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Buffalo Bills: 2017 preview

New head coach, new general manager, lots of new faces in the locker room, but still the same old Buffalo Bills?


The Buffalo Bills enter 2017 with a brand new coaching staff, a new front office, and many new players.  While expectations for this season may be low, the team has many young, talented players, and a bright future ahead.  

2016 recap

After losing their first two games last season, the Bills began to look like a promising team as they won their next four games, including a 16-0 shutout of the Patriots on the road.  After losing their next three games, the Bills bounced back after their bye week to win the following two games.  The Bills still offered their fans some hope, as they sat at a 6-5 record. Unfortunately, all hope would soon be lost, as the Bills would go on to lose four of their five remaining games, finishing the season with a 7-9 record, with their only victory coming against the absolutely putrid Cleveland Browns.  

As a result of yet another losing season and the seventeenth consecutive season without a playoff appearance, head coach Rex Ryan was fired following the Bills’ Week 16 loss to the Miami Dolphins.  

While their defense was pretty good, their offense was fairly inconsistent. The Bills defense outnumbered opposing defenses in tackles, interceptions, and fumbles. Bills quarterbacks only averaged 189.8 passing yards per game, while their opponents’ quarterbacks threw for 223.9 yards per game. The Bills also suffered from a lackluster offensive line, as they gave up 46 quarterback sacks, while their opponents only gave up 39 sacks.  

Additionally, Buffalo were plagued by injuries and inconsistent wide receiver play, as their best wide receiver, Sammy Watkins missed eight games due to injury. One bright spot for the Bills offense was their running game, led by top running back LeSean McCoy and dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They ran for 164.4 yards per game and scored 29 touchdowns on the ground, while opponents only ran for 133.1 yards per game and managed just 21 rushing touchdowns.  

Offseason moves

InOut
Jordan Matthews, WRMike Gillislee, RB
Anquan Boldin, WRRobert Woods, WR
Zay Jones, WR (Draft)Sammy Watkins, WR
E. J. Gaines, CBZach Brown, LB
Tre’Davious White, CB (Draft)Corey Graham, S
Micah Hyde, SStephon Gilmore, CB
Dion Dawkins, G (Draft)Ronald Darby, CB
Sean McDermott, Head coachRex Ryan, Head coach
Brandon Beane, General managerDoug Whaley, General manager

The removal of Rex Ryan was inevitable after another losing season and the seventeenth consecutive year without a playoff appearance.  The firing of Doug Whaley also seemed highly likely, given the team’s lack of success, although it is mind-boggling why the Bills waited until after the NFL Draft to fire him, rather than giving the new GM the opportunity to draft his own players.  

With that being said, Whaley does deserve credit for a pretty solid Draft.  He traded the 10th overall pick to Kansas City for the 27th overall pick, the 91st overall pick, and a 2018 first round pick.  The Bills drafted three very talented players in the first two rounds, with cornerback Tre’Davious White, wide receiver Zay Jones, and offensive lineman Dion Dawkins.

New general manager Brandon Beane generated lots of buzz last week, after making two big moves. First, he traded top receiver and fan favorite Sammy Watkins to the Rams, in exchange for cornerback E. J. Gaines and a second round pick. Immediately following this move, he traded top cornerback Ronald Darby to Philadelphia for wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third round pick.

The Bills lost quite a few key players on defense. Linebacker Zach Brown, the team’s leading tackler last season, left for Washington. In addition, their entire secondary is gone with Stephon Gilmore now in New England, and both Ronald Darby and Corey Graham in Philadelphia. These holes on defense will be tough shoes to fill for newly acquired linebacker Gerald Hodges and defensive backs Micah Hyde, E. J. Gaines, and Tre’Davious White.

2017 schedule

WeekOpponent
1vs New York Jets
2@ Baltimore Ravens
3vs Denver Broncos
4@ Atlanta Falcons
5@ Cincinnati Bengals
6BYE
7vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8vs Oakland Raiders
9@ New York Jets
10vs New Orleans Saints
11@ Los Angeles Chargers
12@ Kansas City Chiefs
13vs New England Patriots
14vs Indianapolis Colts
15vs Miami Dolphins
16@ New England Patriots
17@ Miami Dolphins

Being in the AFC East does not help the Bills one bit.  It will be very tough for them to compete with the Patriots and the Dolphins, both of whom made the playoffs last season. Throw in games against the Panthers, Broncos, Falcons, Buccaneers, Raiders, Chiefs, and Colts, and that creates a potential recipe for disaster.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Bills will miss the playoffs for the eighteenth consecutive season. Having a tough schedule and being in a highly competitive division will not make things easy for them.

Three players to watch

With many new faces in the locker room, it will be interesting to see which players will emerge and make a name for themselves.

Jordan Matthews & Zay Jones, wide receiver

Jordan Matthews was the top receiver in Philadelphia for the past two seasons.  He has consistently put up good numbers in the past three seasons, despite a revolving door of Eagles quarterbacks, and has not been much of an injury risk.  It will be interesting to see what he can accomplish as the top receiver in Buffalo while playing with talented quarterback Tyrod Taylor.  Zay Jones was one of the top receiver prospects in this year’s draft, and many NFL analysts considered him a steal when Buffalo selected him, as they predicted him to be drafted sooner, possibly even in the late first round.  

Lorenzo Alexander, outside linebacker

Nobody expected Lorenzo Alexander to have the season he did last year.  Frankly, practically nobody had ever heard of him prior to last season.  Prior to 2016, Alexander bounced around the league as a journeyman and was never known as a sack artist.  He truly burst onto the scene last year, compiling 12.5 sacks, good for third most in the league.  It will be interesting to see if he can continue to be a sack machine, or even come close to replicating his monster 2016 numbers.

Tre’Davious White, Cornerback

Tre’Davious White enters the season with lofty expectations after being selected in the first round back in April.  White is a highly touted cornerback out of LSU and has some big shoes to fill after the departures of starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby.  This past draft was full of extremely talented cornerbacks, and it will be interesting to see if Buffalo used their first round pick on the right guy.  

Prediction

It does not look like the Bills will end their very long playoff drought in 2017.  While the team made significant improvements on offense, they are now arguably worse on defense.  Anquan Boldin, Jordan Matthews, and Zay Jones should improve a receiving corps that was inconsistent and injury prone last season.  However, things do not look to pretty on defense.  Their leading tackler Zach Brown is now in Washington.  In addition, their entire starting secondary is no longer with the team. While the Bills have many new players on the team, the results will likely remain the same this season.  If I am being optimistic, I can see the Bills finishing at 8-8.  Realistically though, the Bills will likely finish at 6-10 or 7-9.  While this season may not be a success, the Bills still have a bright future ahead, as they have some very talented players, as well as two picks in each of the first three rounds in next year’s NFL Draft.    

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Justin Boguslavsky

Columbia University student, NFL and NCAAF writer, die hard Philly sports fan #FlyEaglesFly

Hot takes are my specialty

Buffalo Bills: 2017 preview

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