Bills-Lions recap: Win probability and the one that almost got away

The Buffalo Bills are back on the right track after beating the Detroit Lions, 28-25, on Thanksgiving Day to extend their winning streak to two games. The Bills were the first team to win two games in the span of five days in a stadium that wasn’t their home venue. This needed to be another “get-right” game for quarterback Josh Allen, and although he had a pass tipped at the line and intercepted, he looked a lot like the quarterback we all know and love, particularly with the game on the line.

It was another slow start for both sides of the ball, with Buffalo’s secondary struggling to cover and the offense going three-and-out on the opening drive for the third straight week. Injuries have continued to plague this team, and the newest injury to edge rusher Von Miller is not promising for the team’s success come playoff time.

Much like last week versus the Cleveland Browns, the win probability metrics from ESPN Analytics showed that the game was never truly in doubt for the Bills, and that was the case here versus the Lions — but to a lesser extent. The Browns were favored for just 10 seconds, whereas the Lions were favored for over 10 minutes in the fourth quarter after scoring a touchdown to take the 22-19 lead. The Bills offense stayed composed and drove down the field to take a three-point lead following a Stefon Diggs touchdown catch, and the metrics favored them for the remainder of the game.

Let’s take a look at a few key moments from the Thanksgiving game that made the win probabilities fluctuate.

1st quarter, 1:58 remaining — BUF with a 77.3% win probability: The metrics already comfortably favored Buffalo after wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie caught a touchdown to tie the game, 7-7, and cap off a 10-play, 75-yard drive. The Bills tried to get the run game going a bit this drive, and it paid off.

3rd quarter, 8:59 remaining — BUF with a 84.0% win probability: The Bills’ win probability shot up to its highest all game (until the end) after defensive tackle Ed Oliver sacked Lions quarterback Jared Goff in the end zone for a safety. This was quite possibly the biggest play of the game up to that point, because Allen had just thrown a red zone interception on the previous drive, and Oliver’s safety erased the Lions’ momentum. But, the Bills didn’t even do anything with the free possession from the safety.

4th quarter, 13:47 remaining — DET with a 52.3% win probability: After a quiet third quarter, the Lions came out on a mission in the fourth quarter, scoring a touchdown in just five plays after a good punt return and bad defense. The Lions took the 22-19 lead here, and this is where the game could’ve very easily slipped away from the Bills.

4th quarter, 4:54 remaining — BUF with a 54.5% win probability: Halfway through the Bills’ second-to-last drive, the metrics swapped back over to the Bills after around 10 minutes of game time. Buffalo was driving, and had just gotten past the Detroit 40-yard line. The metrics shot up to 74.6% following the Diggs touchdown catch with 2:40 remaining. This is where kicker Tyler Bass ended his streak of 104 consecutive extra point attempts, leaving the lead at 25-22 instead of forcing Detroit to go for the touchdown.

4th quarter, 0:23 remaining — BUF with a 70.2% win probability: The Lions left Allen too much time on the clock after kicking their game-tying, 51-yard field goal with 23 seconds left on the clock. Allen unleashed a missile to Diggs on the first play for 36 yards, immediately putting the Bills near field goal range. A few rushes from Allen later got them 12 yards closer, making it an easy try for Bass to redeem himself.

It’s been a stressful season for Bills Mafia thus far, whether it’s been the offensive woes, pure bad luck, or injuries, but the Bills are 8-3 and on a two-game winning streak. The wins may have been ugly, and the pending injury news about edge rusher Von Miller could very much derail this team’s plans for the season, but a win is a win. The media can dismiss that narrative about the Bills never winning one-score games now, right?

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