carry, and that could easily get worse if LeSean McCoy has to miss time with a head injury suffered in Sunday's loss to the Colts.
Is there any advice we could give the Bills to fix things? It's hard to go past just "stop being so terrible," but one fix would be to get more efficient on first downs. Right now, the Bills average just 3.56 yards per play on first down, over a yard less than any other offense. That, in turn, makes the other downs harder. The Bills rank second in the NFL in average needed yards on second down (9.1) and second in average needed yards on third down (8.7).
The Bills are struggling so much on offense that they could improve a little bit over the second half of the season and still finish as the worst offense we've ever measured. Here's a look at the other teams they are competing with to stand as legends of futility: the 10 worst offenses ever tracked by DVOA.