Image Credit: © Shawn Dowd / USA TODAY NETWORK
After a few years of getting close to reaching the NFL’s final stage, the Buffalo Bills are finally entering a regular season where they’re seen as Super Bowl favorites. Yet, as we’ve seen too many times before, just because a team is favored doesn’t mean they will win or even get close.
This is the NFL, where even the Jacksonville Jaguars can pose a threat despite being the worst team in football, as we saw a year ago.
But we’re not looking back. This is a new season, with new playmakers and a few new members of the coaching staff. Last year’s offensive coordinator Brian Daboll did so well that he was hired on as a head coach, but at least the Bills were able to hold onto Leslie Frazier for one more year, which should lead to more consistency on defense.
However, the biggest key to Buffalo’s success, Josh Allen, remains. That’s all that really matters. As long as he’s on the roster and healthy, the Bills will always have a chance of coming away with the victory.
The focus is no longer on Allen and if he can maintain his MVP form. Instead, we’re wondering whether Gabriel Davis is ready to become a full-blown star, if the running game is truly prepared to take that major step forward we’ve all been waiting on.
Or how about the pass rush? There’s no need to question Von Miller’s effort, but can his presence help stoke the flame of the other sack masters on the team? We’re still hoping to see Greg Rousseau, Boogie Basham, and AJ Epenesa realize their potential. The addition of Miller helps cover up their shortcomings, but he’ll need others to create havoc for the unit to be wildly successful.
How about the rest of the roster? How did the Bills manage during the player movement portion of the offseason? Let’s dive in.
© Shawn Dowd / USA TODAY NETWORK
Buffalo Bills spent the offseason building NFL’s best roster
This offseason was much better for general manager Brandon Beane. The salary cap didn’t shrink like it did last season due to lost revenue throughout the league (COVID). Instead, the cap grew by almost $26 million. That’s a $42 million difference from 2020 to 2022. So what did Buffalo do with all these extra dollar bills?
They put together the best damn roster in football. Here we have four different national publications, who all deem the Bills to have the best roster. That type of universal agreement is rare in the NFL.
Like every offseason, even despite the cap increase, the Bills weren’t able to keep everyone from last season, but most of their top contributors are returning.
One minor change is losing backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky to free agency, but Beane responded by trading for Case Keenum for just a seventh-round pick. The bonus here is Keenum’s existing chemistry with Stefon Diggs from their days in Minnesota.
Should anything happen to Allen, the Bills are still in good hands by having a competent backup who can still operate a pass-heavy offense. But those are small potatoes, and we all hope never to see Keenum take the field, except for a blowout against the Jets.
At running back, they’ve only added to the roster by selecting James Cook, brother of Dalvin, with the 63rd pick in the NFL Draft. Cook looks to be explosive, with quick feet, and if he can continue to improve in pass protection, he should be a solid third-down option and change of pace back. That’s on top of Zack Moss returning to health after fighting through an ankle injury all of last season.
The Bills have a three-headed committee, but we won’t call this group a monster just yet. Yet, the potential is there.
Releasing Cole Beasley during the off-season means the departure of a valued contributor, but Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie’s pending emergence likely means Beasley won’t be missed on gameday.
Turning to the offensive line, landing Rodger Saffold is an underrated move that’s largely been forgotten about, thanks to the other roster additions. His dominance as a run blocker should help pave the way to a more dangerous rushing attack. According to Pro Football Focus, Saffold ranked ninth in the NFL among guards who played at least 50% of their team’s snaps in 2021.
Horrible Harry Phillips may have departed as a free agent, but his loss is offset by the additions of Daquan Jones and Tim Settle. This feels like more of an “I’ll believe it when I see it situation,” they at least have proven vets who can fill in, but will they be better at stopping the run than Phillips? That’s why they play the games.
Another veteran who’s no longer on the roster is linebacker A.J. Klein. The hope is that third-round rookie Terrel Bernard can fill in when he’s needed. Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds remain the team’s top two linebackers, and they’ve worked well together. Of course, we’d like to see Edmunds become a bit more consistent in coverage, but he’s still just 24. Maybe his best season is yet to come.
The depth of the secondary will be tested early on, with Tre’Davious White missing at least the first four games of the regular season as he recovers from his Week 12 ACL tear in 2021. The goal will be for White to be back to 100% by Week 6 when Buffalo’s herd travels to Kansas City for a rumble with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Helping fill in during White’s absence until he can come off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list is first-round rookie Kaiir Elam. Maybe this will be a blessing, as cornerbacks need time to get acclimated.
Things may be rough early on, but the extra experience gained now could help him be a step ahead once the postseason rolls around.
Selecting Elam was a good move by the front office anyway, as Levi Wallace has also signed with a new team, meaning the Bills have an even more significant need for another cornerback to emerge. Of course, the safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is one of the best in football. There are no concerns here.
They even added to the return game, with rookie speedster Khalil Shakir being added in the fifth round. He appears likely to win the leading punt return role, and maybe his elusiveness and acceleration can lead to a few big gains this season.
This all looks great on paper, but what about when they actually play the games? We’ve seen all too many times where a ‘dream team’ is built over the offseason, but it doesn’t translate to more wins. With all the added pressure inside the Billding, are the Bills setting themselves up to fail?
© Shawn Dowd / USA TODAY NETWORK
Expectations are Super Bowl or bust. Is that realistic?
Last year when we all hoped the Bills would simply improve upon their 13-3 record in 2020, we saw them stumble a bit, going 11-6 instead before failing to reach the AFC Conference Championship game, coming up a bit short in the postseason as well.
My point is, even when everything points to the Bills putting forth a better effort, on the back of a more robust roster, it doesn’t always happen.
Perhaps more than any other sport, the NFL is unpredictable. We know right now that the Bills are strong Super Bowl contenders, but there are a lot of games to be played before we reach February. Injuries are a huge factor, but even more so is the volatility around the league.
The Bills hope to be playing in Super Bowl LVII, but so do 31 other teams (OK, more like 10). You can’t forget about Tom Brady and the Bucs. Or Andy Reid’s Chiefs. There’s also a four-time MVP in Green Bay who’s as motivated as ever to put a second ring on his finger.
We didn’t even mention the two teams left competing for the Lombardi a season ago. The Rams will be in the mix unless Matt Stafford’s elbow is a problem. The Bengals have an offensive powerhouse, and they’re sure to be a tough out. Even the Ravens are healthier, and Lamar Jackson’s looking to prove his MVP season wasn’t a fluke, only now he’s aiming for a bigger trophy.
The competition is as stiff as ever around the NFL. Will the Bills’ season be considered an absolute failure if they don’t win the Super Bowl right away? Not necessarily. If a team felt they could guarantee a victory, they’d do it. But there are just way too many variables that cannot be accounted for.
Yet, you won’t find anyone who thinks the Bills don’t have as good of a chance as any year to finally come away with the franchise’s first Super Bowl trophy at the end of the season. You should be excited because this team is good. Really good.