Buffalo Bills Season Prediction

Overview:

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)

Analysis:

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.

Looking Back…Who Won the Panthers-Bills Kelvin Benjamin Trade?

The History

Part of the famous 2014 receiver class, Benjamin exploded onto the scene. His 1,008 yards tied Greg Olsen for the team lead. After such a successful rookie campaign, expectations were through the roof for his second year.

Then, an ACL injury brought the hype train to a screeching halt. Faced with the adversity of losing his top receiver, Cam Newton responded with an MVP season and 17-2 record (with one of those losses unfortunately coming in the Super Bowl). Still, the Panthers had just completed one of the best seasons in league history without their stud receiver, so morale remained high.

Benjamin nearly posted 1,000 yards again in 2016, but the team failed to recapture its magic and stumbled to a 6-10 record. Midway through a weight-watching 2017 season, Carolina made the choice to move on from its recent first-round pick.

Buffalo was the perfect trade partner. After poaching their head coach and general manager from the Panthers earlier that year, this was an opportunity to potentially snag a star from the same organization. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane had experience with Benjamin from their Carolina days and valued him enough to pull the trigger

Buffalo Post Trade

Photo by Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

Expectations were almost non-existent in McDermott’s first year, but his team was a feisty 5-2 when they traded for Benjamin. Three days after the trade, the Bills lost to the Jets with Benjamin unavailable.

From there, Buffalo fell back to Earth. Including the Jets loss, they went just 4-5 the rest of the way. It’s tough to put too much blame on Benjamin, though, as the Bills were far worse than their record and fortunate to finish 9-7.

Still, Benjamin was a massive disappointment, even by the most generous standards. His best game for Buffalo that season was 5 catches for 70 yards in a blowout loss to the Patriots. Every other time out, he posted 42 yards or less. On top of that, a knee injury cost him two games.

Overall, it was a dud first season for Benjamin. He was acquired to bolster a lackluster receiving corps and catapult the Bills to their first playoff appearance in 18 years. And while the team accomplished the latter (before promptly losing to Jacksonville in one of the worst quarterback matchups in postseason history), Benjamin doesn’t deserve much credit for that. Not only was his production underwhelming, but it came with these receivers stealing targets from him.

Even so, Benjamin’s fifth-year option—accepted by Carolina before the trade—gave him an opportunity to redeem himself.

Unfortunately, year two in Buffalo wasn’t any better. In fact, it was pretty much a mirror image of the year before. His best game (4 catches for 71 yards) came in a blowout loss while his next-highest yardage output was 45.

With a 4-8 record and little return on their investment, Buffalo chose to cut their losses by releasing Benjamin. Kansas City quickly snapped him up, but even Patrick Mahomes couldn’t save Benjamin. His two catches with the Chiefs proved to be his last in the NFL, as he looks to be de facto retired.

Benjamin showed as a rookie that he had the tools to be a successful receiver, but his ACL injury brought effort and attitude concerns to the surface. Not long after, those concerns swallowed up his career.

To make matters worse, Benjamin trashed Newton instead of taking responsibility for his failures. This is a guy who had more memes made about his weight than catches outside of Carolina and yet he thought people would take his side over Cam’s.

While this move didn’t work out, the Panthers North experiment has been successful overall. Much of their roster has Carolina ties or was drafted with the same philosophy in mind. The prices of some of those signings have been questionable and Josh Allen has his doubters, but the Bills are the favorites to win their division and threats to make a deep playoff run.

Even though the team is in a good place now, this was still a terrible trade. It’s not an issue of overcompensation—third and seventh-round picks certainly don’t break the bank—Benjamin was just that bad in Buffalo. Between his poor production and locker room presence, he hurt the team more than helped it.

Carolina Post Trade

Photo by Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

Carolina was a good team both before this trade and after it. 5-3 with Benjamin, they finished 11-5 and playoff bound. The slightly improved record doesn’t conclusively show they improved after the trade, but there’s a case to be made.

For as productive as Benjamin was, his impact didn’t match the numbers. From 2014-17, Carolina’s regular season was 18-21-1 with him and 21-3 without him. Without his go-to target, Newton worked through his reads more and the offense was more dangerous as a result.

Benjamin’s departure opened the door for Devin Funchess to take over as WR1. The third-year man responded immediately with 17 catches for 286 yards and 2 touchdowns over the first 3 games post trade. But, as has become a theme of his career, the flashes didn’t sustain for Funch. After spotty production to end the season, he flopped as top dog in 2018.

As a team, Carolina imploded after a hot start. A 6-2 record was followed by 7 straight losses before a season-ending win over the Saints’ reserves. Funchess’ year was a similar story—minus the hot start. With just 549 yards on the season, his most memorable game was a dropfest in his Detroit homecoming.

Thankfully for the Panthers, they didn’t put all their eggs in Funchess’ basket. Amid the since-departed receiver’s struggles, first-round pick D.J. Moore showed the future was bright. Explosive with the ball in his hands, Moore doubled down on his promising rookie season with the ninth-most receiving yards in the league last year.

Moore may be an improvement over Benjamin, but it’s been a rough couple seasons in Carolina. The draft picks they received have done nothing to help right the ship, either.

Gaulden, the selection with Buffalo’s third-rounder, was a questionable decision on draft night and an unquestionably poor one now. He rarely saw the field before getting cut midway through last season. A little over two years after being drafted, he is not on a roster.

Carolina’s other pick could end up with a better career than Gaulden despite being taken 150 picks later. That doesn’t say much, though, and Smith too has struggled to find snaps on defense. But unlike Gaulden, he’s carved out a role as something of a special teams ace. Decade-long careers can be built upon that, so Smith could stick around for a while.

Even if Smith becomes the Panthers’ next Colin Jones, it’s tough to call this a good deal for the team. Realistically, the best thing they got was removing the temptation to re-sign Benjamin. His numbers warranted a continued stay, but he clearly would have been a ticking time bomb had that came true.

Knowing it could have ended even worse is the best way for Panthers fans to look back on the Benjamin era fondly.

Final Verdict: Panthers Win

If there was ever a lose-lose trade, this might be it. Benjamin might not have been a great receiver for the Panthers, but he was at least productive, and they got almost nothing in return for him. Calling them winners is more by default than anything, as Buffalo failed even harder.

Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

Looking Back…Who Won the Bills-Rams Sammy Watkins Trade?

The History

Watkins was electric to start his career. A solid rookie season was followed up by a star-making sophomore year, and it looked as if Buffalo would have a superstar wideout for years to come. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

Watkins battled through various ailments throughout his first two years, though nothing out of the ordinary for an NFL player. During the 2016 offseason, his injury issues started to get more serious, as he fractured his left foot during a workout. That season, Watkins was placed on IR after a teammate stepped on and reinjured his foot.

Despite coming back to finish out the season, he’s never fully returned to his old explosive self. After multiple setbacks and surgeries on that same foot, Buffalo deemed the situation serious enough to trade away the promising youngster.

Los Angeles viewed Watkins as a worthwhile risk. For a team riding one of the longest playoff droughts in American sports, almost any risk was worthwhile.

If he could stay healthy, Watkins was worth far more than Buffalo’s asking price. Especially to a team desperate for receiver help and general star power—the Rams were entering their second season back in L.A. and struggling to gain fans.

Los Angeles Post Trade

Photo by Alex Gallardo/AP

If you just look at Watkins’ stats, he was a huge disappointment. In 15 games, he posted 39 catches for 593 yards. Those are unacceptable numbers for a supposed number one receiver.

However, this is one of those cases where the numbers are deceiving. A receiving core that was supposed to be a huge weakness unexpectedly became a strength of the team. Rookie Cooper Kupp and free agent signing Robert Woods greatly outperformed expectations while Todd Gurley was one of the best pass-catching backs in the league.

Some of their success can be accredited to the attention Watkins received deep down the field, as multiple players and avid film watchers noted. Sure, it would’ve been nice for him to have better individual stats, but I doubt first-year coach Sean McVay was complaining much about the offense. In 2017, the Rams rode the highest-scoring offense in the league to their first playoff birth since 2004.

Watkins’ contract with the Chiefs speaks more about his value than any counting stats. After one season in Los Angeles, the Watkins signed a 3-year, $48 million deal to head to Missouri. Admittedly, I’ve called that an overpay since the day it was signed, but it speaks to how teams view him. L.A. also deserves credit here for avoiding the sunk cost fallacy by not overpaying Watkins themselves.

Obviously, one year of subpar production was not what the Rams were hoping for, but I don’t think the Watkins era was as bad as some may think. He played for pennies in L.A. and didn’t cost a ton to acquire. His departure also netted the team a third-round compensatory pick in 2019.

Compensatory picks are often wrongly when reviewing trades. In a roundabout way, the Rams traded a second-round pick for Watkins and a third, albeit with that pick coming a year later. They also hit on the pick they directly received, with Joseph-Day developing into a quality starter.

Los Angeles essentially got a year of good receiver play for peanuts, even if they had higher hopes at the time of the trade. I’m sure making the Super Bowl the year he left helped ease any pain of what-if questions, too.

Buffalo Post Trade

Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI

Under new coach Sean McDermott, the Bills joined the Rams in the 2017 postseason, ending an 18-year drought of their own. The team greatly surpassed expectations and showed no signs of missing their star receiver.

In that sense, the Bills did a great job trading away Watkins. A lot of teams would’ve kept him with the hope he returned to form. Realistically, that was unlikely to ever happen in Buffalo, so dealing him before he hit free agency was smart.

It’s hard to look at their compensation and call them a huge winner, though. Gaines played well as a starter in 2017 before signing with the Browns the following offseason. He’s back in Buffalo now, but that should play no part in evaluating this trade. And while the pick they received was used to get Allen, it was a relatively minor part of the package. As Watkins was still on his rookie contract, the deal didn’t save them much money, either.

Given all that, it’s tough to say they received a lot in return for Watkins. However, the current state of the franchise means they made the right choice. Another year-plus of Watkins may have surpassed the value of Gaines and the pick, but keeping him also would have taken them down a different path than this current one.

The Bills are the favorites to win their division and dark horse Super Bowl contenders, so if trading Watkins helped get them here, it was all worth it. Hell, they even have a new star receiver in Stefon Diggs. There should be no regrets on Buffalo’s side.

Final Verdict: Rams Win

Overall, this trade was solid for both teams. Buffalo may be in the better place today, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about who got more value out of the swapped assets, and that’s the Rams. They got an inexpensive receiver who helped transform their roster, a gem at defensive tackle, and a high comp pick once Watkins left. In exchange for a decent starting corner and a late second-round pick, that’s a win.

Who do you think won the Watkins trade? What trade should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.