2020 NFL Team Previews: Buffalo Bills
2020 NFL Team Previews
By Professor MJ
For those of you who have been following my work for a while, you know that I placed my largest bet ever on the 2019 Bills to win more than 6.5 games. I told you my numerous arguments backing the pick, including the easy schedule, the young improving core of players and the smart free agent acquisitions.
Through 10 games, Buffalo had already won seven games to clinch it. The Bills had a successful 10-6 season and made the playoffs as the #1 wildcard team. That nice year left a very sour taste in Bills fans’ mouths; they blew a 16-0 lead to lose 22-19 in overtime at Houston.
Still, making the playoffs in two of the past three seasons is encouraging, especially for a squad that had missed the playoffs 19 straight years. Most of their top players are very young. Bills fans have a lot of reasons to be optimistic right now.
2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)
This is a critical year for Josh Allen. He enters his third year as a pro with 28 games under his belt. Quarterbacks suddenly becoming great in their fourth year (or later) are seldom seen in the NFL. Bills Mafia is hoping he can elevate his play in 2020.
Allen did take a leap from 2018 to 2019. His completion rate went from 53% to 59%. His TD-to-INT ratio improved significantly: 10-to-12 a couple of years ago versus 20-to-9 last season.
I have to admit I wasn’t convinced Buffalo had made a good pick by selecting him in the 2018 draft. Trading up and sacrificing draft capital to get him seemed even worse to me. I kept hearing about how he had ideal size and a cannon arm, but that he had accuracy issues. To me, being accurate is a vital part of a quarterback’s game and it’s something that’s hard to teach.
However, Allen has done better than expected (at least for me). His mobility and pocket awareness are pretty good. His arm strength is very impressive! He completed a higher percentage of his passes in 2019, but he had trouble completing long throws, though.
Allen has a brand new toy this year: Stefon Diggs. Along with John Brown and Cole Beasley, Buffalo now has a very nice trio of receivers. No more excuses for Allen. It’s time to shine.
As of now, Matt Barkley is still backing up Allen. He had a nice showing at the Jets in 2018, but he wasn’t so great in two appearances last year.
2.2 Running Backs (RBs)
Frank Gore was really bad last year. The team let rookie Devin Singletary take a bigger role in the second half of the season and they got rewarded. Gore is now off the team, and Singletary has a clear path as the number one back.
At 5’7’’, the 2019 third-round pick was surprisingly good at breaking tackles. He rarely got down upon the first contact. He averaged a whopping 5.1 yards per carry last year. He’s also useful in the passing game; he caught 6 balls in the playoff game at Houston.
T.J. Yeldon will provide some depth, but he’s not the ideal #2 back. The former Jaguar wasn’t used very much in 2019.
For this reason, the Bills selected Zack Moss in the third round of this year’s draft. He had a very productive career with the Utah Utes with three 1,000 rushing-yard seasons.
The wear and tear might limit the length of his career, but it gave him more playing experience so he is more pro ready. Moss has a history of knee injuries though. When healthy, he’s extremely good at breaking tackles.
2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)
Acquiring Stefon Diggs is going to make a world of difference for Buffalo’s offense, who has been lacking playmakers. He finished as the #19 wide receiver out of 122 guys, according to PFF rankings.
Diggs’ presence will open up the field for John Brown and Cole Beasley, who ranked as the #32 and #36 wideouts in the NFL based on PFF. They caught 72 and 67 balls, respectively, with both catching six TD passes. Brown had a career-high 1060 receiving yards and he was very consistent throughout the year. He had over 50 yards in each of its first 10 games.
Isaiah McKenzie made a respectable contribution to the offense last year, both as a pass catcher and as a runner, but he’s more of a gadget-play guy.
Will Duke Williams finally find a home in the NFL? The former CFL star led the Bills with 10 targets in the playoff loss to the Texans. He has a big frame and could be used in the red zone, although the addition of Diggs will make it harder for him to make the team.
The team picked two receivers in later rounds from this year’s draft. Both have an asset that was grossly missing last year: size. It remains to be seen if either Gabriel Davis or Isaiah Hodgins can have an impact in year 1.
2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)
The Bills drafted two tight ends last year: Dawson Knox (3rd round) and Tommy Sweeney (7th round). Knox definitely showed more flashes with 28 receptions compared to just eight for Sweeney. However, he’s far from a finished product. He dropped 10 passes on 50 targets, which is an incredibly high rate!
He did have a highlight-reel catch against the Bengals. He caught a 49-yard pass on which he ran over defenders, including a stiff arm of Shawn Williams and a brutalizing helmet-to-helmet hammer punch to Jessie Bates. That was great to watch!
The Bills signed Tyler Kroft a year ago and he disappointed big time. He was slowed by injuries and he ended up catching just 6 passes in 11 games.
Knox, Sweeney, Kroft and run-blocker Lee Smith are all back for the 2020 season.
2.5 Offensive Line (OL)
As mentioned in my 2019 preview, the offensive line play had been a huge liability for the Bills over the years. GM Brandon Beane signed many guys and the result was satisfying as a whole.
There have been some articles showing how one of the key factors for good OL play is to have the same guys play together for a while. In other words, learning how to play as a group and knowing how your teammates are going to react in every situation goes a long way towards success. The good news for Buffalo is all guys are returning in 2020.
The six players with the most playing time are as follows, along with their PFF rankings in brackets: Quinton Spain (59th / 81), Dion Dawkins (25th / 81), Jon Feliciano (35th / 81), Mitch Morse (18th / 37), rookie Cody Ford (73rd / 81) and Ty Nsekhe (43rd / 81).
Not only is the team returning all of its offensive linemen, but they also acquired Daryl Williams from the Panthers. He received below-average marks from PFF in 2019.
2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE
The main thing I like about this offense is this: continuity. The only starter who won’t be back in 2020 is Frank Gore, and he was awful anyway.
Josh Allen, Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox all had either zero or just one year of experience prior to the 2019 season. They are clearly more likely to improve than to regress, right?
As for the wide receiver position, the unit will get an enormous boost from the acquisition of Stefon Diggs. It will create more space for John Brown and Cole Beasley, who are both quality pass catchers.
To top it all off, you’ve got the entire offensive line returning for a second consecutive season, along with the addition of a decent player (Daryl Williams).
Buffalo finished the year in 23rd place with respect to points scored per game. I expect a fairly significant increase in 2020.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)
If there was one area where the Buffalo defense struggled at times, it was against the run. And the weak link of the unit was on the interior of the line.
Rookie Ed Oliver finished 70th, Star Lotulelei 89th and Jordan Phillips 104th out of 114 interior defenders. Oliver was selected 9th overall in last year’s draft and he showed promise in his first year as a pro. He did obtain 5 sacks.
Jordan Phillips left for the Cardinals, and the Bills replaced him with a couple of free agents: Vernon Butler from Carolina (87th-best DL) and Quinton Jefferson from Seattle (27th-best DL). Butler has not lived up to his first-round draft status so far in his career, but he did rack up 6 sacks last season. As for Jefferson, he is also coming off a career-high in sacks with 3.5. He also sacked Josh McCown a couple of times in the playoffs.
Overall, I see a slight upgrade over 2019 at this position.
3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)
Trent Murphy, Jerry Hughes and Shaq Lawson were all above-average last season. They each got between 4.5 and 6.5 sacks, which is nice production. As a whole, the Bills defense finished 12th in terms of sacks.
Shaq Lawson left for division rivals Miami. On the other hand, the Bills added yet another guy from the Panthers: Mario Addison. The 32-year old doesn’t get talked about very much, but he has accumulated 9 sacks in each of its past four seasons, which is quite a feat! He still received below-average marks from PFF, mainly because of mediocre play in terms of run defense and coverage.
Considering Murphy, Hughes and Addison are all at least 29 years old, while Lawson was in his mid-twenties, I see a bit of a downgrade here.
The need to get younger at the position was addressed by taking A.J. Epenesa in last April’s draft. He lacks explosiveness, but he has drawn praise for his technique. Epenesa has great work ethic. His dad, who played and now coaches for the Hawkeyes, certainly deserves credit for that important attribute.
He was a highly recruited player coming out of high school, but he didn’t get a starting spot with Iowa until last year. Still, he posted 4.5 and 10.5 sacks in his first two seasons as a rotational player before getting 11.5 sacks as a starter in his junior season.
3.3 Linebackers (LBs)
Tremaine Edmunds seemed to improve a little bit over his rookie season. He needs to improve his game in coverage, an aspect where he received poor marks.
Meanwhile, Matt Milano was great in coverage, but not so good in run defense. Still, Milano is a strong presence. The former fifth-round pick has brought a lot to the Bills defense, especially in 2018 when he had his best year.
Finally, Lorenzo Alexander enjoyed a nice season as the final piece of the linebacking corps, but he opted for retirement. Accordingly, Brandon Beane signed free agent A.J. Klein, formerly of the New Orleans Saints. Klein is an intriguing guy; based on PFF grades, he had great 2015 and 2018 seasons, but pretty bad 2016, 2017 and 2019 seasons. It’s been all-or-nothing. Hard to tell whether replacing Alexander with Klein will turn out to be an upgrade or a downgrade.
3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)
Tre’Davious White leads this group without a doubt. He doesn’t get enough publicity because he’s playing for a small-market team, but he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. As a matter of fact, he led the league in passer rating allowed in coverage. He’s entering his prime years as a fourth-year pro.
Levi Wallace played opposite of White, and he did an acceptable job. He graded as the 43rd-best CB out of 112 guys. The Bills may be hoping for an upgrade at the #2 CB position, but if they need to go with Wallace once again they won’t necessarily be in trouble.
Wallace missed the playoff game because of an ankle injury, and Kevin Johnson stepped in for him. During the regular season, Johnson played 32% of the snaps and ended the year as the #22nd-best CB out of 112 players. The former first-round pick finally stayed healthy, but he left for Cleveland in free agency.
The Bills looked for help by signing Josh Norman from the Redskins. He was just awful last year and even got benched in the second half of the season. Getting a $6 million dollar one-year contract seems on the high side, but you’ve got to wonder if he can bounce back. His PFF grade last season was 45.6, which was a HUGE drop compared to his previous five seasons: 68.9, 72.2, 71.7, 85.7 and 71.2. That’s an average of 73.9, which would have been good for 19th place out of 112 cornerbacks last year. Now 32 years old, can he revive his career in Buffalo?
3.5 Safeties (S)
The Bills have one of the strongest safety duo in the league with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Both played more than 90% of the defensive snaps last year, and they ranked 11th and 20th out of 87 safeties. Both will be 29 years old when the season begins. They may not be good for another 5-7 years, but they should be fine in 2020.
Poyer has played at least 15 games in each of the past three seasons. As for Hyde, he has been extremely durable! Indeed, he started at least 15 games in all of his seven years in the NFL (with the Packers and the Bills). The Bills are really set at this position.
If Hyde or Poyer gets hurt, Siran Neal will step in. The former 2018 fifth-round pick out of Jacksonville State has appeared sporadically in his first two years in the NFL. He would obviously be a downgrade over Hyde/Poyer, but it remains to be seen how much of a downgrade it would be.
2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE
All right, so let’s recap. I see a slight upgrade at the DL position (adding Vernon Butler and Quinton Jefferson, Ed Olivier having more experience, but losing Jordan Phillips), but a small downgrade for edge rushers (adding Mario Addison and rookie Epenesa, losing Shaq Lawson, and Murphy-Hughes getting up there in age).
At the LB position, replacing Lorenzo Alexander with A.J. Klein is probably a wash. You could argue that Edmunds will improve with 31 games under his belt. No major increase/decrease can be expected either at cornerback and safety.
For these reasons, I’ll predict similar production as 2019 from this unit.
Warning: there could be a bit of a decrease. Why? Notice the very few injuries the Buffalo defense went through last season.
They’ll be lucky if the same happens in 2020. Because of the physical nature of the game, it seems likely that at least one guy among Hughes, Edmunds, Milano, White, Hyde and Poyer will miss significant time at some point during the season, in which case the defense will take a blow.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
4. Regular Season Wins
According to sportsbooks, the Buffalo Bills are expected to win 8.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?
Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:
- Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
- Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
- Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
- Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
- Count the proportion of seasons where the Bills won more or less than 8.5 games.
The results of this thorough statistical investigation generate the 6th-highest ROI (Return On Investment) among the league's 32 teams.
As you can see on my website, the Over/Under pick is provided for free for the NFL teams producing the ROIs ranked 11-32.
The top 10 picks, which includes the Bills, all have a ROI above 24% and they are available in my special NFL Gold Package. This is the best product I have ever sold. Take advantage of it!
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