So, the Jets are tanking horribly (have I mentioned that before?) and the Dolphins are heading for a Quarterback change forced upon them by injury. Has the misfortune and mismanagement of others led to some smiling up in Buffalo? It should, because maybe the door to a return to the playoffs for the first time since 1999 just opened a little bit wider. Granted they wont be anyone’s favourite to beat New England to the top of the AFC East but could they squeeze in to the post season as a wildcard? Its possible.
Just look at the team. Tyrod Taylor returns for a 3rd season as the starting Qb and the sense during pre-season seems to be that this really is his team in 2017. His franchise-record setting play over the last two years such as, the highest completion percentage in a game by a bills quarterback @ 91.7% and the most rushing yards in a season with 580, should garner more respect than it seemingly has. His willingness to take a pay-cut to return speaks volumes to his commitment and desire to play for Buffalo. Sure, the loss of wide Receivers Robert Woods (Rams) and Marquise Goodwin (49ers), is not ideal but Sammy Watkins is hopefully back to full fitness and enters a contact-year needing to prove his worth. So often this is the motivation that’s needed to kick-start a struggling career. Watkins has 17 touchdowns in his 3 seasons so far but has also missed 11 games out of the last 32 and needs to show that he really is back to full speed and mobility. On his day he is the best WR in the league. Opposite him the Bills have landed the top remaining Receiver on the Free agency market in the ever-green Anquan Boldin. He provides a big physical presence to target in the redzone ( he had the second most redzone receptions in the league amongst WRs last year) and despite being 36 years of age he doesn’t appear to have lost the scoring touch after 8 TDs for Detroit in 2016. Zay Jones figures to be the 3rd WR on the team, coming straight out of college (23TDs in 49 games with 4279 yards) in the 2nd round he has plenty of speed and sure hands to boot.
All that said, it seems likely that the Bills remain a run-first offense under new coach Sean McDermott and this means a lot will again rest on the shoulders of star running back LeSean McCoy. He, together with Taylor, ran for over 1700 yards combined last season and scored 19 rushing TDs. There is no reason to believe that this tactic wont continue to work for the Bills, especially if opposition defences have to worry about an effective receiver group too. Adding to the Bills rushing prowess is the signing of the two best Fullbacks on the market. Mike Tolbert (from the Panthers) and Patrick DiMarco (Falcons) are good old fashioned bulldozers who excel in opening running lanes for their ‘backs. With 37 touchdowns between them they can be relied on to contribute in the goal-line game.
On the defensive side of the ball coach McDermott has set out his stall to simplify the schemes that were in place under previous coach, Rex Ryan. A lot of criticism from within the team had stated that players were confused about coverages and positional play which had in turn led to increasing numbers of yards being surrendered over Ryans reign. The loss of Stephon Gilmore at Cornerback to New England was undoubtedly something the team would have wanted to avoid but the first round draft selection of pro-ready corner Tre’Davious White should help to offset the loss fairly quickly. Also in the backfield, the experienced Micah Hyde signed from Green Bay has 185 tackles over the last 4 seasons and has only missed one start in that time. He should pair up well with versatile Safety Jordan Poyer, formerly of the Browns the stifle both slot receivers and rushing plays through the middle. Along the line Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson are suffocating Defensive Ends who, in the new system, should be free to do what they do best and smoother the opposing Quaterbacks.
1999 is a long time ago, and without doubt more talented Buffalo teams have failed to make the playoffs since then, but maybe what has been missing has been talent plus timing. It seems now that with the Dolphins and Jets unsure of their next moves that The Bills could take a headlong change at a wildcard spot. 8-8 probably wont be good enough, but 9-7 may well be. If I were prescribing a cure for The playoff blues I’d say, “Trust in Tyrod and his stats, Ride McCoy for as long as you can and give the defence some free will to make their plays. That, combined with a little more luck, may finally cure the Buffalo Ills.