Entering week 4, few predicted a perfect 3-0 start for the Buffalo Bills, yet here we are. By the barest of margins, they escaped from New York to open the season with a win over the Jets. Josh Allen threw a pair of bad interceptions, as the Bills failed to register a single scoring play in the 1st half. A pivotal 4th quarter, in which they scored 14 game changing points, perhaps set the tone for the early stages of their season.
After brushing aside a hapless New York Giants team in the same stadium a week later, an identity was beginning to form. Allen was being trusted to sling the ball and use his mobility to make plays. Alongside the QB taking off from the pocket, the run game is proving highly effective. The ageless Frank Gore, accompanied by the impressive rookie Devin Singletary, make for an admirable one-two punch. The defence has also stepped up in a big way in 2019, proving to be a top 10 unit in most categories.
Following these two road games, the Bills home opener in week 3 saw the Cincinnati Bengals come to town. This contest forced Buffalo to show pure grit and determination. Fighting off a 2nd half comeback from Andy Dalton et al, they secured a hard fought 21-17 victory. A game most likely marked as a breakout for rookie tight end Dawson Knox. His 3-67-1 performance ultimately proved to be the difference maker.
With such an impressive start to the 2019 season, just how far can this team go?
Here come the Patriots
Plying your trade in AFC East for the past decade and a half has made for tough going, unless of course you call Foxborough home. On very few occasions have the rest of the division dared to dream. You have to go back as far as 2008 for the last time New England didn’t take the AFC East crown. This may seem a lifetime ago, until you realise it’s now been a gargantuan twenty-four years since the Bills were atop the division come season end, back in 1995. A changing of the guard will come, but not until Tom Brady calls it a career.
Week 4 sees the undefeated Bills and Patriots square off in the most anticipated intra-division match-up for quite some time. It also presents the opportunity for Buffalo to lay down a marker and make the rest of the league take them seriously. However, it will be a huge ask to make it to 4-0, with a majority of the NFL expecting the Pats to take home the win here.
If the expected defeat comes to fruition, it’s far from a bad thing to be sitting at 3-1. The top brass in Orchard Park will see a 75% success rate for the first quarter of the year. Focus will then shift to the next phase of the season, when the Bills are back on the road to face off with the Tennessee Titans.
Top the Titans, rest easy
Only three things are certain in life: death, taxes and the Titans going 9-7. If the Bills want to be taken seriously, this is the type of road game you win. A middling, uninspiring franchise with a big question mark at the QB position should be taken advantage of.
How much they are fancied in this game will largely depend on what sort of display they put on against the Pats. With the benefit of having their bye following this match-up, it should add extra determination to squash any potential demons.
Entering the bye week on a win or a loss can improve or hurt morale dramatically. It’s either spending an entire week feeling positive and sitting nicely at 4-1, or it’s dwelling on past mistakes and sitting on an uneasy 3-2 record. The argument can be made for both sides of these hypothetical scenarios. Either way, it’s not season defining, but the next three contests following their week 6 bye will go a long way to tell the story of the 2019 Buffalo Bills.
Home is where the heart is
The NFL scheduling gods smiled down on the Bills when they crafted their week 7, 8 9 stretch. They will enjoy three consecutive home games and they all appear to be winnable. First up is the Miami Dolphins. Having two whole weeks to prepare for this game is plain unfair on the most obvious tanking operation in NFL history. The rather impressive looking Buffalo defence should prove far too much for either Josh Rosen or Ryan Fitzpatrick. A great chance to get to 5-1 for the Bills. Alternatively, a loss here and forget about any respect garnered from the rest of the league.
After what should be a routine win, the Philadelphia Eagles soar into Western New York. In what will definitely be the most challenging game of this home stand, the Buffalo faithful will hope their QB can pass all over a shaky secondary. The playbook for this encounter should feature Josh Allen throwing the deep ball often to expose the frailties in the Eagles D. It would come as little surprise however if Philly out-scheme the Bills and ensure Josh Allen struggles to make the big plays. As with the Patriots game, a home loss would be no disaster, but it will hurt a lot.
To round off this stretch and close the page on the first half of the season for Buffalo, they play host to the Washington Redskins. Considered one of the worst teams in the league currently, this should be another customary win for the Bills. By this stage of the year, the ‘skins may roll out rookie QB Dwayne Haskins. If this is the case, chances are he will be largely untested, meaning he can be easily exposed.
Are playoffs possible?
If the Bills can cook up another 3-0 run with their home stand, it’s plausible they could be sitting on a mighty 7-1 record. This seems more likely to be fiction rather than fact. Despite the potential bumps in the road, they should still be sitting above 0.500 at the halfway stage of the year.
Worst case scenario should be losses to the Patriots, Titans and Eagles, with wins against the Dolphins and Redskins. This would mean a 5-3 record which will be good enough to be in the playoff picture. So, even if they drop games in the second quarter of the year, the Bills will not be completely dead in the water.
Playoffs are possible, no question. It will almost certainly be the #5 or #6 seed in Buffalo’s sight, when the Patriots inevitably disappear into the distance.
A big next five games awaits the Bills, as they look to affirm their playoff aspirations.