The Mystery of the Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills are a team that sparks a wide variety of opinions. They're either on the verge of making the playoffs or this is Rex Ryan's final year as an NFL head coach. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is either a star in the making or he's the reason the Bills won't win. The betting market reflects that split verdict. The Bills have an Over/Under for wins of 8, with the price a clean (-110) either way. Let's untangle the mystery that is the team.
We'll begin with a big positive and it's that we don't see why there's so much ambiguity about Taylor. His first year as a starter was an unqualified success. His numbers in yards-per-attempt and avoiding interceptions (as a percentage of passes thrown) were top-5 in the league. He was still league-average in completion percentage. That's a good year for anyone for a first-year starter it's stupendous. Keep in mind that Buffalo offensive coordinator Greg Romans had the same job in San Francisco when he made Colin Kaepernick a star...and we see how far that star is fallen since Romans moved on. The Buffalo quarterback position is in good hands.
There's significant talent at the skill positions with running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. The offensive line has some excellent players in Eric Wood, Richie Incognito and Cordy Glenn. There are depth issues to be sure - an injury to any one of these players presents a significant problem, but it's not necessarily worse than a lot of other borderline playoff teams are dealing with.
It's the defense where red flags go up. Ryan's deserved reputation as a great defensive strategist covers up the fact that this team was slightly worse last year on D (15th in the league in points allowed) than they were offensively (12th in points scored). It's further overlooked that since Ryan's career high point of consecutive AFC Championship Game trips with the Jets in 2009-10 that #15 ranking of last year was the best of any of his defenses. The Jets had slipped to ranking in the 20-range by the end of his tenure. To be fair to his strategic skills, that was more about talent than Xs and Os - but it does underscore that even Ryan isn't a defensive miracle worker.
Last year, Buffalo's defense performed poorly against the run. They did not do a good job at generating a pass rush. The Bills do have terrific corners in Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore, but the talent level here needed a significant upgrade. It's no coincidence that the Bills invested heavily on defense in the draft. They used their first three picks on big-name defenders from marquee schools - defensive end Shaq Lawson (Clemson), linebacker Reggie Ragland (Alabama) and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington (Ohio State). Lawson is still recovering from a shoulder injury, but he will get on the field and help the pass rush problems. And look for Ragland in particular to be an impact player against the run.
So where do you go when it comes to betting the Bills? To be frank, the Over/Under looks about right. Buffalo was 8-8 last year and Ryan had two other 8-8 seasons in his year with the Jets. Whether you're an optimist or pessimist, there's not a lot of value here.
For optimists though, there might be some intrigue in the fact Buffalo is 5-1 to win the AFC East. They're the only credible challenger to New England in this division, given the Jets' potential disaster at quarterback and the fact Ryan Tannehill is still in Miami. If Tom Brady's four-game suspension digs the Patriots an early hole, this division could be open. We wouldn't pick Buffalo in any kind of a straight-up analysis of the AFC East, but to get a 5-1 price and a four-game headstart isn't bad.
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