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Bills largely avoided injury bug in 2018

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to injuries for the Buffalo Bills in 2018.

The good news is, for the second straight year, the team enjoyed good health. The bad news, of course, is that fact didn’t matter much in a 6-10 season.

Bills starters lost a total of 30 games to injuries in 2018. That’s an improvement over the 39 games lost during the 2017 season and ranked tied for fourth fewest in the NFL, according to roster analysis by The Buffalo News. The league average was 51 games lost to injury by starters.

The Bills made a change to their training staff after the 2017 season, when longtime head athletic trainer Bud Carpenter retired. He was replaced by Nate Breske. Certain injuries are unavoidable, but teams work hard to limit the number of soft-tissue injuries. The Bills did not have a large number of those in 2018. Defensive end Shaq Lawson and tight end Charles Clay each missed two games because of a hamstring injury, and running back LeSean McCoy missed one game because of a hamstring injury and safety Micah Hyde missed one because of a groin injury.

Just five of the top-10 teams in fewest games lost to injury made the postseason in 2018, which is a change from the year before, when the top four teams and eight of the top 12 made the playoffs, including the Bills.

Chicago lost the fewest games by starters to injuries (20). That included just five games among defensive players. Not surprisingly, the Bears’ defense ranked third in the league in total yards against (299.7 per game) and first against the run (80.0 yards per game). The Pittsburgh Steelers were second (23 games), followed by New Orleans (25). The Saints lost just two games to injuries on defense.

The Ravens had the No. 1 defense in the NFL in yards allowed, 292.9. Baltimore lost six games to defensive starters. The Bills finished second in total defense (294.1 yards allowed per game) and missed 15 games among starters.

Interestingly enough, the Bears went from worst to first in injuries, which helps explain their turnaround from a 5-11 season in 2017 to a 12-4 campaign that ended with an NFC North championship last season. The Bears led the NFL with 114 games lost to injuries in 2017.

This year, that dubious distinction went to the Atlanta Falcons, who lost 88 games. Atlanta lost five starters – Davonta Freeman, Andy Levitre, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones – for at least 10 games each.

Green Bay (77), Philadelphia Eagles (76), Cincinnati (73) and Washington (71) rounded out the bottom five. Four of those teams missed the playoffs, and the Eagles needed a late-season run to sneak into the NFC postseason. That many injuries is hard for any team to overcome.

The biggest injury the Bills had to overcome was to rookie quarterback Josh Allen, who sat out four games due to a sprained throwing elbow. Center Russell Bodine (broken leg) and rookie cornerback Taron Johnson (shoulder) matched Allen in missing four games each, the most of any Bills starter.

The injury numbers do not count reserve players who miss games. However, the totals do count any cases in which a backup assumes a starting position due to an injury and then misses a game or more to injury. As an example, quarterback Derek Anderson is counted as missing two games because of a concussion. Even though he missed five total because of the injury, he would not have started the last three since Allen was back. So two or more players at the same position could contribute to the starts-lost total.

It’s noteworthy that the Steelers missed the playoffs despite being the second-healthiest team in the league, while if you’re looking for a team that could take a step forward with better injury luck in 2019, look at the Colts. They finished with the seventh-most games lost to injury (68), but still managed to make the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Super Bowl-champion Patriots were just about at the league average, with 50 man games lost.

News sports reporter Mark Gaughan contributed to this report.

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