Do you remember where you were before the start of the 1990 NFL season? For people such as myself, we were not even born yet. Now, why is this year so significant?
This is when the Bills hype train was at its highest level. Names such as Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, and Bruce Smith were absorbed in the vocabulary of the Bills Mafia.
Flash forward 30 years later and the Bills may be back to this level. With a top-five defensive unit and an arsenal of young offensive weapons, Buffalo has a shot to do something they have not done since 1995: win the AFC East.
But with the haunting past of four straight Super Bowl losses and high praise, how should Bills fans expect the season to pan out?
Rising Star in Josh Allen
It’s no secret that Josh Allen has become a beloved quarterback in Orchard Park. The Wyoming product has impressed fans with his strong arm and ability to escape the pocket.
Since his rookie season, Allen has shown some flashes of brilliance. In his second NFL start, he hurdled Vikings defender Anthony Barr during the Bills 27-6 upset in 2018.
Or take Allen’s fourth-down dive against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. After fumbling the snap, Allen picked up the ball and wrestled his way past the first down marker.
The effort eventually set up a John Brown touchdown pass to Devin Singletary that gave the Bills a 13-7 lead at halftime. Buffalo never surrendered the lead again, winning 26-15 in front of a national audience on CBS.
There is no denying that Josh Allen is the heart and soul of the Bills offense. His demeanor and toughness to give 100% to trusting the process is what has made him a fan favorite in Buffalo.
But… He’s Not Perfect
However, there are some issues that Allen needs to fix in his game. In 2019, he fumbled the ball 14 times, losing four of them according to The Football Database.
In my opinion, Allen does not protect the ball enough when he becomes a runner. He often holds the ball away from his body with a loose grip instead of close to his body. This could easily result to a strip-sack and a momentum swing.
Another cause for concern is how many sacks Allen has taken in his career (66). Take the following play during Buffalo’s OT loss to the Texans in the Wild Card game a year ago.
With about six minutes to go in the third quarter, Buffalo was knocking on the door of a 20-0 lead. On a third down and eight, Allen stepped up into the pocket only to be sacked by J.J. Watt coming from the left side. Just like that, the drive stalled, and Buffalo kicked another field goal to give them a 16-0 lead.
After the field goal, Houston outscored the Bills 22-6 to move on to the Divisional Playoffs. It was a bitter defeat for the Bills, as the sack broke Buffalo’s momentum and the team could not recover.
In an interview with NFL Network in August, Allen said the loss still resonates with him.
“Every time I see highlights or whatever from it, it just kind of makes me cringe because I know we should have been put in a better position and I know I had a huge part in that. I take it very hard on myself, and I’m using that to motivate me,” Allen said.
This is what we want to hear from Allen. Use your past mistakes to motivate the future.
Bills Offense: Stylish Upgrades
Remember when the Bills had a top-10 offensive unit? Well, it is not as far back as you may think: 2016.
Yes, the team that fired Rex Ryan before Week 16 had the tenth-ranked offensive unit in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference. Buffalo scored 399 points and had the best rushing attack in the league (2,630 yards and 29 TDs).
Flash-forward to 2020 and the Bills have made some serious upgrades. Trading for Stefon Diggs was a big step in the right direction for the Bills because it creates what I like to call the three-headed Buffalo.
The three-headed Buffalo of Diggs, John Brown, and Cole Beasley hopefully will create mass panic for opposing defenses because each of them has individual attributes.
Diggs is the multi-tool player that can switch from a go-route on 1-1 coverage to a quick five-yard slant with ease. Brown is the home run hitter that burns opposing defenses with his deep threat ability. And Beasley is the sneaky slot receiver who can cut on a dime with little effort.
This strong receiving core is just one piece of the Bills offensive puzzle.
Second-year RB Devin Singletary will look to lead the eighth-ranked rushing attack from a year ago with rookie Zack Moss in toe. Dawson Knox will look to improve on his pass-catching and hit stick capabilities. And the Bills offensive line is anchored by center Mitch Morse and newly extended tackle Dion Dawkins.
Offensive Prediction: Top 15 with a Twist
Considering all this, I think Buffalo will finish in the top-15 in offense, but it may come at a cost.
Looking at Buffalo’s schedule, it is hard to gauge how many points they will score in 2020. Ten of Buffalo’s opponents this season finished in the top 20 in total defense last season. And Buffalo faces two of these opponents twice in 2020 (Jets and Patriots).
Also, the 49ers and Chiefs had defensive superstars like Nick Bosa and Frank Clark that helped their respective teams make the Super Bowl. Buffalo faces them weeks six and thirteen respectively.
At this point, it’s a toss-up to say Buffalo’s offense will lead them to the playoffs due to the fact that no preseason games were played. But those training camp videos of Diggs and Allen sure seeming convincing that Buffalo will have a strong offensive showing in 2020.
Defense: Top Five Unit
In 2019, Buffalo’s defensive unit finished second in the NFL behind their AFC East foe, the Patriots. Led by their young linebacker, Tremaine Edmunds, the Bills forced 23 takeaways according to Pro Football Reference. That was tied for 10th in the league.
The Bills also have one of the most underrated secondaries in the league led by All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White. Pro Football Focus has the Bills secondary ranked eighth in their current rankings.
Two players that are often left out of the defensive conversation are the ball-hawking safety tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. According to PFF, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have earned coverage grades of 93.1 and 91.1 respectively over the past two seasons. They do not give up touchdowns, plain and simple.
These are two guys that go in and do their jobs no matter if the cameras are pointed at them.
Concern at Defensive Line
But Buffalo has a big question mark on the defensive line. Sean McDermott did not re-sign Jordan Phillips (9.5 sacks) and Shaq Lawson (6.0 sacks). Both were one and two in sacks for the team last season. This puts a lot of pressure on Ed Oliver and Harrison Phillips to succeed in the trenches.
To replace Phillips and Lawson, Buffalo brought in Mario Addison and Quinton Jefferson to strengthen their defensive front. Addison has had a stretch of at least 9.0 sacks since 2016. This may be what the Bills need to boost their blitz package.
Plus, Buffalo has not had a consistent sack leader since Mario Williams had 10.5 sacks or better from 2012-2014.
For Jefferson, he is looking to improve on a quiet career so far which has seen only 7.5 sacks in four seasons for Seattle.
The Hype is Here, But Be Careful
Throughout training camp, numerous national writers and broadcasts have jumped on the Bills bandwagon. Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports believes the Bills will win their first playoff game since 1995.
PFF has Buffalo winning the AFC East for the first time since 1995. And Kyle Brandt of NFL Network wants to see if the Bills are a juggernaut this season.
As we hear all of this praise for the Bills, keep this in your mind: Buffalo started the 2011 season 5-2 and looked to be in a prime spot to finally break the playoff drought. Here was the result: losing eight out of the last nine to finish 6-10.
This Bills roster is exceptionally better than the 2011 one, especially with the rebuilding that Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have done over the past three seasons.
But fans may want to hold off on booking a trip to Tampa for Super Bowl LV. Buffalo still needs to get past Bill Belichick and the eleven-straight defending AFC East champion, New England Patriots. And if they win, the Bills still have to face off against the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in the divisional playoffs.
I am not one to give record predictions, but I will leave you with this. Oddshark predicts the Bills and Patriots will be deadlocked at nine wins each. This makes each matchup exciting, as a head to head tiebreaker could decide the AFC East crown.
What are you predictions for the Bills 2020 season? Let me know in the comments or by following me on Twitter @BenBlakely18.