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Where will Bills be seeded in the playoffs?

 

With the Bills on a bye week, we thought this would be a good time to assess some key questions, looking at the team's first 10 games and ahead to the final six and beyond. Here is Part 1 of a two-part roundtable with News Sports Writers Vic Carucci, Jay Skurski, Mark Gaughan and Jason Wolf:

What has been your biggest surprise from the first 10 games?

Skurski: It has to be Josh Allen’s growth. It was reasonable to expect he would improve in his third NFL season. It would have been a massive reach, though, to think that Allen would be leading the NFL in passing yards through Week 10, but that’s what he’s doing. Allen is also in the top eight in the NFL in yards per attempt (7.9), touchdown passes (21) and quarterback rating (103.2). Perhaps most impressive is the improvement in completion percentage, from 58.8 last year to 68.4 right now, eighth in the NFL. As a result, the Bills have totally changed the way they play. Gone are the days of trying to win with defense and a strong running game. Only two quarterbacks in the league have attempted more passes than Allen – the Bucs’ Tom Brady and Bengals rookie Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall draft pick who has frequently trailed in games. Week after week, the Bills are putting the game in Allen’s hands. That’s what a team does with a franchise quarterback, which is what Allen has taken big steps toward establishing himself as in the first 10 weeks. 

Carucci: Josh Allen’s dramatic improvement from last season. The surprise isn’t that Allen has performed better than he did in 2019. It’s that his level of play has soared to a level putting him among the best players at his position, or any position for that matter.

Yes, there have been downs with the ups, including the two interceptions and two near-picks he had against Arizona last Sunday. But there have been far more ups, including the incredible throw he made to Stefon Diggs that briefly looked as though it would give the Bills their fourth straight win.

Allen rising to the occasion more times than not is the primary reason for the Bills’ 7-3 record. It isn’t because of their non-existent running game. It certainly isn’t because of the shockingly soft play of their defense.

 

Diggs’ addition has done plenty to help elevate Allen’s performance. So far, acquiring him ranks among the better trades the Bills have made in a long time. He’s even more dynamic and impactful than he was with Minnesota. The constant threat he poses plays a big role in allowing Cole Beasley and John Brown to have room to operate.

Still, quarterbacks make receivers, not the other way around. It’s Allen’s strides in decision-making, accuracy and touch that are the primary factors in the Bills’ passing game being more explosive than at any point since the team’s Super Bowl era.

Gaughan: I don’t think anyone expected the Bills’ defense to be 20th in yards allowed after ranking third last season. Yet, in the bigger picture, the Bills are 7-3 and on track to meet or exceed their win total expectations. Most forecasters had them between nine and 11 wins at the start of September.  

Did anyone have Josh Allen leading the league in passing yards after 10 weeks? No. (OK, if you go by yards per game, he’s fifth.) I was bullish on Allen making good progress this season. But even the most fanatical, face-painted, rose-colored-glasses-wearing Bills fan has to be ecstatic about the giant leap the quarterback has taken.

 

Allen ranked 32nd in completion percentage last year at 58.8. He is eighth at 68.4%. I think most fans would have viewed 62.5% as acceptable progress. Allen was 23rd in yards last year at 3,089. I said a very good improvement would put him at 3,650. He’s on pace for 4,593. Touchdown passes? He was 21st last year with 20. He already has 21, sixth best in the league. He’s on pace for 33.6. Five of the Bills’ last six games could be in bad weather, so it may be hard to hit the current projections.

Still, his great leap forward is the most significant development for the team and the most pleasant surprise. 

Wolf: The volatility along the offensive line hasn’t been a bigger detriment to the team’s success. Think about what this unit has weathered. It lost right guard Jon Feliciano for the first seven games after a pec injury in training camp. He came back just in time to fill in at center when Mitch Morse was knocked out of commission with another concussion.

Daryl Williams looks like a masterful offseason signing by Brandon Beane, since the addition of the former All-Pro right tackle allowed Cody Ford to first fill in at right guard for Feliciano, then take Quinton Spain’s spot at left guard. Spain’s release, coupled with Ford’s knee and ankle injuries, have further complicated matters.

 

But the pass protection has held up. The Bills have allowed 20 sacks this season, which is 17th most in the league, or middle of the pack. And seven of those came in a pass-heavy victory against the Seahawks, when left tackle Dion Dawkins was the only starting offensive lineman at his primary position for a stretch.

Some of that success can be attributed to Josh Allen’s ability to escape from pressure, and the Bills’ running game has been MIA, but this team has a 7-3 record.

What is your biggest concern over the last six games?

Skurski: The running game – both offensively and defensively. “Run and stop the run” might be a tired cliché, but the Bills haven’t been able to do either very well. They rank 29th in rushing yards per game (97.6) and 28th in rushing yards allowed per game (135.0). The Bills have three home games and three road games – at San Francisco, Denver and New England – left on the schedule. The chance for inclement weather exists in all of them, with the possible exception of the trip to California. As the game against New England in Week 8 showed, there will be times when the running game – both offensively and defensively – becomes a necessity. Offensively, getting it going will make life easier for Allen and the team’s wide receivers. Defensively, it will make opposing offenses one dimensional. That’s when the Bills’ defense is at its best, because the edge rushers can get after opposing quarterbacks, forcing hurried throws that may lead to opportunities for a talented secondary. The Bills don’t need the rushing attack or the rushing defense to rank in the top 10. League average would suffice. 

Carucci: The disappearance of the dominant defense the Bills showed in 2019.

This could also qualify as the biggest surprise through 10 games. Either way, it’s a colossal collapse, especially against the run. The instant and convenient analysis is that Star Lotulelei opting out of the season because of the pandemic and Jordan Phillips departing in free agency severely weakened the interior of the defense.

But it doesn’t explain everything. Those departures figured to be felt, but what has impacted this unit far more is the vanishing acts of Ed Oliver and Tremaine Edmunds, and the decline shown by Harrison Phillips in his attempt to return from major knee surgery last year. It’s too early to call Oliver and Edmunds first-round busts, but it isn’t too early to say they’re trending in that direction. Each must show significant gains through the final six games to change that narrative.

The Bills’ defense also continues to fall short when it comes to consistently generating pressure on the quarterback. The lone exception was the Seattle game, in which scheming that incorporated linebackers into the pass rush resulted in 11 hits on Russell Wilson and helped force him into four turnovers.

Otherwise, the Bills don’t go the preferred route of a base defense that relies on the front four to pressure the QB while keeping a maximum number of defenders in coverage. Again, Ed Oliver, where are you?

Gaughan: Health. If the Bills stay as healthy as they appear to be right now, I think they’re in pretty good shape. Like every team, there are some thin areas where a key injury would be a huge problem. The two biggest injury concerns at present are linebacker Matt Milano and receiver John Brown. A.J. Klein has put up back-to-back strong games. But the Bills still could use a 90% healthy Milano against quality opponents in the postseason. Based on the way he was favoring his left arm against New England, I was thinking hold him out until the playoffs. That would give him 10 weeks for his partially torn pectoral muscle to heal. Brown has been hobbled with a knee injury. If he were to go out, that would put a big hit on the Bills’ ability to stretch defenses and it would change the way defensive coordinators would defend the Bills. The bye comes at a good time for Brown. I’d say hold him out for a couple weeks longer, if necessary.

 

Wolf: Where is Devin Singletary? The 2019 third-round pick was supposed to break out after ascending to the starting job. Sure, he was always going to be part of a tandem with rookie Zack Moss.

But Singletary has just 401 rushing yards and one touchdown on 99 carries through 10 games and hasn’t scored in the last six weeks.

Singletary’s average of 40.1 rushing yards per game rank 26th in the league. His 4.1 yards per carry ranks 32nd, placing him between Broncos disappointment Melvin Gordon and Giants backup Wayne Gallman. And his 187 receiving yards on 25 catches rank 19th among running backs.

Singletary received just six carries over the last two games combined, compared to 16 for Moss. He had two carries for one yard against the Seahawks, when Moss had nine carries for 18 yards and a touchdown. Then, he had just four carries for 15 yards (and one catch for minus-5 yards) against the Cardinals, when Moss had seven carries for 20 yards.

Moss is third on the team with 224 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 59 carries this season.

Josh Allen is second with 279 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 72 carries.

Singletary leads the team on the ground as he should, but he’s not trending in a positive direction.

Will the Bills make the playoffs and where will they be seeded?

Skurski: Right where they are at the moment – the third seed. The Chiefs own a head-to-head win, which makes passing them a challenge. The Bills have a chance to pick up a head-to-head win over current No. 1 seed Pittsburgh, but the Steelers have a fairly easy schedule down the stretch. They should be able to get to 13 wins, which would mean the Bills would have to win out to pass them in the AFC standings. The Dolphins are a legitimate threat in the AFC East. They should tie the Bills at 7-3 this weekend with a game against the Broncos. Buffalo, though, owns an important head-to-head win in the season series, and will have a chance to sweep Miami with a win at home in the regular-season finale. The Dolphins also still have to play Kansas City and have a road game at Las Vegas before coming to Buffalo, so their schedule gets a bit more difficult in December. There is no doubt a win over Arizona would have given the Bills a bit more breathing room, but if they can go 4-2 over the final six games, with a win over Miami included, it’s hard to see the Dolphins getting to 12 wins to overtake them.

Carucci: Third. It’s hard to see the Bills overtake the Steelers and Chiefs for one of the top two spots. I’m not ruling it out completely, but the chances don’t look great.

Nevertheless, the Bills are a legitimate playoff team. Except for the two games against the Jets, they have had quality wins. The victories against Miami and New England are looking stronger by the week as both teams show improvement.

Beating Seattle, 44-34, was a defining accomplishment, because it showed the Bills’ capacity to outscore an opponent that routinely wins back-and-forth contests that had produced 31 or more points in six of its previous seven games. Holding off the Rams after they surged from a 25-point deficit in the second half is another example of the Bills’ potent, quick-strike ability.

Of course, that doesn’t mean anything is guaranteed through the final six games. They can’t afford to stumble, with back-to-back beatable opponents coming up in the Chargers and 49ers before a tough-looking four-game stretch that begins with a Sunday night game against the Steelers.

The Bills’ passing game can carry them past the first round. The question is, are the shortcomings they have on defense and in their running game going to prevent a deeper run?

 

Gaughan: Pittsburgh and Kansas City are the obvious top two seeds. I think the Bills will get to 11 wins. Is 12-4 possible, meaning five wins with a loss to the Steelers? Yes. But I’ll project something goes wrong somewhere along the line to cost another game, meaning a 4-2 Buffalo finish. I see Miami going 3-4 down the stretch. So the question becomes, will the Bills finish ahead of the AFC South winner? Obviously, the Bills have lost to Tennessee, which currently is tied with Indianapolis at 6-3. The Colts beat the Titans last week, and the two teams meet again in two weeks. The Bills would prefer to see the Colts win the division. The Colts have four tough games ahead (Green Bay, Tennessee, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh). The Titans are at Baltimore and Indy the next two weeks, then play the Browns, Jaguars, Lions, Packers and Texans. That’s not an easy finish. I’ll say 10-6 wins the AFC South, and probably both the Colts and Titans get to 10 wins, with a tie-breaker deciding the division.

Wolf: Fourth, and last among AFC division winners. I still think the Bills win the AFC East, even though the Dolphins are just a half-game back and have a chance to match the Bills’ 7-3 record this weekend, with Buffalo on a bye. The Bills already have a head-to-head victory in hand and should be favored when the Dolphins visit Orchard Park for the regular-season finale on Jan. 3.

But the Bills are unlikely to catch the unbeaten Steelers or pass the one-loss Chiefs, who they lost against on Monday Night Football. The Bills likewise lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Titans, who I expect to win the AFC South, making the fourth seed and a wildcard playoff game at an empty Bills Stadium the most likely scenario.

 

 

 

 

 


“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

 

Twitter: @HKTheResistance

 

HipKat, on *** other h***, is genuine, unapoli***tically nasty, and w**** his hea** on his ******. jc856

I’ll just forward them to Bridgett. comssvet11

Seek help. soflabillsfan

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