What are the best case and worst case scenarios for the Buffalo Bills?
By: Caleb Holfoth (@cmhfilm)
The Buffalo Bills are coming off an AFC Championship run where they obliterated nearly every team, they faced all season except for the Chiefs. The Kansas City Chiefs accounted for half of the Bill’s losses in 2020 and represent the clear block in the road to a championship for Buffalo. In 2021, both teams have kept relatively similar rosters making minor improvements throughout the offseason.
The Buffalo Bills have gone from a team that consistently had top ten picks in the NFL to one of the strongest contenders in just four years. General Manager Brandon Beane and Head Coach Sean McDermott have done about the best job a duo could do in turning a franchise around. With four years of fantastic work behind them, it is about time that Buffalo finally takes that next step as a franchise. This will serve as a breakdown of the Ceiling and Floor of the 2021 Buffalo Bills.
We start with the floor of the Buffalo Bills because it offers a more interesting outcome to the 2021 NFL Season. After going 13-3 in the regular season last year and 2-1 in the playoffs with wins against the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens the Bills are one of the major contenders behind Kansas City and Tampa Bay. There is a lot more room for Buffalo to fall than there is to climb in rankings around the league. The floor of Buffalo starts with Josh Allen. After his MVP level season if Allen regresses significantly the Bills could be in a little bit of trouble. During the reign of Sean McDermott, the Bills have been an elite defensive team. However, last season they were about league average taking a step back from the usual. If the defense does not improve or even gets worse and Allen regresses the Bills season could be largely disappointing. Because these are blanket statements, we will dive into each and how either may be possible.
Josh Allen has made massive jumps each year as the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. While this is very impressive and highlights an extremely good coaching staff and great work ethic of Josh Allen he has yet to regress as a player. There is no guarantee that Allen will ever regress or that it would even be that significant. However, many players do experience regression at some point in their career even if it is just a one-year slump. Josh Allen does still have erratic tendencies in his game. If those tendencies become habits Allen could not only be less efficient but he also could turn the ball over more. If Allen struggles with turnovers the Buffalo Bills could run into some trouble.
The defense of Buffalo was a perennial top 10 defense until this past season. This past season Buffalo struggled to create turnovers and defend the run. The defense has not had much change from last season keeping largely the same group only adding a couple of players through the draft. Buffalo did not make any major changes which would make a massive improvement on last year’s defense unlikely. Matter of fact, the Buffalo defense could be slightly worse if some of the key defensive players such as Jerry Hughes, who is now 34 and reaching the end of his career. If some major players on the Bills defense regress at all Buffalo’s defense could take another step back.
So, what does all of this mean? The Buffalo Bills will likely not regress this much but there certainly are some concerns heading into the season. With the 17th game added this season Buffalo’s floor would likely sit at 9 wins. This team is just too well-coached and talented to have a losing record in 2021. The only scenario where Buffalo could end up with a losing record would be if they are hit with an injury bug similar to what happened to the San Francisco 49ers in 2020. The floor for Buffalo is 9 wins and with the 17th game that would seem to be right on the fringe of the playoffs. Buffalo is a completely new franchise from the before Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott Era. The Floor for Buffalo is now a borderline playoff team.
The Buffalo Bills ceiling is pretty clear and obvious. Winning a Super Bowl is what the Buffalo Bills are capable of. This team was extremely close to the big game last season when they fell to Kansas City in the AFC Championship game.
What makes this the ceiling of Buffalo is their quarterback, Josh Allen. Allen was extremely well last season making the jump from a solid prospect to a legit star and MVP candidate. Allen is the leader and focal point of the Buffalo Bills and leads them to a season that ended with a 15-4 record if you include the playoffs.
What makes the Buffalo Bills ceiling so intriguing is that Allen does have much more room for improvement. Allen only threw 10 INT’s during the season however he had 21 dropped INT’s and left several throws on the field. In addition to the interceptions, Allen also finished the season with 9 fumbles. Players who finish third in MVP voting usually do not have this much room for improvement. Between the interceptions, dropped interceptions, missed throws, and fumbles Allen is far from his ceiling which essentially means Buffalo is far from theirs.
Allen showed throughout the season he could deliver to a wide receiver group who easily got open due to the offensive mastermind Brian Daboll. However, when receivers could not get open Allen was able to create plays for himself. If you want to see just how impressive Allen is at creating check out this short montage.
While Allen is one of the best in the league at doing this, he still makes some baffling decisions that are reminiscent of his rookie and 2nd season. If Allen can clean up those plays, clean up some of his interception numbers, and hold onto the ball a little better he can easily become the best quarterback in the NFL. Will it happen? Probably not but it would be more likely Allen takes a step in the right direction as opposed to a step back.
While Allen may be the heart and soul of this team, he may not be the main catalyst for Buffalo reaching their ceiling. Under Sean McDermott, the Bills defense ranked second in points per game allowed with 16.2 in 2019. Buffalo’s defense then took a step backward finishing 16th in PPG allowed with 23.4 in 2020. This is a massive change, and it was surprising considering that the defensive roster did not change much at all from 2019 to 2020. This would lead to the possibility that Buffalo had a down year defensively last season and could bounce back in 2021. If the Bills defense could just land right in the middle of their play in 2019 and 2020 it would make them even harder to beat and almost invincible in the NFL against teams not named the Kansas City Chiefs or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There is some reason to think that this will happen in 2021. First, Buffalo gets back its Nose Tackle Star Lotulelei who opted out of the 2020 defense which contributed to Buffalo’s run defense struggling all season. In addition to that, Buffalo used its first and second-round draft picks on defensive ends Greg Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr. after their pass rushers combined for 38 sacks which tied for 15th in the league.
With the 17-game season becoming official Buffalo should aim for a 14-3 record. While on paper they may have a slightly easy schedule based on last season’s winning percentages they play in a young and hungry division while having to face off with both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs. Expect Buffalo to be competitive in every game they play and with the right improvement the Bills could very well be on their way to the Super Bowl.
Buffalo’s ceiling is winning a Super Bowl and there only three things in the way. The Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and themselves. If Buffalo can stay healthy and have solid improvement across the board from their young core and Allen, they will stay clear of getting in the way of their potential. Buffalo hopes that the addition of Rousseau and Basham may be able to create some mayhem for Patrick Mahomes when Buffalo faces the 2020 runners-up, and if Buffalo can improve on both sides of the Ball their coaching and desire to beat Tom Brady who has done some very bad things to the Buffalo Bills for a long time could bring them to a Super Bowl. If Buffalo cannot do any of these things, they could have a poor season and be a fringe playoff team that maybe wins a playoff game.
These are all hypotheticals of course and many other factors have yet to come into play. Regardless Buffalo should be looking at a Super Bowl in 2021. Anything less than a Super Bowl should be considered a disappointing season.