20 Years Later, How Far Off are the 2013 Buffalo Bills from the 1993 AFC Champions?

EJ Manuel is no Jim Kelly, but the 2013 Buffalo Bills may not be too far behind the 1993 team that won the AFC championship. (Photo: Kevin Hoffman — USA Today Sports Images)

BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski

Anniversaries are an occasion for reflection, an opportunity to take a look back at something and see how much you’ve grown or how far you’ve fallen. For the Buffalo Bills, the 20th anniversary of their last Super Bowl appearance seems to be a cause to reflect on the two decades of futility since that have seen only five winning seasons.

That said, when comparing the current team to the team that won its fourth consecutive AFC championship 20 years ago, it seems the current incarnation of the Bills might not be as far off from success as many believe.

Let’s look at the basic facts first. The 1993 Buffalo Bills finished the regular season 12-4. They beat the Los Angeles Raiders in the divisional playoff round and the Kansas City Chiefs in the conference championship game before falling 30-13 to the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl (which I was at, for the record, making it even more heart-breaking).

The 1993 Bills offense averaged 4.9 yards per play and totaled 5,260 yards of offense, which was good for fifth in the NFL. They scored 329 points, the league’s seventh-highest regular-season total. They were eighthin the league in rushing yards and 11th in passing yards.

The defense was less successful. That unit gave up 5,554 yards, which put them at 27th in the NFL in yards allowed. They finished 24th in the NFL in passing yards allowed and 21st in rushing yards allowed. That said, they surrendered only 242 points, which made them the league’s fifth-best scoring defense. That was mainly due to the 47 turnovers, far and away the most in the league, caused by the Bills defense.

The turnovers by the 1993 defense were almost evenly spread out, forcing 24 fumbles and intercepting 23 passes. In contrast, the 2012 Bills forced 21 fumbles but intercepted only twelve passes. The Bills’ turnover differential of minus-13 last season was tied for the league’s fifth-worst. That number can be somewhat explained, as Bill Barnwell did in his recent Grantland article, by the fact that the Bills recovered a league-worst 30.6 percent of fumbles when most teams average around 50 percent.

However, with the exception of the turnover differential, the basic offensive and defensive numbers don’t seem to be so vastly different.  The Bills gained 5,486 yards of offense last season (226 more than in 1993) and averaged 5.6 yards per play, which was an improvement on the 4.9 the team averaged in 1993. Meanwhile, the defense in 2012 gave up 5,806 yards, which was historically bad but only 252 total yards more than the 1993 unit gave up. Similarly, the Bills had 37 sacks in 1993 and 36 sacks in 2012.

Now I know that the game has changed a lot in the past 20 years, so comparing statistics side-by-side is not fool-proof. That said, it seems as though the most glaring difference between the 1993 AFC champs and the 2012 Bills was the opportunistic nature of the defense.

But, the average fan might say, the 1993 team was exceptionally more talented than the team the Bills currently put on the field. That team had three future Hall of Famers in quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas and defensive end Bruce Smith, and one should-be Hall of Famer in wide receiver Andre Reed. That statement would be somewhat correct, but the overall talent gap might not be as wide as many think.

Quarterback Comparison

This is arguably the most important position on a football team, and there are few better leaders in NFL history than Jim Kelly. On the surface, comparing any other Bills quarterback to him seems like a pointless task, and while that’s probably true, Kelly didn’t have a superb 1993 season.

Statistics don’t account for leadership skills and the ability to direct a team, but in 1993 Kelly completed just 61 percent of his passes for 3,382 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 18 interceptions were fourth-most in the league. Last season, Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 60.6% of his passes for 3,400 yards, 24 TDs, and 16 INTs.

Again, I think we can safely assume that everything aside from statistics would favor Kelly, and many of Fitzpatrick’s passing statistics came when the team was down and forced to throw a lot. However, it’s important for the sake of the seasonal comparison to note that Kelly was not at his best in 1993, which means the Bills went 12-4 in the regular season while he threw the fourth-most interceptions and only finished 11thin total passing. That’s not an exceptionally high bar to set for the Bills’ 2013 quarterbacks, rookie EJ Manuel and veteran Kevin Kolb.

Running Back

Another position where the 1993 Bills had a Hall of Famer, Thurman Thomas led the Bills with 1,315 yards and six touchdowns on 3.7 yards per attempt. He also tallied 387 yards receiving, while Kenneth Davis added six rushing touchdowns of his own. However, this is a position where the 2013 Bills have an exceptional talent of their own.

In comparison to C.J. Spiller, Thomas’ 3.7 yards per carry and 387 yards receiving seem paltry. In a timeshare in the Bills’ backfield last season, Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards and six touchdowns on 6.0 yards per carry, while he added 459 yards receiving. Fred Jackson also chipped in with 437 yards and three touchdowns of his own on the ground.

The 2012 Bills were sixth in the league in rushing yards, which is an improvement on the 1993 Bills, who were eighth in the league in rushing yards. Each team scored 12 touchdowns on the ground, which seems to suggest that the overall talent in the rushing game in similar, both in skill level and when compared to the rest of the league at the time.

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Tags: 1993 Buffalo Bills, AFC Championship, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, C.J. Spiller, Cornelius Bennett, Darryl Talley, EJ Manuel, Henry Jones, Jim Kelly, Leodis McKelvin, Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams, Marvcus Patton, Mike Pettine, Nate Odomes, Russell Copeland, Stephon Gilmore, Stevie Johnson, Super Bowl, Thurman Thomas

4 Responses to “20 Years Later, How Far Off are the 2013 Buffalo Bills from the 1993 AFC Champions?”

  1. Ryan Talbot says:

    Really enjoyed reading this piece.

  2. Glenn Gifford says:

    Nice work here Eric! Well done!


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