This offseason is a lot different for the Buffalo Bills. A lot quieter.
At this time last year, the Bills were the popular pick to win the Super Bowl. They'd just lost one of the greatest playoff games ever to the Kansas City Chiefs, added Von Miller in the offseason and it felt like it was their turn to win. The hype never slowed down.
And the Bills mostly lived up to the hype. They went 13-3. They started the season by dismantling the defending champion Los Angeles Rams on opening night. They won at the Chiefs on a Sunday night. Their three losses could have all been wins. They lost 21-19 at the Miami Dolphins when they outplayed the Dolphins everywhere but the scoreboard, lost 20-17 at the New York Jets in a game that was tied with two minutes left and lost a crazy 33-30 overtime game to the Minnesota Vikings in which they were victims of an all-time great catch by Justin Jefferson on fourth-and-18 to keep the game alive and somehow fumbled a snap in their own end zone that was recovered by the Vikings in the final minute.
But we don't remember the Bills being great last season. They aren't the buzzy team of this offseason. That's because of one bad afternoon on the playoff stage.
The Bills were blasted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round. It wasn't shocking the Bengals beat the Bills, but the ease in which it happened was. The Bengals led 14-0 almost instantly. They won 27-10. A Bills team that hadn't lost a game by more than a field goal all season looked helpless. Perhaps the extreme emotions from Damar Hamlin's medical situation caught up to them.
The good news from that playoff debacle: The pressure is off.
The core of a Bills team that has lost just one game by more than seven points the past two regular seasons returns. There are some cracks — the tension this offseason with Stefon Diggs, Miller trying to come back from a torn ACL at age 34, losing linebacker Tremaine Edmunds in free agency — but it's still one of the best teams in the NFL. One bad game against the Bengals doesn't change that.
But the playoff failures are frustrating. The Bills have been close the last three seasons. They lost in the AFC championship game to the Chiefs, had the infamous "13 seconds" loss at Kansas City the next year and then were flat against the Bengals last postseason. Any one of those three Bills teams could have won it all, but none of them even got to the Super Bowl.
"The closer you get, the more you feel obligated to win a Super Bowl. So it's like, we've been close for three years in a row, so it's like all right now, know what I'm saying?" Diggs told Yahoo Sports' Matt Harmon on Radio Row before Super Bowl LVI. "What are we doing? What's going on here? We got to figure out what's what or figure out why we're not getting over the hump."
The problem probably isn't the Bills themselves. They're clearly good enough to win a Super Bowl. But you only get so many chances to do it before the window closes, and the AFC is brutal.
The rest of the AFC East has paid attention to the Bills' rise and has been loading up to catch them. The New York Jets got Aaron Rodgers. The Dolphins are dangerous if Tua Tagovailoa is healthy. The New England Patriots are never an easy out, and they hired a real offensive coordinator. The rest of the AFC is fantastic. The Chiefs still have Patrick Mahomes and the Bengals have Joe Burrow. Some team like the Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars or Cleveland Browns could have a sudden breakout. And it just takes one bad day, or even a bad 13 seconds, to have one of your few opportunities slip away.
However, the Bills are as good as any AFC team. Quarterback Josh Allen is still well within his prime. Diggs is one of the best receivers in the NFL. The Bills defense has been one of the best in the NFL under coach Sean McDermott. Buffalo is one of the most well-rounded teams in the NFL; even the special teams are elite. There's no real weakness. There's no reason the Bills can't win the Super Bowl everyone was predicting for them last season.
They just need to worry about time running out on this core before they make it happen.
The Bills didn't overpay for linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who got a fairly shocking four-year, $72 million deal from the Chicago Bears. It was smart to pass at that price, but Edmunds was still a good player in the middle of the defense. Instead the Bills paid $22.35 million over three years for former Dallas Cowboys guard Connor McGovern. They were also able to retain safety Jordan Poyer, which was big for the defense. The Bills swapped running backs, losing Devin Singletary but adding Damien Harris, whose between-the-tackles running could be important for a Bills offense that could use some more balance. Adding pass rusher Leonard Floyd on a one-year deal is great Von Miller insurance as he's out for the first four games of the season recovering from an ACL tear. Defensive tackle Poona Ford was added to beef up the middle of the defensive line. The Bills' draft was solid, starting with versatile tight end Dalton Kincaid in the first round. It was a fine, fairly boring offseason.
Josh Allen is an MVP candidate every year. He played through an elbow injury last season and put up numbers that were comparable to any QB in the NFL, although 14 interceptions were a bit high. The one thing staring Allen in the face is his playing style, and whether he can continue to hurl his body into defenders when he runs. Last season Allen was happy to initiate contact with defenders, which isn't a long-term plan for an NFL quarterback.
“There’s a lot of times last year, just looking back at film, that I was careless with the football, careless with my body and at the end of the day, availability is the best ability,” Allen said, via the Democrat and Chronicle. “I know this sounds crazy, but I’m getting older. I can’t continue to do this. Over the course of my career I’m going to have to learn to adapt and change."
Part of Allen's value is his running. He had 762 yards and seven touchdowns rushing the ball last season. He'll still be a runner, but perhaps he'll slide or get out of bounds a little more often.
BetMGM odds breakdown
Before last season, the Bills were +600 to win the Super Bowl. They were the favorites. This year, they're +1000, behind the Chiefs and Eagles. If you bet the Bills last season at 6-to-1, you should like them again at 10-to-1. Not much has changed. The odds difference reflects that the Bills are being relatively ignored after last year's buildup. The Bills are +120 to win the AFC East and you can get them at over 10.5 wins at -140 odds. I'd be a little wary on either because the Bills have the fourth-toughest schedule this season, per Sharp Football Analysis. The AFC East is tough. Still, if you want to invest in the Bills now that everyone has moved on to new, shiny things, it's understandable.
Yahoo's fantasy take
From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "Gabe Davis was one of the hottest sleeper names on last summer’s draft board, if you can even call this type of player a sleeper. After all, Davis had the game of his life with all of America watching, a 201-yard, four-touchdown clinic in the dramatic playoff loss at Kansas City in January 2022. Alas, the Bills never fully committed to Davis as a priority in the offense last year, skimming him a modest six targets per game. A 48-836-7 haul is actually impressive on Davis’s skimpy workload, but until the Bills allot him a heavier share of the target tree, he’s nothing more than a boom-or-bust WR3 for fantasy purposes."
Stat to remember
Only one team in the NFL finished in the top 10 of Football Outsiders' DVOA in offense, defense and special teams. The Bills were in the top four in all three categories. The Bills finished second in offense, fourth in defense and first in special teams. They were first overall in DVOA. Buffalo was easily the most balanced team in the NFL. There was no weakness. Again, we've all forgotten a bit how good the 2022 Bills were, mostly because they didn't have a long stay in the playoffs.
How much did the Damar Hamlin situation affect the Bills?
The Bills weren't the same team late last season. It's not hard to figure out why.
One factor that needs to be considered with the Bills' playoff flop was the emotional drain from Hamlin's medical emergency. Hamlin collapsed during a Week 17 game with the Bengals. Teammates watched as medical professionals brought him back to life. Hamlin is doing fine now, having played in the preseason and serving as an inspiration to those who followed his ordeal. But late last season, the Bills had to be a wreck.
You're not supposed to give excuses in the NFL, but the Bills had a good one for being worn out.
“This last season was pretty draining throughout, physically, emotionally, mentally,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said, via the Democrat and Chronicle. “There were a lot of moments, really unprecedented times, where not many teams have ever had to face the adversity that we faced last year, and I’m so proud of how we handled things."
Hamlin's health was a much bigger concern than winning games late last season, but it's worth noting how the team might have been affected on the field. Perhaps that isn't being factored in enough when we talk about the 2023 Bills.
The Bills were good enough last season that if Allen didn't short-arm a fourth-down goal-line pass to Isaiah McKenzie at Miami, if they could have put together a last-minute drive at the Jets and if they didn't have a handful of wild plays go against them against Minnesota, they could have won all 16 regular-season games. (Remember, the game against Cincinnati was canceled.) Their three losses came by eight combined points. I'm not saying the Bills can challenge for an undefeated season, especially with their schedule, but posting the best record in the NFL and winning a Super Bowl is still on the table. All the reasons you liked Buffalo at this time last year are still in place.
The Bills have had three bites at the Super Bowl apple already. The NFL is designed so teams don't stay near the top very long. There's no reason to believe the Bills will be much worse, but the Dolphins and Jets could be better. The rest of the AFC is filled with good teams. For many other teams, winning 10 or 11 games, getting a wild-card spot and making the divisional round would be a fine season. It wouldn't be for Buffalo, which has a championship-level team but knows the window won't stay open forever.
The crystal ball says ...
We're all affected by recency bias. What we saw last was a Bills team that didn't easily put away the Patriots in Week 18, struggled in the wild-card round to beat a Miami Dolphins team with Skylar Thompson at quarterback, then was run out by the Bengals. We ignore how good the Bills were for most of the season. Or that they might have lost out on the AFC's No. 1 seed due to a canceled game. I'm guilty of overlooking them too. I already talked about my Jets optimism in their preview, but what's the argument for New York, or the Dolphins, being better than the Bills? The further we get into the offseason, the more optimistic I am about Buffalo. The Bengals, Chiefs and Eagles deserve to be higher in the power rankings to start the season, but the Bills might be my Super Bowl pick before the season starts.
Other team previews
31. Houston Texans
30. Chicago Bears
29. Tennessee Titans
28. Los Angeles Rams
22. Denver Broncos
21. Atlanta Falcons
18. New York Giants
14. Cleveland Browns
11. Seattle Seahawks
10. Baltimore Ravens