Are Sean McDermott’s Bills — Gulp — a Super Bowl Contender?
With Tom Brady gone from the Patriots, the Buffalo Bills are in pole position to win the AFC East
Over the next six weeks, we’ll be preparing for the kickoff of the 2020 NFL season on September 10 by attempting to answer the most important question facing all 32 of the league’s franchises in order of their 2019 finish, from worst to first. Today’s team: the Bills.
No. 12: Buffalo Bills
2019 Record: 10-6
Points For: 314 – Points Against: 259
Projected 2020 Over/Under Win Total: 9
Entering a Week 4 matchup against the 3-0 Patriots in Buffalo with first place in the AFC East on the line last season, the 3-0 Bills had lost seven straight games on their home field to New England, a streak dating back to September of 2011.
In a close game, the Patriots escaped with 16-10 victory to push their winning streak in Orchard Park to eight games and give Tom Brady 16 wins in Buffalo since 2001 (when he became the starting quarterback for the Patriots), the most of any QB over that span — including those who played for the Bills.
Despite that loss, and a 24-17 loss in Week 15 in New England when the Bills had another chance to snatch the AFC East crown from the Patriots, 2019 was a good season for the Bills, and the team finished at 10-6 and qualified for the playoffs before losing in the Wild Card round in overtime.
The Patriots also fell in the Wild Card round, and as we all know by now, Tom Brady is no longer in New England. That means the Bills, who have made the playoffs in two of the past three seasons under the supervision of head coach Sean McDermott, have a great shot at winning the AFC East for the first time this century.
Can they do it?
If they do, McDermott, who is 25-23 in the regular season over three seasons in Buffalo and signed a multi-year contract extension earlier this month that runs through 2025, will probably be the biggest reason. Prior to McDermott taking over in 2017 and going 9-7 to squeak into the playoffs, Buffalo coaches Gregg Williams, Mike Mularkey, Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell, Chan Gailey, Doug Marrone, Rex Ryan and Anthony Lynn all failed to make the playoffs. The last Bills coach able to do it was Wade Phillips in 1999.
Considering that putrid playoff history, McDermott merely qualifying for the postseason twice in three years makes him, by default, the best coach the Bills have had this millennium.
This season, with the Dolphins and Jets not expected to contend and the Patriots very vulnerable due to the loss of Brady and a number of key players opting out of the season over coronavirus concerns, McDermott can eliminate any doubt by leading the Bills to a first-place finish in the division for the first time since 1995. And thanks to some of the moves McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have made over the past few years, he’s in a good position to do it.
While quarterback Josh Allen has been inconsistent over his first two seasons in the NFL and has a tendency to try to make plays with his feet instead of hanging in the pocket, the 24-year-old has been working to correct his post-snap footwork this offseason to be more consistent on long throws. And thanks to the Bills sending a package of draft picks to the Minnesota Vikings in a trade, those long throws can now end up in the hands of star wide receiver Stefon Diggs, in addition to players Allen had success with last season, including receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley and tight end Dawson Knox.
Allen, 15-12 as a starter in his career, has a 56.3 percent completion rate for his career, a number that will have to rise in his third season if the Bills are going to get where they want to go. To his credit, he seems aware of that.
“I’ve had a few long talks with guys that played the position for a long time,” Allen said in June. “They say year three is when things start to click and things start to happen … I think that what we’ve got going on in Buffalo is a special thing and I’m super fortunate to be a part of it. Again, we need to see results. So, I understand how big of a year it is.”
If Allen can have a big — or even just better — year, that will be a big boost to a team that already has a dominant defense, ranked in the top 10 in points allowed, yards allowed, passing yards allowed, touchdown passes allowed, interceptions, passer rating allowed, rushing yards allowed and rushing touchdowns allowed last season. A well-coached unit anchored by star cornerback Tre’Davious White, the Buffalo defense is young and hungry and good enough to keep most games close. If an improved Allen can put the offense over the top, look out.
That said, the Bills have tough out-of-division games against the Steelers, 49ers, Seahawks, Chiefs, Titans and Rams this season, and also have to play the Patriots, as they always do, twice. Last year, they lost both times and subsequently lost the division. If that changes this season, Buffalo will almost certainly win the AFC East and then set their eyes on even bigger targets — and they’ll have McDermott to thank for it.
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