Buffalo Bills (5-3)
Halfway through the season the Buffalo Bills continue to be one of the surprising teams in the NFL along with the 49ers, Bengals and Lions. Buffalo has done it with a dynamic back, an efficient quarterback and a defense that creates turnovers. However, after their 3-0 start, including a win over the Patriots, the Bills are 2-3 in their last five games putting them on a downward trend going into the second half of the season. Fortunately for Buffalo they find themselves in a three way tie atop the AFC East.
The Bills’ signal caller, Ryan Fitzpatrick, was the biggest story in the league. The Harvard educated man with a beard rivaled only by Zach Galifianakis, who wears his wedding ring on the field, went from place holder to franchise quarterback after he signed a six year $59 million contract coming out of their bye week. The deal was largely based on his numbers over their first four games when Fitzy threw 9 TD to only 3 INT. In the second quarter of the season facing, tougher teams including the Giants vicious pass rush and the Jets resurgent defense, the QB has doubled his picks without matching his scoring output (6 TD, 6 INT). The Bills biggest offensive weakness has been a lack of talent at the skill positions. Their early production was predicated largely on the system implemented by coach Chan Gailey. The top cover corners in the league, like Darelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie of the Jets, won’t have trouble covering their recievers. Last week when “Fitzmagic,” as he is sometimes called on NFL Live, scanned the field he couldn’t find any white, only green leading to two picks.
The Bills have found success by distributing the ball to several targets and exploiting favorable match ups in the secondary. Eight different players have reached
the end zone led by Scott Chandler with six scores. Steve Johnson leads the receiving core in yards and has four touchdowns to his credit, but none of the numbers will standout because teams lock down on Johnson. The Bills need to find another threat in the passing game to take the attention off of Johnson for at least some plays. Most of their yards between the 20s come from Fred Jackson.
Jackson is not just the third leading rusher in the league, he is also a dynamic pass catcher out of the backfield. He is second behind Chicago’s Matt Forte in combined rushing/receiving yards in the league. He has been a perfect check down/safety valve for the Bills and can turn broken plays into big yards. He is the playmaker for this team. In the game against the Washington Redskins in Toronto, Jackson had nearly 200 yards and accounted for 50% of the offensive production. However, teams are going to focus on “Fred-ex” much like Gang Green did last week. When an offense relies that heavily on one player can they overcome it when that player is shut down? That is what the Bills will be asked the rest of the season and they will need to find an answer. The Bills strength this season has been the offense without question. They are scoring 27.8 points per game, which is good enough for fourth in the league, tied with the Patriots. So how can a team with such a prolific offensive output only be 5-3?
Defensively the Bills rely on takeaways. Their secondary is second best in the league with 15 interceptions however, they are in the bottom of nearly every other defensive category. Outside of a nine sack game against the Redskins, the pass rush has been non-existent recording only five sacks in their other seven games. In the beginning of the season points were easy to come by and the defense limiting opponents possessions through turnovers was enough to give Buffalo the edge over many teams, but now the defenses are catching up. Through their upcoming schedule the Bills will have to face the Ryan brothers and their tough defenses in a match up with the Cowboys this Sunday and a rematch with the Jets week 12. Buffalo’s defense will have to hold offenses without probowl nose tackle Kyle Williams, who is out for the rest of the season after having surgery on his nagging left foot injury.
Perhaps the most troubling injury for the Bills right now is that of kicker Rian Lindell. He has made a career of kicking in the difficult weather at Ralph Wilson Stadium and replacement Dave Rayner may have to tackle some important kicks in poor conditions as the Bills will be involved in some close contests the rest of the way. Fortunately for Rayner the Bills start a three game road trip this week including games in the indoor Cowboys stadium and in sunny Miami before they will play the Jets in the Meadowlands. Lindell is not expected to miss the rest of the season and the Bills hope to have him back within a few weeks after severely injuring his shoulder on a touchdown saving tackle last week.
It is tough to predict what this Buffalo team will do next. Some weeks they remind us why they received so much praise and attention at the beginning of the
season, while other weeks they appear to be a flash in the pan. With all three teams tied atop the AFC East, the season essentially starts over and that is how the Bills have to treat it. Their good first half means nothing. They will have to have an even better second half as they race for a better eight game record than their rivals. It is important for them to win the rematch with the Jets to take away the tiebreaker. As we like to say here at SeeYouInOctober it is what you do in the second half that matters. That is where the good teams win the game, the division and the championship. The Bills should have their eye on the Lombardi trophy the rest of the way.
I believe over their next four games Buffalo will go 2-2. They are better than the bad teams, but do not seem to be an elite team yet. Traveling to Dallas will be a good test for this team as the pundits seem confident that the underachieving Cowboys will flip a switch and become a serious contender. If the Bills can force Tony Romo to continue to make mistakes and create turnovers they will have a shot, but I don’t see the offense getting it done against Rob Ryan’s defense. The next week they will be in Miami. While the Fish may have won last week against the Chiefs, they are not a good team. It will be a tough divisional game, but Buffalo is the better team and if there is one thing they do exceptionally well it is beat bad teams. Next comes the season. The rematch with the Jets is crucial for their playoff lives, but I think the Jets have righted the ship and will manhandle the Bills in a similar fashion to last week’s drubbing. They return to Orchard Park with a match up against the Tennessee Titans. The Titans have played better than expected this season, but football in Buffalo in December is a different game. This season I have more faith in Fred Jackson than Chris Johnson, so I give the edge to the Bills in this game.
Can the Bills circle the wagons and make a push for the playoffs? Let us know what you think via our twitter (@seeuinoctober) or leave us a comment.