AUTHOR’S NOTE: Here is a lengthy experiment applying the “point gap” method I developed to replace the imperfect scoring technique I’ve used for predicting the outcome of NFL football games over the past few years. Rather than trying to project actual scores, it focuses on the point separation between the two teams at the end of each quarter and on the game-ending total. Its goal is to arrive at an eventual winner and loser, not to facilitate in-game “point spread” betting. This seemed like a valid premise in theory, but the main flaw I’ve found in it is that the numbers derived using the tarot don’t adhere to the conventional scoring model found in the game (basically 3, 6, 7, 9, 10 and their additives and multiples, with an occasional but rare 8); the numerical values of the 78 tarot cards are too diffuse – running from 0 to 21 – to function as single indicators for scoring events, and trying to use multiple cards makes matter worse. I could have rounded everything up or down to bring it into line with standard increments but there are 17 separate (albeit brief) readings here that made it too much of a chore (I have done that for individual games in the past.) Moreover, there is the philosophical challenge involved in bringing what is essentially a mystical and intuitive forecasting tool to bear in the world of statistics; at this point it must all be taken with a large grain of salt, and until proven reliable over time I wouldn’t “take it to the bank.” To see the next step in the evolution of my thinking, take a look at the last reading in the series.
It was suggested by a football fan that I come up with a projection for how the NFL’s Buffalo Bills will fare during the 2022-23 regular season. I don’t have a spread that will roll up an entire season into a single outlook, so I decided to take it opponent-by-opponent. The full schedule with dates won’t be released until late April or early May, so all I have to go on right now is the list of home and away games for the Bills (marked “subject to change”). In each brief reading I’ve included the final 2021-22 division standings for all opponents since knowing that information might have subconsciously influenced my shuffling of the deck and thus the cards pulled. (Stranger things have happened in the world of tarot.) Last year the Bills finished in first place in the AFC East with 11 wins and 6 losses so I didn’t repeat that fact for every entry.
As I’ve done in past game predictions, I used my “Enemy at the Gates” conflict resolution spread, which lends itself well to any contest with four quarters and moderate scoring (unlike basketball which is too high-scoring, and hockey and European football, which are typically too low-scoring to work with this model). I didn’t provide any quarter-by-quarter gameplay analysis due to the sheer number of spreads involved, just an estimated “raw” point separation (not the gambler’s idea of “point spread”) based on the numerical value of the cards in the draw. My usual practice, lacking a coin flip to determine first possession, has been to give the home team the top row of the spread; however, when I got into the Bill’s “Away” games I received some very curious results: “Bills lose to Jets by a touchdown at the Meadowlands.” Huh? I wasn’t convinced, so I went back to putting the Bills in the top row as the “subject” of the readings and things made much more sense. I didn’t use a leading Significator (or “Opportunity”) card, and dispensed with the summary roll-up cards since quarterly on-field dominance was not demonstrated other than through the scoring “gap.”
Home: Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Packers, Vikings, Steelers, Browns, Titans
Away: Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, Ravens, Bengals, Bears, Lions, Chiefs, Rams
Home Game #1: Bills vs Dolphins (3rd in the AFC East at 9W-8L)
1st Quarter: +3 Dolphins; 2nd Quarter: +14 Bills; 3rd Quarter: +6 Dolphins; 4th Quarter: +4 Bills; Final Point Gap: +9 Bills.
It looks like the Bills could put it out of reach in the 2nd Quarter and then hold on to the lead as the Dolphins rally in the 3rd Quarter.
Home Game #2: Bills vs Patriots (2nd in the AFC East at 10W-7L)
1st Quarter: +6 Bills; 2nd Quarter: +1 Patriots; 3rd Quarter: +7 Patriots; 4th Quarter: +8 Bills; Final Point Gap: +6 Bills.
Looks like a close contest between the AFC East’s top teams of last year, with the Bills up by a TD at the final whistle. (It may be an air horn now; I’m old enough to remember when there were no digital scoreboard clocks and the on-field officials looked at their watches and blew their whistles.)
Home Game #3: Bills vs Jets (4th in the AFC East at 4W-13L – the sad, bad Jets)
1st Quarter: +3 Bills; 2nd Quarter: +12 Bills; 3rd Quarter: +9 Jets; 4th Quarter: +11 Jets; Final Point Gap: +5 Jets.
Based on the hapless Jets’ recent performance, this one doesn’t pass the “giggle test;” they might pull it off but I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m going to put this one in the “Win” column for the Bills, and probably by more than a single touchdown.
Home Game #4: Bills vs Packers (1st in NFC North at 13W-4L)
1st Quarter: +2 Packers; 2nd Quarter: +12 Packers; 3rd Quarter: +8 Bills; 4th Quarter: +3 Packers; Final Point Gap: +9 Packers.
A battle of 2021 division champions; the Packers had the better record last year and look like they could be a handful for the Bills this year as well.
Home Game #5: Bills vs Vikings (2nd in NFC North at 8W-9L – tough division if you aren’t Green Bay)
1st Quarter: +1 Bills; 2nd Quarter: +9 Vikings; 3rd Quarter: +4 Bills; 4th Quarter: +9 Vikings; Final Point Gap: +13 Vikings.
The Vikings had a worse record than the Bills in 2021 so this doesn’t really hold water, but the Bills could certainly have an off-day. However, a two-TD margin in the other direction seems a bit unrealistic. I would give both teams a fair chance here with a slight nod to the Bills; let’s say +7 Bills.
Home Game #6: Bills vs Steelers (2nd in AFC North at 9W-7L)
1st Quarter: +2 Bills; 2nd Quarter: +8 Steelers; 3rd Quarter: +3 Steelers; 4th Quarter: +3 Steelers; Final Point Gap: +12 Steelers.
This looks like another doubtful one since the Steelers haven’t exactly been unbeatable; given their respective records in 2021 it could go either way, but if I were a betting man I might wager the Bills at a couple of points – +3 or so – over the Steelers.
Home Game #7: Bills vs Browns (3rd in AFC North at 8W-9L)
1st Quarter: +4 Bills; 2nd Quarter: +3 Browns; 3rd Quarter: +8 Browns; 4th Quarter: +5 Bills; Final Point Gap: +2 Browns.
Given the Browns’ losing record last year, I’m dubious about this one as well; it should be a stroll in the park for the Bills, not a squeaker (unless a loss to the Steelers demoralizes them). Giving the Browns the benefit of the doubt, I could see them losing by a field goal or at most a TD instead of winning by one; so +3 or +7 Bills is my guess.
Home Game #8: Bills vs Titans (1st in AFC South at 12W-5L)
1st Quarter: +1 Titans; 2nd Quarter: +9 Titans; 3rd Quarter; +11 Titans; 4th Quarter: +14 Titans; Final Point Gap: +35 Titans.
This one I could almost believe; the Titans were at the head of their division last year and should be a tough opponent. The gap probably won’t be that big but I suspect it will be substantial, with the Titans comfortably on top.
Away Game #1: Bills at Miami (Dolphins were 3rd in the AFC East at 9W-8L)
1st Quarter: +11 Bills; 2nd Quarter: +12 Dolphins; 3rd Quarter: +5 Bills; 4th Quarter: +4 Dolphins; Final Point Gap: 0.
This one looks like a legitimate toss-up, but I’m thinking the Bills will do better on the road and would award them a single TD advantage in Miami (+7 Bills).
Away Game #2: Bills at New England (Patriots were 2nd in the AFC East at 10W-7L)
1st Quarter: 0 gap; 2nd Quarter: +10 Bills; 3rd Quarter: +12 Bills; 4th Quarter: +4 Patriots; Final Point Gap: +18 Bills.
It looks like the “Brady-less” Pats will continue their slide against the Bills.
Away Game #3: Bills at New York (Jets were 4th and last in the AFC East at 4W-13L)
1st Quarter: +1 Jets; 2nd Quarter: +10 Bills; 3rd Quarter: +4 Jets; 4th Quarter: +7 Bills; Final Point Gap: +12 Bills.
This reading is the one that caused me to remove the home team (Jets) from the top row since I couldn’t see them beating the Bills by two touchdowns. I’m more comfortable with this outcome.
Away Game #4: Bills at Baltimore (Ravens were 4th in AFC North at 8W-9L)
1st Quarter: +1 Ravens; 2nd Quarter: +4 Bills; 3rd Quarter: +2 Ravens; 4th Quarter: +1 Ravens; Final Point Gap: 0.
This looks to be a closer game than we have any reason to expect because I get the impression from the standings that the AFC North is not a particularly strong division. I nudged this one into the Bills’ “Win” column since ties are infrequent in the NFL, but I don’t have a quantifiable basis for doing that; it’s only a hunch that an official tie is highly unlikely to happen.
Away Game #5: Bills at Cincinnati (Bengals were 1st in AFC North at 10W-7L)
1st Quarter: +8 Bills; 2nd Quarter: +1 Bills; 3rd Quarter: +7 Bills; 4th Quarter: +7 Bengals; Final Point Gap: +9 Bills.
The Bengals were another division-leading team in 2021 with only one less win than the Bills, so this could be a real “knock-down-drag-out” fight. But the cards support a Bills win by one TD and a field goal. It has the feel of an upset.
Away Game #6: Bills at Chicago (Bears were 3rd in NFC North at 6W-11L)
1st Quarter: +3 Bills; 2nd Quarter: + 6 Bears; 3rd Quarter: +5 Bears; 4th Quarter: +11 Bears; Final Point Gap: +19 Bears.
The Bears were another woebegone team in 2021, so I’m inclined to distrust this prediction. The only thing I can think of that would lend it any credibility at all would be a few key injuries on the Bills side; but I still think an almost 3-touchdown margin requires too great a “suspension of disbelief.” Barring significant injuries that cripple them, I would give the Bills at least one touchdown on the Bears (+7 Bills).
Away Game #7: Bills at Detroit (Lions were 4th in NFC North at 3W-13L with one tie)
1st Quarter: 0 gap; 2nd Quarter: +4 Lions; 3rd Quarter: +14 Lions; 4th Quarter: +13 Lions; Final Point Gap: +31 Lions.
The Lions had the second-worst record in the NFL last year. When I saw this forecast my first reaction was “Nope-nope-nope-nope!” Even half-a-dozen Buffalo injuries wouldn’t explain it since I think the Bills’ second and third teams could beat the Lions. It would be a matter of simple pride for the Bills to not lay down and let these failures walk all over them. I’m going to test my new NFL prediction model on this ridiculous reading to see if it looks any more credible. (See below*)
Away Game #8: Bills at Kansas City (Chiefs were 1st in AFC West at 12W-5L)
1st Quarter: +8 Chiefs; 2nd Quarter +11 Chiefs; 3rd Quarter: +3 Chiefs; 4th Quarter: +4 Chiefs; Final Point gap: +26 Chiefs.
Kansas City has been a powerhouse for a while now. It wouldn’t surprise me if they give the Bills a good thumping, and they might in fact lead this game from beginning to end as shown in the cards. However, both teams were in top form in 2021 so the Bills losing by four touchdowns seems irrational. Let’s call it two TDs and maybe an odd field goal.
Away Game #9: Bills at Los Angeles (Rams were 1st in NFC West at 12W-5L)
1st Quarter: +4 Bills; 2nd Quarter: +12 Rams; 3rd Quarter: +5 Bills; 4th Quarter: +4 Rams; Final Point Gap: +7 Rams.
It will be interesting to see whether the reigning Super Bowl champs can contain the Bills. The cards say “Yes” – by a single touchdown. That doesn’t seem far-fetched to me.
* Here is my retake on the Bills-Lions game; the model uses actual cumulative scores rather than the “point gap” concept I applied above. It gives the Bills a 10-point win (which I still think is being too kind to Detroit).
1st Quarter: Bills 9, Lions 6; 2nd Quarter: Bills 26, Lions 12; 3rd Quarter: Bills 32, Lions 15; 4th Quarter: Bills 32, Lions 22. Final Score: Bills 32, Lions 22.
It looks like the Lions could be held to kicking field goals until the 4th Quarter, and the Bills might send in their bench in the 4th Quarter as well.
Summary and Conclusion:
If the cards can be believed (and I’m not entirely sure they can), the Buffalo Bills will come off the 2022-23 season with a 5W-12L record, but I think some of these readings are overly generous to their more anemic opponents. Since I really don’t expect the Bills to become that weak over a single summer or the rest of the league to emerge that much stronger, I sharpened my pencil and rewrote the script along the lines shown in my game-by-game comments. That done, the Bills wind up with a 12W-5L record, which is more in line with their 2021 performance. I just don’t think there is a chance in hell that the Jets, the Lions or the Bears can beat the Bills even on their best day and the latter’s worst one, and I seriously doubt the Vikings, Steelers and Ravens can either. The Dolphins and the Patriots are a “definite maybe” in that regard. Buffalo will most likely have their hands full with the Rams, the Titans, the Packers, the Chiefs and the Super Bowl runner-up Bengals. When the season arrives I will use my new NFL prediction model to revisit these forecasts.