On paper, the Bills had a successful season. They finished .500, seem to have finally found their franchise quarterback and prevented the Jets from making the playoffs. However, Rex Ryan promised much bigger things and couldn’t deliver on them. He’ll be under the gun this year as the Bills try to end their postseason drought.
Unfortunately, the Bills will have a depleted defense to start the season. First-round pick Shaq Lawson had shoulder surgery that will keep him out for a couple months, while second-rounder Reggie Ragland has a partially torn ACL. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus will serve a four-game suspension. Ryan made his name as a defensive wizard, but Buffalo’s defense was actually its weak point last year. But with Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins leading the offense, the Bills will be one of the more entertaining teams to watch every Sunday.
5 questions with Buffalo Rumblings
Now there seems to be more pressure than ever for Rex Ryan to end Buffalo’s playoff drought. How hot is his seat heading into year two?
Right now … not like atomic-Buffalo-wing hot, because I really think Terry Pegula believes in continuity and wants to keep Doug Whaley and Rex Ryan together. However, in Buffalo with the Bills, the overall vibe from the fan base and media can sour quickly. If the Bills are a few games under .500 by the midway point of the season, then his seat will be atomic-Buffalo-wing hot. YOU LIKE THE BUFFALO PUNS?!?! Overall, though, I think his job is safer than most think.
Tyrod Taylor was one of the more pleasant surprise stories in the league last year. Is he the franchise QB Bills fans have long been waiting for?
OK, so I’ve officially been put on the spot. I think Taylor is the franchise QB the Bills have been waiting for, but not by conventional “franchise QB” standards. We typically equate the “franchise QB” label to a signal caller who can routinely be a 4,500-yard, 35-plus touchdown passer — Taylor isn’t that. But he’s an exquisite fit in Greg Roman’s run-heavy offense that features a variety of downfield play-action passes and the occasional read option.
The Bills invested heavily on defense in the draft, hoping to improve a unit that badly regressed last year. Unfortunately, first-round pick Shaq Lawson is out several months with shoulder surgery. How much of a wrench does that throw into Buffalo’s plans?
It throws a roast beef sandwich-sized (they’re usually somewhat big) wrench into their defensive plans, mainly due to Lawson’s versatility. However, Doug Whaley did some fine GM work adding capable weakside linebacker Zach Brown in free agency, and Manny Lawson proved to be the most underrated player on the Bills last season in the strongside linebacker spot. Would the Bills be in a better situation if Shaq and Reggie Ragland were available? Without question. Are they absolutely screwed without those two rookies? No. The loss of Marcell Dareus for the first month of the season is much more impactful. Rex’s ability to “scheme” pressure, which he did so well during his tenure with the Jets, will really be put to the test in the month of September.
Sammy Watkins started fulfilling his potential as a top-level WR, but he’s coming off foot surgery. Will someone emerge as a reliable No. 2 option in the pass game?
By no means is Robert Woods the next James Lofton, but he’s largely been underrated in his career. His career statistics are comparable to Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu — hat tip to WGR’s Sal Capaccio — so that should give an idea of how impactful he can be, especially with a competent quarterback under center. Expect to see more of tight end Charles Clay this season, as well.
How does the first month of the season go? The last month of the season? What's the final record going to be?
[Captain Obvious voice] Getting the Patriots in September without Brady is … HUGE. The Bills would probably feel “OK” starting 2-2. The toughest game in the first month is against Cardinals in Week 3, but at least that game is in Orchard Park — and Buffalo travels to New England the following week. As for December, three of those four contests are at home, and the season finale is against the Jets in New Jersey. Buffalo should win two of a trio of home games against the Steelers, Browns and Dolphins leading up to Week 17. The Bills have as much overall talent — and a better quarterback situation — as they did in 2014 when they went 9-7. If they endure some major injuries and get a few bad bounces, they go 7-9 or 8-8. If they stay relatively healthy and get some good bounces, they go 10-6.