*Photo Credit: John R Witt Photography
2016 Record: 7-9
NFL Draft: Rd 1- CB Tre’Davious White; Rd 2- WR Zay Jones; Rd 2- G Dion Dawkins; Rd 5- LB Matt Milano; Rd 5- QB Nathan Peterman; Rd 6- LB Tanner Vallejo
Pitt Players: RB LeSean McCoy, QB Nathan Peterman (rookie)
The 2016 Buffalo Bills rank among the biggest disappointments in franchise history. Coach Rex Ryan failed to instill any discipline or order into the team, quarterback Tyrod Taylor failed to break out into the star that many expected him to be, and injuries further removed the Bills from playoff contention.
As a result, the whole franchise was turned upside-down this offseason. Coach Sean McDermott, formerly the defensive coordinator in Carolina, was brought in to change the culture and undo the damage of the Ryan years. GM Doug Whaley was fired the day after the draft, and his replacement, Brandon Beane, had worked with McDermott in Carolina for years. This new leadership has spent the summer crafting a team that they want to work with over the long term, with the hopes of breaking the Bills’ playoff drought, the longest such drought in the league.
While the Bills’ leadership has stockpiled draft picks and young talent with which to build a contender, much of that capital was bought at the expense of the 2017 roster. Former 1st-round pick Sammy Watkins and 2015 2nd-round pick Ronald Darby were both traded in a shocking, Corleone-style move that showed that there are no more “safe” jobs on the team.
This is not to say that the Bills are without talent. RB LeSean McCoy is an all-pro runningback, and the additions of FB Patrick DiMarco and RB Mike Tolbert show McDermott’s commitment to continuing the Bills’ successful strategy of rushing dominance. Rookie QB Nathan Peterman has flashed great potential in preseason, providing the Bills with an alternative should Tyrod Taylor regress this year. On defense, a stellar defensive line and an underrated linebacking corps, led by the renaissance of Lorenzo Alexander, ought to terrorize quarterbacks and stifle opposing runners. However, the secondary is full of holes, leaving only free agent signings S Micah Hyde and S Jordan Poyer as proven veterans who can cover downfield. Depending on the play of rookie CB Tre’Davious White, the next in a long line of highly-touted LSU DBs (see: CB Patrick Peterson, S Jamal Adams), the Bills defense may either succeed overall or falter against the many talented quarterbacks that they will face this season.
Week 1: Home vs the New York Jets
The Bills are fortunate to open at home against the consensus worst team in the league. Expect to see a closer game than is desirable as the banged-up Bills work to develop a chemistry that has been lacking throughout the preseason.
Predicted Score: 17-7 Bills (Current Record: 1-0)
Week 2: Away at the Carolina Panthers
This game will be the first true test of Coach McDermott’s leadership ability. While Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin will likely torch the Bills’ underdeveloped secondary, expect to see LeSean McCoy excel against a Carolina line that has lost DE Kony Ealy.
Predicted Score: 25-23 Bills (Current Record: 2-0)
Week 3: Home vs the Denver Broncos
After a surprising 2-0 start, I expect to see the Bills come crashing back to Earth against the Broncos. As one of the top defenses in the league, the Bills will likely struggle to establish their run game, leaving Tyrod Taylor/Nate Peterman alone to stare down a secondary that features Chris Harris and Aqib Talib.
Predicted Score: 27-10 Broncos (Current Record: 2-1)
Week 4: Away at the Atlanta Falcons
The defending NFC Champions appear to be just as strong as last year’s squad, putting them light-years ahead of the Bills, both in maturity and in skill. The Bills front seven should have success against the Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman duo, but rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White simply isn’t ready to face Julio Jones. Bottom line: start Matt Ryan on your fantasy team.
Predicted Score: 42-24 Falcons (Current Record: 2-2)
Week 5: Away at the Cincinnati Bengals
After the trouncing in Week 4, the Bills travel to Cincinnati to face a regressing Bengals team. While Joe Mixon may demonstrate his physicality against the young Buffalo linebacking corps, the Bills offense may be able to shine for the first time all season. Whoever is starting at quarterback will get a chance to build chemistry with the team’s inexperienced receivers.
Predicted Score: 31-17 Bills (Current Record: 3-2)
Week 6: Bye-week
The early Week 6 bye should give Coach McDermott the opportunity to re-evaluate any issues with the team that appear over the first few weeks. However, the Bills have recently shown significant struggles with fatigue late in the season, so having such an early bye may lead to a repeat of that problem.
Current Predicted Record: 3-2
Week 7: Home vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Jameis Winston/Mike Evans combination is shaping up to be among the most terrifying for opposing cornerbacks to face. The physical strength of Evans will most definitely overpower the finesse cornerbacks on the Bills roster. The surging Bucs are facing a make-or-break season where they’ll have to win hard games, and I expect them to do so against a rested Bills team.
Predicted Score: 27-24 Buccaneers (Current Record: 3-3)
Week 8: Home vs the Oakland Raiders
Like the Bucs, the Raiders are a young team with incredible talent and ceiling-less optimism. The difference is that the Raiders are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, whereas the Bucs are more of an upstart. Derek Carr has become an established franchise quarterback, who will surely lead the Raiders to a methodical victory over the non-contending Bills.
Predicted Score: 45-17 Raiders (Current Record: 3-4)
Week 9: At the New York Jets
While the Raiders game may be demoralizing, especially because it is in Buffalo, the Bills are fortunate to face the hapless Jets the following week. The Jets QB situation is unlikely to improve as the season goes on, so the Bills secondary will get a confidence boost defending against McCown/Hackenberg/Petty. While the Bills have struggled in Thursday Night Football in recent years, especially against divisional opponents, the Jets are the worst team to take an NFL field in recent memory, which should allow the Bills to stop their skid.
Predicted Score: 26-17 Bills (Current Record: 4-4)
Week 10: Home vs the New Orleans Saints
Last year, Jay Ajayi sprung from nowhere to burn the Bills for over 200 yards rushing. As the season gets old, the solid front seven will likely deteriorate due to injury and fatigue, opening the door for Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson (as well as rookie Alvin Kamara) to tear the Bills defense to shreds. Marcell Dareus does not appear to buy into the discipline-oriented culture that Coach McDermott has established, so he cannot be relied upon as the season progresses.
Predicted Score: 35-17 Saints (Current Record: 4-5)
Week 11: Away at the Los Angeles Chargers
After the firing of Rex Ryan late last season, the Bills promoted Anthony Lynn to interim Head Coach. While the Bills decided to hire Sean McDermott in the offseason, Lynn went west to Los Angeles to take over the coaching duties for the Chargers. Lynn’s advantage may be minimal due to the drastic overhaul that has occurred in Buffalo.He does have an exceptional roster, with young talents like Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, and Joey Bosa. Assuming Allen is still healthy, he will likely give Coach McDermott nightmares in the week leading up to this game.
Predicted Score: 34-24 Chargers (Current Record: 4-6)
Week 12: Away at the Kansas City Chiefs
With playoff hopes waning, the Bills will unfortunately face a stifling Kansas City defense. Already among the most difficult places for opposing offenses to play, Arrowhead Stadium will be made all the more unfriendly once players like Eric Berry and Derrick Johnson take the field. The Bills will hopefully put up a valiant effort, driven by Coach McDermott’s gritty philosophy, but this doesn’t end well for Buffalo.
Predicted Score: 20-13 Chiefs (Current Record: 4-7)
Week 13: Home vs the New England Patriots
Here comes the nail in the coffin. Since 2001, the Bills are 4-28 against the Patriots. Why should it be any different this time around?
Predicted Score: 34-19 Patriots (Current Record: 4-8)
Week 14: Home vs the Indianapolis Colts
In theory, the Colts should be a contender. However, they have had two very disappointing years, and there is little to indicate that change may be coming. Coach Chuck Pagano is facing a crisis of confidence, and Andrew Luck has been injured more often than not. Unless 2017 is the breakout year that the Colts need, expect the Bills to squeak by at home.
Predicted Score: 27-24 Bills (Current Record: 5-8)
Week 15: Home vs the Miami Dolphins
It’s the Dolphins. In Buffalo. In December. Q.E.D.
Predicted Score: 22-13 Bills (Current Record: 6-8)
Week 16: At the New England Patriots
While the Patriots are expected to be dominant, they will still likely be working towards home-field advantage for the postseason (“What’s the postseason?” –Every Bills fan under the age of 18). The Bills may very well be the victims of the last great push of the season by the Patriots before they shift gears for the playoffs (“Why do you keep making up words?”).
Predicted Score: 42-23 Patriots (Current Record: 6-9)
Week 17: At the Miami Dolphins
Well, here they are. The Buffalo Bills, in the same place as always: deciding which mediocre draft spot they’ll wind up having. The Dolphins, on the other hand, will probably be competing for a wild card spot right down to Week 17, so this may be a win-or-go-home scenario. The Bills could potentially play spoiler, but if you’re betting on that, only use house money.
Predicted Score: 28-24 Dolphins (Current Record: 6-10)
The Bills ought to be optimistic after this season, despite the unimpressive record. The team has plenty of young talent that could become the core of a contender within a few years (we saw how quickly the Cowboys rose to prominence). If quarterback play does not resolve itself, either behind Taylor or Peterman, the Bills have accumulated enough draft capital to make a move for one of the many highly-touted QBs in next year’s draft. Sean McDermott is the perfect coach to lead this young Bills team through a losing season; by maintaining discipline and pushing his players to improve, McDermott may give his team the grit it takes to compete again in the NFL.
Predicted Record: 6-10