Every time the Buffalo Bills are brought up, the first thing that comes to mind is the 17-year playoff drought.
Every season, Bills fans hope this is the season it finally happens. Most recently, when Rex Ryan came to town and told everyone to get ready.
Personally, I was skeptical, but I was hoping for the best. Ryan had some success in New York before things started to unravel. Being a die hard Bills fan, I tried to give him some benefit of the doubt due to the overall situation in the Jets front office. We all know how things turned out. After two seasons as the Bills Head Coach, it was time to part ways with Rex Ryan.
The defense took a big step backward, as well as discipline and morale. You could see it on the field. To me, it looked as if the defense all but quit on the Ryan brothers. Some people thought the decision to fire Rex was too soon, but in my opinion, it had to be done. Rex’s style of coaching simply was not the right fit for this team.
Fast forward to the Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott Era. I can already see changes in the culture at One Bills Drive. Even though they are still in the beginning stages, I can see their style rubbing off on the players. “All In” was just a marketing phrase last season, but this season they are buying in to the changes made in the off-season.
Several defensive players have spoken about how they favor the new defensive scheme. Most of the off-season acquisitions are high character, disciplined players who are ready to give it their all. Some of this is already showing at training camp, which also looks more intense and productive than in the past two seasons.
So could these changes lead to a bounce back season and a possible end to the playoff drought? I have seen a wide range of predictions for the Bills this season. Some as low as a 2-14 record but I just can’t see it. While my expectations are very modest, I have a feeling this team could surprise people this season.
I have even seen articles that suggest the Bills are in full rebuild mode or even the dreaded “tank” mode, but with some of the moves made in the off-season (re-signing Tyrod Taylor, Kyle Williams staying on board instead of retiring, signing Micah Hyde.) I strongly doubt that.
Yes, the Bills are looking towards the future of the team, but this staff and these players have every intention of competing to their fullest ability this season. Other reasons given for a decline in their record were new coaching staff and new schemes on both sides of the ball. There could be an adjustment period and a learning curve to go along with it, which is why I have modest expectations. That transition period could be quick as several offensive and defensive players have said they are more comfortable with the new schemes being implemented.
Tyrod Taylor has played in Rick Dennison’s offense earlier in his career, so he has some familiarity with it. More bootlegs and play-actions could benefit Taylor by getting him out of the pocket while being able to keep his eyes focused downfield as opposed to getting turned around and scrambling just to stay on his feet.
The new offense will get the tight ends more involved and give Charles Clay more of a chance to shine, as well as the other tight ends like Logan Thomas and Wes Saxton who are showing promise in training camp. LeSean McCoy is dangerous in any scheme, but the zone running scheme in this offense could greatly benefit him, as well as getting him involved more in the passing game where he is just as dangerous, if not more when he is out in open space. More screen plays to Sammy Watkins could add to his contributions and open up another part of his game we haven’t been able to see yet. All these things could lead to a more balanced and possibly dangerous offense on the field this season.
On defense, a more player friendly scheme could lead to a bounce back season. Going back to the 4-3 could benefit the defensive line the most. Shaq Lawson is having a great training camp already and could be a problem for opposing quarterbacks this season. A more simple approach could help the linebackers focus on stopping the run. A zone scheme could help a young secondary grow together instead of being left in 1 on 1 coverage most of the time. So far the secondary has looked pretty decent early in training camp. If the defense returns to their form from a few years ago, it will help the Bills exceed expectations for this season.
It will be a challenge as the Bills have many prolific offenses on their schedule this season.
At first glance that looks like a tough schedule, but that’s based on last season, and things change year to year in the NFL. Still, there is a list of top quarterbacks (Tom Brady twice, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Derek Carr, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Andrew Luck, Phillip Rivers, Andy Dalton.) in the game right now that the Bills will face this season. There is also a list of top receiving threats (Julio Jones, Mike Evans, AJ Green, Rob Gronkowski, Tyler Eifert, Brandon Cooks, Julian Edelman, Michael Thomas, TY Hilton, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, etc..) to go along with those quarterbacks. Going against offensive threats like these will certainly test the Bills defense.
One thing that could help the Bills this season is that there are a few key swing games that are at home. Games against Oakland, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Indianapolis, and Denver are all at New Era Field. If the Bills take advantage of these key home games, it could greatly help their playoff chances this season.
Looking at the schedule and taking everything into consideration, if the Bills stay healthy and everything goes according to plan I can see a possibility of 10-6 this season. That’s not my prediction, but it is possible. If the Bills can go 4-2 in the division with a sweep of the Dolphins and Jets. Split 2-2 against the AFC West with possible victories over the Broncos at home and Chargers at their temporary stadium. Split 2-2 against the NFC South with possible wins over the Saints and Buccaneers at home. Possibly even steal a win week 2 at the Panthers. That brings their record to a possible 8-6. With wins over the Colts and Bengals that would bring the Bills to 10-6 and a possible wild card spot for the first time in 17 years. Key word being possible.
My more realistic expectation for the Bills is around .500, but the level of optimism I have for this team going forward is higher than I have had in a long time. I didn’t buy into the Rex Ryan Era, and the list of coaches before that provided little excitement for me.
I understand that Sean McDermott is a first-time coach, and there is no guarantee of success and the same goes for Brandon Beane, but something tells me this won’t be the same old Bills team people have been so used to seeing for almost the last two decades.