Schedule: NYJ, @MIA, LAR, @LVR, @TEN, KC, @NYJ, NE, SEA, @ARI, BYE, LAC, @SF, PIT, @DEN, @NE, MIA
Additions: WR Stefon Diggs (Trade), EDGE Mario Addison (FA), DT Vernon Butler (FA), LB A.J. Klein (FA), DL Quinton Jefferson (FA), DL A.J. Epenesa (Draft), RB Zack Moss (Draft)
Losses: DL Star Lotulelei (Opt-out), DL Jordan Phillips (FA), EDGE Shaq Lawson (FA), RB Frank Gore (FA), G Jon Feliciano (Injury)
For the first time in 12 years, I expect someone other than New England to win the AFC East. That’s right. Tom Brady’s out and Josh Allen’s in. Well, more like the Patriots are out and the Bills are in, but Allen will certainly play a big role.
While everyone calls him an inaccurate bust, Allen is quietly one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the league. Between his rushing ability and cannon for an arm, the big plays outweigh the lapses. His stats should improve this season, too.
With Zack Moss joining Devin Singletary in the backfield and Diggs now out wide, Buffalo’s offense should look a lot like last year’s Vikings. That’ll mean lost of carries for the young running back duo and lots of play-action deep shots from Allen to Diggs. Given that and some personal development entering year three, I expect Allen to be a less efficient version of 2019 Kirk Cousins with more value as a runner.
This gameplan will be a good fit for the offensive line as well. Like Minnesota, Buffalo’s linemen were better run blockers than pass protectors last season. Thankfully, 30+ carries a game does a comparable job of neutralizing pass rushes as an elite offensive line.
One worry, though, is the injury to Jon Feliciano. The 27-year-old started every game at right guard last season, but a torn pectoral muscle will cause him to miss the start of the season and potentially its entirety. Buffalo has some of the best depth in the league, though, and should be fine.
Overall, I expect the offense to be much improved next season—something I can’t say for the defense. Statistically, they were elite in both yards and points allowed while closer to average in big plays like sacks and turnovers. Their yardage (3rd) and scoring (2nd) rankings would be hard to repeat regardless and could be even harder with some uncertainty in the trenches.
To offset the loss of Jordan Phillips, the Bills signed defensive tackles Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson. Along with the incumbents, those additions were supposed to give Buffalo a deep and talented DT rotation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will turn out that way.
Star Lotulelei opted-out after starting every game in his two seasons with the team. Suddenly, the Bills’ rotation will likely look like this: Butler and Ed Oliver starting with Harrison Phillips and Jefferson subbing in. I have concerns about all of those guys.
From personal experience, Butler is not a guy you want starting. Oliver is the best piece with his elite potential, but this is only his second season after a shaky rookie year. Then there’s Phillips, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, and Jefferson, who’s been banged up all camp and isn’t a true defensive tackle.
Besides that minor worry, this defense is fantastic. Mario Addison spices up the pass rush and Epenesa gives them more flexibility. His ability to play both on the edge and interior lessens my concern about the DT rotation. A.J. Klein is another signing with Carolina ties and should fit in nicely next to the underrated duo of Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. They aren’t Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson-level, but Buffalo should feel good about its linebackers.
Backing them up is a superstar in Tre White and some great pieces surrounding him. Call me crazy, but I expect to see a revitalized Josh Norman this season. He’s back in a familiar scheme and should become the starter opposite White at some point this season. If not, the Bills have a reliable alternative in Levi Wallace. Like the team as a whole, safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are another duo who don’t get the respect they deserve. In a division full of them, this secondary is top-notch.
All these veteran additions mean high-salary incumbents like Trent Murphy are on cap casualty watch. They also mean that it’s hard not to see this team improving. Buffalo’s roster is the perfect mix of young cornerstones with room to grow and proven veterans. After going 10-6 last season—with one loss being a Week 17 resting—11-5 feels like a good, safe prediction given a pretty tough schedule.
What’s your record prediction for the Bills? What did I get right or wrong? Sound off in the comments.