The following is an excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 2024 Football Preview book. In addition to Warren’s deep, detailed write-up on all 32 NFL teams, each chapter features page after page of full-color charts, stats, and heatmaps as well as penalty analysis from Joe Gibbs. Click here for a full FREE chapter from the 2024 Football Preview.

Penalties are an under-discussed aspect of NFL success and failure. Average teams can become playoff contenders with good discipline, and good teams can become great simply by winning the penalty battle.

Let’s look at how the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and New England Patriots performed from a penalty perspective in 2023 and where they can improve in 2024.

Penalty Analysis for All 32 NFL Teams
AFC East
AFC North
AFC West
AFC South
NFC East
NFC North
NFC West
NFC South

How Did Penalties Impact the Buffalo Bills?

The Good

  • After their Week 13 bye, the Bills averaged just 4.1 penalties per game, contributing to a 6-1 record. That represented a significant decline from their 7.01 penalties per game through the first 12 weeks of the season
  • The offensive line was integral to the team’s success in 2023, particularly late in the season. The cohesiveness up front resulted in the offensive line being responsible for just 23% of the team’s overall penalties
  • Offensive holding infractions are the penalty equivalent of a sack. They’re a drive killer. Pivoting to a run-first offense coincided with a decline in offensive holding infractions. That led to sustained drives, and the Bills finished the season ranked as a top-five offense for time of possession per game
  • A below-average 33% of the team’s overall penalties were via pre-snap infractions
  • When they played at home, the defense ranked in the top ten in generating both offensive holding and false start penalties on opponents
  • Josh Allen ranked as the number one beneficiary of roughing the passer penalties. Having your quarterback as the primary benefactor of roughing-the-passer penalties isn’t ideal on the surface. However, we know these are judgment calls. Getting the benefit of the doubt in these situations is better than the alternative

The Bad

  • The offense was anemic at generating penalties via passing plays. They ranked 32nd overall in beneficial defensive pass interference penalties
  • The Bills defense ranked seventh in surrendering automatic first down penalties per game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the highest percentage of these infractions were surrendered on third down plays
  • An above-average 33% of Bills penalties were committed in the fourth quarter of games
  • The Bills were co-leaders for unnecessary roughness penalties. They have finished in the top 10 on five occasions during the Sean McDermott era including ranking No. 1 twice

The Bills’ pivot to a run-oriented offense late in the season was the catalyst in turning the team’s fortunes around. It’s an approach Buffalo would be wise to continue in the 2024 season.

Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott stated, “It’s not a matter of if. It’s just a matter of when” this Bills team wins a Super Bowl.

There is no evidence to suggest that will occur while McDermott is at the helm in Buffalo.

Big picture, McDermott’s inability to win versus elite competition in the playoffs has become a thing. With every passing season the pressure to perform increases as the failures mount.

The reality is, if the Bills want to be serious contenders, a change needs to be made at the top. They are in win-now mode and under as much pressure as anyone to make a Super Bowl run this season. 

This team has talent, but unless Buffalo can exercise their playoff demons in 2024, it’s hard to fathom major changes not taking place at season’s end.

How Did Penalties Impact the Miami Dolphins?

The Good

  • The offense ranked No. 1 in generating pre-snap infractions on opposing defenses. It’s no surprise the Dolphins and Rams were the top-ranked offenses in this category. Both offenses use a higher percentage of pre-snap motion. That creates uncertainty on opposing defenses, and beneficial penalties are a by-product of that
  • The offense was responsible for an above-average 54.9% of the team’s penalty yards. A percentage that high doesn’t work for many teams, but the Dolphins are uniquely equipped to overcome penalty-related setbacks with their offensive firepower
  • The defense surrendered a below-average amount of automatic first down penalties per game

The Bad

  • The Dolphins ranked eighth in penalties per game on the road. Miami has struggled in this area in both seasons with Mike McDaniel as head coach
  • The Dolphins caught a scheduling break with only seven true road games in the 2023 regular season. It’s worth noting Miami has nine road games this season
  • The offense was a below-average beneficiary of automatic first down penalties. The reality is that it’s a finesse offense that operates in space, resulting in the low ranking
  • The offensive line ranked third for offensive holding penalties per game
  • An above-average 32% of Dolphins penalties occurred on third down plays. Additionally, 41% of the Dolphins’ automatic first downs were surrendered on key third down plays. The one positive here is the aforementioned low volume of first down penalties surrendered

The offensive holding numbers are a concern, although the Dolphins possess ample offensive firepower to overcome these setbacks. However, at some point those penalties catch up with you no matter how explosive your offense may be.

The Dolphins defense was excellent. From a penalty perspective, this unit was the strength of the team in 2023, despite significant injuries down the stretch. 

The departure of Vic Fangio is cause for concern. Compounding that is several high-end defensive players coming back off serious injuries and the departure of Christian Wilkins.

The Dolphins have talent but shrink in big spots versus top-tier opponents. That doesn’t figure to change this season.

The likelihood of an undermanned Dolphins defense early in the season is potentially problematic versus the so-called easy part of the schedule.

Secondly, finesse teams like Miami fade late in the season. That happens to coincide with the tough stretch of games for this Dolphins team which begin from Thanksgiving onwards.

Those factors add up to the Dolphins being a prime candidate to regress in 2024 and be on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned.

How Did Penalties Impact the New York Jets?

The Good

  • The defense was an above-average penalized unit in surrendering automatic first down penalties. While on the surface that isn’t ideal, the majority of these penalties occurred on first down plays versus the more punitive third down penalties
  • The defense committed an above-average amount of penalties via passing plays. However, they surrendered just 8.03 yards per infraction, one of the lowest averages of any team in the 2023 NFL season
  • The combination of a high percentage of infractions on first downs with low yardage surrendered was the best-case scenario for the Jets. The reality is their defense was tasked with a disproportionate burden for the team to win games. They performed as well as any unit in the NFL last season given the circumstances

The Bad

  • The Jets were the No. 1 penalized team in the 2023 NFL season, with 53% of their penalties committed by their offense 
  • False start infractions were responsible for 16.5% of the Jets’ overall penalty yards, well above the league average of 11.5%. Needless to say, the Jets were the No. 1 penalized team in this category
  • The Jets’ pre-snap numbers were almost a carbon copy of the 2022 Denver Broncos statistics. The common denominator here is Nathaniel Hackett. The Broncos ranked second for pre-snap penalties in 2022 and third overall for false starts during Hackett’s brief tenure as head coach
  • The above numbers we’ve detailed resulted in the Jets offense ranking No. 1 in offensive penalty yards per game
  • The Jets led the NFL in declined penalties per game. If you add declined penalties to the NFL-leading accepted penalties, it’s not a recipe for success no matter how talented your team may be

The inept offensive penalty numbers have Nathaniel Hackett’s fingerprints all over them. When we dig through these stats, it’s amazing the Jets were able to win seven games last season.

Retaining Hackett is a major cause for concern, given his dismal track record.

Coaching issues aside, the Jets have the talent to be a playoff team. Their biggest issue, the offensive line, was overhauled via free agency and the draft. On paper, it looks to be a team strength in 2024.

That in conjunction with Aaron Rodgers’ return should result in far fewer three-and-outs and less pressure on the defense to carry the day. 

The Jets are the ultimate “all-in” team for the 2024 season. They will be lights out defensively.

Rodgers accurately stated, “If I don’t do what I know I’m capable of doing, we’re all probably gonna be out of here” at a late May press conference. It’s that simple. The Jets will go as he goes.

The AFC East is there for the taking as much as any division in the NFL this season. 

The New York Jets need to take flight right out of the gates in 2024. If they take advantage of a manageable early schedule, it can be a special season. Conversely, if they crash and burn, there will be wholesale changes for this franchise at season’s end.

How Did Penalties Impact the New England Patriots?

The Good

  • The defense was one of the least penalized units in the NFL, ranking 30th in automatic first downs surrendered with an extremely low 7.4 yards per infraction
  • The lower defensive penalty average may be a slightly misleading statistic. The offense’s ineptitude didn’t force opponents to play an aggressive style of offense, thus limiting the need to throw the ball and the number of penalties committed
  • A below-average 22% of Patriots penalties occurred on key third down plays. Even more impressive, only 33% were committed by their defense

The Bad

  • The offense was responsible for 49% of the team’s penalties. The Patriots lacked the personnel to overcome the slightest setback
  • The offense was an above-average penalized unit for delay of game and illegal shift infractions 
  • The offense co-ranked last in the NFL at generating beneficial automatic first down penalties. Compounding this, the New England offense ranked last in yards gained via automatic first down penalties
  • The special teams were a top-five penalized unit

The Patriots hit rock bottom in 2023. The awful offensive penalty numbers come as no surprise to anyone who watched this team last season.

Defense was never the issue with Bill Belichick in charge, but the offense went from bad to worse, resulting in Belichick’s departure after 20-plus seasons.

Owner Belichick Belichick opted for a former Patriots player to lead the franchise post-Belichick. No candidate provides a more seamless transition in this department than new head coach Jerod Mayo, often referred to as “Little Bill” because of his defensive intellect.

But it raises the question, does Mayo have the same blindspot to offensive football as his mentor had in recent seasons?

It’s a simplistic analysis, but the Patriots’ fortunes boil down to Drake Maye being the guy. His success would quickly change the narrative around this franchise post-Tom Brady.

But it’s a daunting task for a rookie quarterback being thrust into a less-than-ideal situation. Growing pains will be inevitable.

Hope springs eternal in the NFL more than any other sport. One good draft class can change a team’s fortunes for a decade. 

Keeping that hope alive for the Patriots in 2024 would consist of Maye making strides and the team being far more competitive despite not being a legitimate playoff contender.

This analysis continues in the 2024 Football Preview

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