The Buffalo Bills had one of the more surprising seasons of any team in the NFL in 2017. The Bills finished 9-7 and snuck into the playoffs as a Wild Card, snapping their 17-year playoff drought. They would end up losing to the Jaguars, but overall the year was a success.
The reason it was such a shock to see the Bills in the playoffs, was it appeared like they were in full-on rebuilding mode. The Bills traded wide out Sammy Watkins, corner Ronald Darby and linebacker Reggie Ragland in the month before the season started. Then came the trade of star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus in late October.
The biggest positive from last year’s improbable run, is it came in the first season under new head coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane. Given the talent they had to work with, these two deserve a lot of credit and the Bills’ are hoping it’s just the first step in returning to being a legit contender in the AFC.
Can they work their magic again in 2018? If so, they are going to have to get a lot better on both sides of the ball.
Buffalo’s offense was atrocious last year. The Bills were 22nd in total offense at 302.6 ypg and were extremely one dimensional. They ranked 6th in rushing (126.1 ypg) and 31st in passing (176.6 ypg). Defensively they did a nice job holding teams to just 22.4 ppg (18th), but were 20th against the pass (203.5 ypg) and 29th vs the run (124.6 ypg).
The first thing the Bills did to try and improve their offense was get rid of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison and replace him with Brian Daboll, who was the OC last year for Alabama (17 years of NFL coaching experience).
After trading away starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the team traded up from No. 12 to No.7 to select Wyoming’s Josh Allen. There were mixed reviews on Allen going into the draft. The physical tools are definitely there, especially the arm strength, but his actual production on the field wasn’t all that great at Wyoming.
It’s believed that Allen will start the season on the bench, but it might not be for long with free agent pick-up A.J. McCarron and holdover Nate Peterman all that stands in his way.
Whoever wins the job, will likely be handing it off to LeSean McCoy and newly signed Chris Ivory quite a bit. McCoy is coming off another great season, as he rushed for 1,138 yards and 6 scores against teams who knew they only had to worry about stopping the run.
A big concern for Buffalo has to be the talent at wide receiver. McCoy led the team in both receptions (59) and was second in yards (448). That’s a great weapon to have out of your backfield, but your running back can’t be your primary target in the passing game. It’s going to be interesting to see who emerges. The favorites have to be wide outs Zay Jones and Kelvin Benjamin, but neither is a sure-thing.
There’s also question marks up front on the offensive line. Starting left tackle Cordy Glenn was shipped to Cincinnati in a trade, while starting left guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood both retired in the offseason.
There’s a lot more optimism on the defensive side of the ball, but will the Bills have to rely too much on this unit in 2018?
The team signed Star Lotulelei to fill the void left by the trade of Dareus, as well as defensive end Trent Murphy. The other two starters are veterans Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams.
At linebacker the the Bills lost Preston Brown, who led the NFL in tackles with 144, but quickly found his replacement in 1st round pick (No. 16 overall) of Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds.
The secondary was the strength of the defense in 2017 and should continue to be the best unit on this side of the ball. Buffalo got outstanding play from both Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, who were a couple under the radar signings at safety last offseason. It also helped that last year’s first round pick of Tre’Davious White came in right away and played at a high level. They did lose starting corner E.J. Gaines, but may have upgraded that spot of veteran Vontae Davis can stay healthy.
2018 Bills Schedule & Projected Odds
Below you will find the early odds released by Vegas for Weeks 1-16, as well as my projected number for Week 17. Using the lines we are able to give a game-by-game win probability, which we used to come up an expected win total.
Projected Wins: 6.57
Over/Under Wins Prediction: UNDER 8
I think the smart play here is on the Bills to go UNDER their win total mark of 8. Sometimes teams overachieve and find a way to sneak into the playoffs. It doesn’t mean they are a good team and will be able to replicate that success. That’s how I feel about Buffalo. I just don’t trust this team to finish the year with a winning record.
The biggest thing for me is the lack of a proven starter at quarterback. The team might not have been a believer in Taylor, but he took care of the ball. Taylor threw just 4 interceptions all of last season.
Whether it’s Week 1 or later on in the season, Allen will be the starter. Even if he’s better than some people think, there’s going to be rookie mistakes. Not turning it over was a big reason why this team was able to go 9-7 (finished +9 in TO diff). It’s also worth noting I don’t have high hopes for either McCarron or Peterman if they get the nod early on.
You also have to keep in mind whoever is starting will be playing behind what looks like a worse offensive line than the one they sent out last year, which was middle of the pack. Not having time to throw for an inexperienced QB is a recipe for disaster. It also could have a negative impact on the running game.
The other factor that can’t be overlooked when predicting the Bills win total is the schedule. Buffalo couldn’t have asked for a much tougher start to the season. They play 5 of their first 8 games on the road and the 3 home games are against the Chargers, Titans and Patriots. I think a 3-5 start is best case and that means they would have to go at least 6-2 down the stretch to reach 9 wins.
Odds to Win the Super Bowl: +10000
I just don’t see a scenario where the Bills can win it all in 2018, which is why I think you are throwing away your money if you bet them to win the Super Bowl. I think the best-case scenario is for Buffalo to go 10-6 and that’s if everything breaks their way. While it would have been good enough last year, there’s no guarantee that 10-wins will be enough.
You also have to take into consideration the division they play in. Unless Tom Brady goes down with an injury early, the New England Patriots are about as sure a bet as any team to win their division in 2018. That means the Bills only path to the playoffs is via the Wild Card, which in turns means they would need to win 3 straight road games just to make the Super Bowl.
There’s a reason only the Dolphins (+15000) and Jets (+20000) are the only teams that have worse odds to win it all.
Odds to Win the AFC: +3300
This shouldn’t need a whole lot of explanation. Buffalo is a poor play to win the AFC for all the same reasons that I don’t think they are a good bet to win the Super Bowl.
Odds to Win the AFC East: +1100
I’ve already made it pretty clear on my feelings of the Bills winning the AFC East. The only way that is happening is if New England implodes and for that to happen it would almost have to be a significant injury to Brady in the first couple months of the season. Brady will turn 41 in August, so it’s definitely a possibility. However, there’s no guarantee that Buffalo will be able to take advantage.
I will say it’s a lot more likely that they win the division than reach/win the Super Bowl, but it’s a major long shot to happen.