By: Noah Nichols
To finish the regular season of 2020 the Buffalo Bills stomped the Miami Dolphins 56-26. The Bills wrapped up the season as a 13-3 juggernaut, looking nearly unbeatable. This success came on the waves of Josh Allen’s massive improvement, both throwing the football and running it. If not for Aaron Rodgers having a hall of fame type year, Allen probably would have won MVP. The Bills locked up the number two seed in the AFC and enjoyed their week off.
To begin the playoffs the Bills would face the Indianapolis Colts, whom they beat 24-27 in a game that was not quite so close as the score indicated. The Bills would then face the Baltimore Ravens and beat them 17-3. The game was, again, not as close as the score might indicate. The Bills finally prepared to face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that was supposed to be “one for the ages.” The Bills lost 38-24. After the infamous decision to kick field goals twice, in the second and third quarters, Bills head coach Sean McDermott regretted the decision. “If I had to do it over again, I’d probably go for one of them,” said McDermott when asked about the field goals.
All of this is to say that the Bills season came to an unfortunate and abrupt close to finish the 2020 NFL season. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. While the Bills folded at the end, they showed promise. They have a very strong team and showed poise in the playoffs. And to be fair to the Bills and McDermott, they did not have a lot of playoff experience. It should actually be seen as a good sign that the Bills hung with the Chiefs for about half of the game. It was the first time since 1994 that the Bills made an appearance in the AFC Championship game. And Sean McDermott is not planning on missing the Championship game.
“We accomplished a lot,” McDermott said. “We won a division, won 13 games, hosted and won two playoff games. There’s one game after the game that we just played. Do we make it a goal to make it to the AFC Championship Game? No. The goal is to win the World Championship. So we came up short, disappointed in that but extremely grateful for what we were able to accomplish this season. Believe me, we’re going back to work. We’re already back at work to assess where we are and how we can move our team forward. I feel good about what we’ve done, not satisfied.”
So, what can be expected of the Bills following that disappointing end to an otherwise great season? The Bills should be able to build on their success in 2020 and bring all that momentum into 2021. They should be a strong contender for the number one seed in the AFC. And besides the Chiefs, the Bills probably have the best chance to take the number one seed in the AFC this season. But before I get into why the Bills can and, potentially should, win the first seed in the AFC, its important to note why the first seed is valuable.
After the NFL expanded the Playoff teams to seven in 2020, only one team received a bye week. That bye week is extremely helpful to teams that want to win the Super Bowl. The last team to win the Super Bowl without a bye week was the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. And it took a couple of miracle plays to make that happen. Every other team since that point that has won the Super Bowl has had a bye week. It’s that important. So if the Bills want to get to the Super Bowl, which they do, the best way to do that is to secure the number one seed and have a bye week.
The Bills are loaded with talent
The first real reason that the Bills could win the number one seed in 2021 is because of how much darn talent they have. Taking a look at the offense you have to start with Josh Allen. Allen threw for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns. He also posed a threat on the ground, running for 421 yards and eight touchdowns. Allen was nearly unstoppable during the last six weeks of the season. He threw sixteen touchdowns compared to three interceptions. And on the year he only threw ten. During that same six week stretch to close out the regular season Allen ran for three more touchdowns and threw for almost two thousand yards. His strong finish put him strongly in contention for MVP, but Aaron Rodgers just outplayed him. If not for Rodgers, Allen probably would have received the award.
Not to be left out of the conversation, Stefon Diggs put up a career year. It might be the best Diggs will ever have. Diggs was arguably the best receiver in the league in 2020. He had 127 receptions, 1,535 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Stefon Diggs already had the Bills’ franchise record for receptions and receiving yards in a season, and lead the league in both categories. He added the NFL mark for most receiving yards by a player in his first year with a new team. That’s called domination. Sean McDermott had this to say when asked about what he thought his All-Pro receiver brought to the team:
“Well overall, I think he’s brought experience to our receiving corps,” McDermott explained. “We’ve had experience before to some extent, but he’s brought legitimacy to that group, even more than we were before. He’s brought energy and a dog mentality to our offense and to our football team, quite frankly. I think the yards everyone can pull it up, look on a computer, and find the numbers, but I believe it goes beyond that. There’s a lot of intangibles in there as well that we as a team have benefited from.”
Clearly, McDermott was pleased with what Diggs brought and pleasantly surprised with the production that Diggs created on the field. But Diggs was also pleasantly surprised with what Allen brought to Diggs’ experience with the team. “Everybody knows Josh to be a jokester,” Diggs stated. “He’s definitely jokester, so spending that time with him on the field whether we’re playing around or running routes or whatever is intentional. I do everything like I mean it, so spending time with him and getting to know him, even as to recent events, I just have more love and more respect for him. He’s become more of a brother than anything at this point and he never made an excuse, not one time. He didn’t use that we didn’t have an offseason or that we didn’t have much time, he used the time that was allowed, and he made it work.”
That chemistry that is always important to quarterbacks and receivers is clearly evident here. And in a season where it was incredibly hard for players to spend time together off the field, the brotherhood the two have with each other is remarkable. The rest of the receiving room cannot be forgotten either. Cole Beasley had 82 receptions for 967 yards in what seemed like a career resurgence. Rookie Gabriel Davis had 35 receptions for 699 yards, averaging an impressive 17 yards per catch. John Brown had 33 receptions for 458 yards, not bad as the third receiver in a stacked offense.
The rushing game was not bad either. Devin Singletary led the way with 156 carries for 687 yards. Rookie Zach Moss had 112 carries for 481 yards, and four touchdowns. He was the Bills leading red zone running back threat. Allen of course led the team with 8 rushing touchdowns, but the Bills seem to be preparing to hand the ball off to Zach Moss more. Moss was the lead back in the red zone, and there is no way the Bills will risk Allen by having him continue to run.
All in all, the Bills will be bringing a stacked offense into 2021. They will only be looking to grow on the repour that was built in 2020 and look towards a more established running game led by Moss. The Bills ranked second in 2020 in total offense and actually led the league in points scored per game. That had a lot to do with new offensive coordinator Brain Daboll, who was the 2020 AP NFL Assistant Coach of the Year. But the defense was no slouch either. And all the main players that starred on the Bills defense last year will still be there entering the 2021 NFL season.
The Bills defense ranked 16th in the NFL last year. But the Bills added Greg Rousseau and Carlos Basham in the first and second rounds of the 202 NFL draft. Rousseau will start at edge and Basham will start at defensive tackle. Both were drafted for one thing and one thing only: improve the Bills pass rush. Both will do that, Rosseau was arguably the best pass rusher available in the draft and Basham was no slouch either. Rosseau had 15.5 sacks in his junior season. Basham had 11. Clearly, the Bills had one goal here, and if the rookies play like they expect them to, the Bills pass rush will be much improved. The secondary is still fine, with Traedavious White leading the way as one of the best corners in the league.
The AFC East is not too tough
The Bills will be bringing a competitive team into 2021. The same cannot be said for the rest of their division. The New England Patriots will be starting either Cam Newton who showed his age last year or Mac Jones. The Patriots don’t exactly have anyone on offense that puts fear into opposing defenses. Neither do the New York Jets. While the Jets are young and have a new and potentially, star, quarterback, there is no way they can pose a real threat to the Bills in 2021.
The Miami Dolphins are the only real threat to the Bills next year. With a young and feisty defense, and an offense loaded with talent at receiver, the Bills will have a tough time sweeping the Dolphins. It really all revolves around what Tua Tagovailoa does next year. If Tua can take the step forward, the Dolphins offense could be deadly. And the Bills defense must play at its best to handle the speed that the Dolphins bring, with Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller.
If the Bills can develop their pass rush then they can present a most likely above average defense to the Dolphins. But those games will still be close and hard-fought. The Dolphins have a real secondary, and even the tandem of Allen to Diggs won’t have an easy time against the Dolphins secondary. Ignoring the final game of the year, when the Bills were on fire and the Dolphins…were not, the Dolphins gave the Bills a tough time. In the first game between the two teams, the Bills won by only 3 points in a 31-28 win.
Sean McDermott wont let success go to their heads either.
“If you sit here and say, ‘All we need to do is do this much more to make it to the Super Bowl,’ you’re wrong,” McDermott said. “You have to start over. Yes, we can carry a lot of things forward, but every year you have to start over. You have to rebuild the football team, you have to grow as an individual. You have to take it upon yourself, just because we had success, to ask yourself the hard questions.”
McDermott knows the Bills won’t have an easy time in the division or the rest of the AFC.”To think well we made it, we won 15 games and lost four, well we’re perfect. No, we’re not. And even if we were, you have to take the growth mindset approach. That’s what you do when you’re a winner. That’s what you do when you’re hungry to be the best and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
And if the AFC East is not to hard for the Bills to handle, that is one step closer to a number one seed.
The Bills can overcome any hurdles that come their way
The Bills beat anyone not name the Titans, Chiefs, or Cardinals last year. The Cardinals game was close, but if the Hail Murray does not happen, the Bills win. The Titans and Chiefs game were not quite that close. The Titans pretty much blew out the Bills. However, the Bills were playing on a weird week that benefited the Titans more than the Bills. That loss is not an accurate representation of the Bills. They can beat the Titans. They have the weapons and players to do so. The same goes for the Chiefs game.
And just because the Bills lost to the Chiefs does not mean that the Bills cannot beat them. Everyone loses to the Chiefs. But the Bills have everything that they need to beat the Chiefs, and everyone else. The Bills have everything that they could want if their rookies work out. And even if their rookies don’t work out, the Bills will still be bringing back largely the same group as last year. There is not much turnover, so there won’t be a dropoff in play. Though, there is some change.
“The reality of it is, it’s not the same team,” Daboll stated. “Do we have certain players that are the same? Absolutely. Cole and Stef and Josh, Mitch and Feliciano. There’s a lot of the same guys, but there’s also 15 new people, so when you put everybody together in a room, you don’t know how everybody’s going to react when things aren’t great, you don’t have a great practice, you miss a pass. You have to build those relationships because, at the end of the day, that’s the business we’re in, we’re in a relationship business, figuring out how guys work. Do they respond better to tougher criticism? Less? How they work together. You’ve got to gel as a team and this is the start of what we’re trying to do, just trying to gel as a group more than anything.”
The Bills will gel together. They will use their rookies as best as they can, but won’t put them into situations they cannot win. The rookies will be eased into playing in a way that helps both the team and the player. Sean McDermott and Brian Daboll know what they are doing. The team will be ready to go when the season begins.
The Bills have the offensive talent needed to win the number one seed in the AFC. The division is not strong enough that it will stall them out. And the challenges that they will face won’t be too much for them to overcome. Aside from injuries, the Bills have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. They have a great head coach. The only thing that might stop them is themselves. Otherwise, the Bills can beat anyone, on any given Sunday.