Something is different in the AFC East, because the Buffalo Bills are favorites over New England and more. Can they stay consistent and silence their doubters?
With both the NFL Draft and free agency behind us, there are few steps left to take before teams set their final rosters for the season. With that being the case, is this the first time in a generation that the Buffalo Bills have a better roster than the New England Patriots? And is that enough to call them the favorites to win the AFC East this season?
Buffalo traded out of the first round of the draft last month but still collected a potential impact player in the second round in defensive end A.J. Epenesa. Outside of drafting a kicker, all their other selections prior to round seven were offensive skill players, which makes sense. This team has a potentially great defense but needs help on the offensive side of the ball. Remind you of anyone else in this division?
The Bills are trending up, after an excellent 2019 season. They are the team to beat in the AFC East and favorites over the Patriots. Does any other team stand a chance?
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Dan Salem and Todd Salem debate the Buffalo Bills in today’s NFL Sports Debate.
Last year, both Buffalo and New England had top-six defenses according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. This offseason, Buffalo has added Epenesa, Josh Norman, A.J. Klein and Mario Addison, among others, to that defense. The Patriots lost Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton, and added Beau Allen? It wouldn’t be surprising at all to find the Bills as the better defensive unit this season.
On offense, the difference could be even more stark. Both teams have talent-depleted offenses with shaky quarterback options. However, Buffalo’s talent depletion added Stefon Diggs and has a quarterback with years of experience already under his belt. New England lost Tom Brady, added nothing but fullbacks and tight ends, and is turning the team over to a former mid-round quarterback with no experience at all.
Last year, the Pats had a league-average offense, and Buffalo was down near the cellar. Based on offseason progress, it wouldn’t be surprising to see that flip flop. Oh yeah, New England is also going from the fifth-most accurate kicker in the history of the sport to someone named Justin Rohrwasser. (Gostkowski was injured for most of last season, but the hyperbole of the point still stands.)
It is easy to say Buffalo has the superior roster to New England. It is mentally harder to make the leap that it should be favored to win the division over the Pats. The only reason to avoid making that second determination is because of coaching and some nefarious belief that Bill Belichick always “knows.”
If any other team was turning the roster over to Jarrett Stidham, we’d be dubious as heck. Because it’s Belichick, we still wonder whether he knows Stidham will succeed. I’m not offering my benefit of the doubt this time.
We can discuss later in the offseason whether neither Buffalo nor New England are actually the best bet in the AFC East, but at this point, I have to say the Bills should be the favorites.
You made a rather specific distinction and it bears repeating. The Buffalo Bills are favorites over New England to win the AFC East. This does not make them favorites to win over all of the Jets, Patriots and Dolphins. There is no clear favorite in this division right now, but Buffalo is currently ahead of New England.
We know the Patriots will continue to have a very good defense. Because of Josh McDaniels, we can also give their offense the benefit of the doubt. In all likelihood the team takes a step back by two or three wins. They did lose a hall of fame quarterback. Buffalo did not lose anyone as significant as Brady, and certainly added more talent across its roster.
The real question is about consistency. Do we believe the Bills have found it on both offense and defense?
Consider me dubious of Buffalo’s ability to keep the good vibes flowing and win double-digit games this season. New England has done it season after season after season. While it appears they are willing to “sacrifice” this year a bit in order to re-tool, the general schemes and makeup of the team are the same.
We all know if Stidham bombs weeks one and two, then New England will sign or trade for a veteran. Heck, even Eli Manning might be an option coming out of retirement. Talk about the ultimate middle finger to New York.
I really like the makeup of the Bills as a team, but I’m not confident in their continued success for two reasons. The primary reason is that their competition throughout the AFC has improved significantly. Being just as good as last year guarantees nothing.
The Bills must be better to make the playoffs. I’m also concerned about Josh Allen and his ability to find balance in the offense. Will he shed his run-first mentality, even though its what made him dynamic in years one and two? Injuries always catch up to quarterbacks who like to run.