The Buffalo Bills have now made the AFC playoffs for the third time in four years. The 2020 campaign ends with the Bills crowned the AFC East Champions. Buffalo kicks off their quest to raise the Lombardi Trophy on Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts at 1:05 PM EST. The line currently sits at Bills – 6.5 (51). There are a few things that all Champions seem to have in common. So what makes for a good Super Bowl contender? Is it strong defense, an offense that is clicking at the right time? A coach who has big-game experience? Maybe it’s having all your players healthy. No matter what the magic formula, the question we pose is “Are the Buffalo Bills a Super Bowl contender?”
High Powered Offense
Some day #BillsMafia will build a statue in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s honor. Not only has he been able to tailor an offense to QB Josh Allen’s strengths, but he also built a unit that ranks second, only behind the Green Bay Packers, in scoring (31.3 PTS/GM) this season. In fact, the Bills have not had a top-five scoring offense since 1992, when Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas orchestrated the K-Gun offense to four straight super bowls appearances.
Franchise QB in the making
Of course, Josh Allen has a lot left to prove. But I think it is safe to say that he is heading in the right direction. On the season, Allen ranks top five in passing yards (4,544). He also collected an impressive 46 total TDs (37 passing TD, 8 rushing TD, and 1 receiving TD). Allen has already broken single-season franchise records in passing yards (4,544), passing touchdowns (37), and 300-yard games in a season (8). More importantly he has increased his completion percentage to 69%, which ranks fourth-best in the league.
Wide Receiver Weapons
It feels weird to say, but the Buffalo Bills are a legit passing offense this season. Much of that can be attributed to the success of newly acquired wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Seriously though, all he has done is lead the NFL in receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535) while amassing eight touchdowns. The last time the Bills had a wide receiver post similar numbers was in 2002 when Eric Moulds had 100 receptions for 1,292 yards and ten touchdowns.
Adding Diggs to the fold has also paid dividends for slot receiver Cole Beasley. Cole also set career highs in his second year with the Bills. Before leaving late in week 16 versus the New England Patriots due to a knee injury, Beasley was on pace for his first 1,000-yard season while snagging a career-high 82 receptions. Beasley is considered week to week with the injury. Nonetheless, the Bills signed bonafide slot receiver Kenny Stills as insurance.
John “Smoke” Brown is the number three receiver, which means absolutely nothing in this Bills offense as they find ways to utilize everyone in their offense (how many of you played Isaiah Mckenzie in DFS week 17?). Brown had injury issues this season, posting a 33-458-3 receiving line in only nine games played. However, he is still a guy who can take the top off any defense with an elite 4.34-second 40-yard dash. Lastly, rookie receiver Gabriel Davis has been a hidden gem for the Bills. He hauled in 35 passes for 599 yards and finished the season T2 amongst rookie wide receivers with seven touchdowns.
As discussed, gone are the days of pounding the rock and relying solely on a dominant defense for the Bills. Buffalo ranks in the top ten in passing percentage this season, after ranking in the bottom ten last year. Running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss combined for 1,168 rushing yards and six touchdowns in 2020. Although they were not asked to do much, they still averaged an admirable 4.4 yards per carry.
If they can open their running game up during the postseason, Buffalo could be the team in the AFC that can match up well with the Super Bowl favorites Kansas City Chiefs. Furthermore, with Josh Allen running around and Stefon Diggs “toying” with defensive backs, the Bills can put up points on anybody, as evidenced by the 56 points they put up against a good Miami Dolphins defense in week 17.
Typically, when your casual fan thinks of the Bills, they think of a team led by a dominant defense. Buffalo boasts a rather opportunistic defense, ranking 3rd in total turnovers (26) and 13th in sacks (38). This season they have allowed 23.4 PTS/GM, which ranks 16th in the league, after only allowing 16.2 PTS/GM last year, which was second-best in the league. Injuries at linebacker and cornerback are certainly a contributing factor but also inconsistent play from a newly formed interior defensive line has plagued Buffalo at times.
Playing Well at the Right Time
When defensive linemen Jordan Phillips and Shaq Lawson left via free agency, they brought 36% of Buffalo’s total sacks in 2019 with them. General Manager Brandon Beene elected to sign former Carolina Panthers Mario Addison and Vernon Butler while also bringing in former Seattle Seahawks Swiss army knife Quinton Jefferson. The stats may not be there, as the trio only accounted for 8 of 38 (21%) sacks this season. But before their week 17 game against the Dolphins, in which they rested most starters at halftime, the defense only allowed 20+ points in one game since week 11. Simply put, the Bills defense has taken its time, but it may begin gelling at the right time. Super Bowl contenders always play exceptional defense.
CB Tre’davious White is an elite shut down player who typically shadows opposing teams No.1 WR. LB Tremaine Edmunds is a tackling machine and Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have formed one of the NFL’s elite safety tandems. But one player, in particular, is vital to the defense’s success, linebacker Matt Milano. Milano missed close to half the season due to pectoral and hamstring injuries. But when he has been on the field, he is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league. In only ten games played this season, he allowed the 11th fewest yards per completion (7.2) amongst ALL defensive players. Fortunately, Milano played 88% of the snaps in week 16 and 49% last week. Milano is heading into the playoffs with a clean bill of health, which makes this Bills defense dangerous.
Wild Card Preview: Indianapolis Colts
The Bills will be hosting the Indianapolis Colts in their first home playoff game since 1996. This game features two of the NFL’s top-scoring offenses thus Vegas currently has the total set at 51. The second-highest of this weekend’s games. Keep a close eye on Buffalo WR Cole Beasley who has been dealing with a knee injury.
With the Colts defense running much more zone this year, having Beasley available for the Bills is paramount, as he is a master in finding the soft spots in the zone. Colts LT Anthony Castonzo, who has been battling knee/ankle injuries all season will not play this week. His spot will be manned by veteran LT Jared Veldheer. Jared just came out of retirement and saw his first game action of the season last week. Veldheer held his own, albeit against a Jacksonville defense that is second-worst in yards (418) and points (31) allowed per game this season.
So, Are the Buffalo Bills a Super Bowl contender?
If the Bills can shut down rookie RB Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for a sensational 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, as well as force QB Phillip Rivers to beat them through the air, they should come out with the win and solidify their status as a Super Bowl contender.
If QB Josh Allen continues to fire on all cylinders I feel comfortable taking the Bills -6.5 to start their Super Bowl title run and solidify them the Buffalo Bills as Super Bowl contenders.