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Bills led NFL in fewest games lost by starters to injury

Remarkable is an understatement when describing the Buffalo Bills’ ability to stay healthy in the 2019 season.

The Bills’ starters missed a combined total of just eight games all season, the fewest in the NFL and way less than the league average.

Buffalo, Minnesota and Arizona were the three healthiest teams in the NFL in terms of games lost by starters, according to a Buffalo News study of the rosters. Minnesota lost 17 games and Arizona 18.

Running back Devin Singletary was the only offensive starter to miss games. He sat out three because of a hamstring injury. The Bills lost linebacker Matt Milano for one game. Slot cornerback Taron Johnson missed four games because of a hamstring injury.

That was it.

The News counted each team’s No. 3 cornerback as a starter, because third cornerbacks play more than each team’s third linebacker.

The league average for games lost by starters was 49.

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The New York Jets led the league in starters lost by a wide margin, with 126. Next were Miami (86), Carolina (75), Houston (70) and Chicago (64).

Good health often helps teams win. Seven of the top 10 teams that lost the fewest games by starters made the playoffs. Only two of the bottom 10 teams – Houston and San Francisco (62) – made the playoffs.

2019 NFL Games Lost
By Starters to Injury
Rank Team Games
1 Buffalo 8
2 Minnesota 17
3 Arizona 18
4 Tampa Bay 23
5 Green Bay 24
6 New England 27
7 New Orleans 31
8 Dallas 32
9 Tennessee 37
10 Baltimore 41

The Bills have stayed healthier than most under coach Sean McDermott. The Bills lost a combined total of 39 games by starters to injuries in 2017, tied for ninth fewest, according to The News. Buffalo lost 30 games by starters in 2018, tied for fourth fewest.

McDermott hired Nate Breske in 2018 as the Bills' head athletic trainer. He has been in the NFL 12 years and spent the previous three years as head trainer for the Chicago Bears.

Injuries tend to be highly variable from year to year. Hits that cause broken bones generally are random. Thirteen different teams have ranked among the bottom five the past three seasons, and 13 have ranked among the top five. Buffalo is the only team that has ranked among the top 10 each of the past three years.

The Bills generally have been able to stay away from soft-tissue injuries – to hamstrings, calves and quadriceps – that can keep players at speed positions out of the lineup.

Buffalo’s starters were not completely healthy. Guard Jon Feliciano, tackle Cody Ford, defensive end Jerry Hughes, defensive tackle Ed Oliver and cornerback Levi Wallace all played through various injuries during large parts of the season and underwent surgeries after the team’s playoff loss. The five are expected to be ready for training camp.

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.

The Jets led the NFL because they lost a slew of players for more than half the season to injury. The defense lost linebackers C.J. Moseley and Avery Williamson for 14 and 16 games, respectively. Replacement linebacker starter Blake Cashman missed nine games, and cornerback Tremaine Johnson missed nine.

Nevertheless, the Jets’ defense finished seventh in the NFL in yards allowed.

The Jets’ offense lost receiver Quincy Enunwa and linemen Kelechi Osemele, Ryan Kalil and Brian Winters all for more than half the season.

Not all totals tell the same story, either. Baltimore (41) and Pittsburgh (42) both were less than the league average. Of course, the Steelers lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for 15 games, which trumped the combined impact of all the Ravens’ injuries.

There is some subjectivity in counting injuries to starters. In almost all cases, The News counted a team’s No. 3 receiver as a starter because that player almost always sees more snaps than a fullback or the second tight end. San Francisco’s total, however, counts fullback Kyle Juszczyk, because he plays more snaps than the third wideout.

The totals also include established starters who were injured in preseason. Notable among them were Bengals wideout A.J. Green, Houston running back Lamar Miller, Patriots center David Andrews and Jets linebacker Avery Williamson.

The News did not count Bills tight end Tyler Kroft or any other player who was hurt before training camp. Kroft might have won the starting job for the Bills’ opener, but he wasn’t an established starter on the Bills’ team.

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