The Buffalo Bills were busy in the offseason first hiring a new coach in Rex Ryan, formerly of AFC East Division rival the New York Jets, and then upgrading a dismal offense that still has quarterback issues. Under Ryan, who took the Jets to two AFC Championship games, the Bills will rely on their defense (fourth best in the NFL a year ago) and a punishing ground game. After the hiring of Ryan, general manager Doug Whaley went out into the market and acquired one of the game’s best running backs in former Philadelphia Eagles star LeSean McCoy. McCoy, who spent his entire football career from high school to the NFL in the state of Pennsylvania, now heads north to Buffalo with 9,074 career yards and 54 touchdowns. But Whaley wasn’t done there. He brought in veteran fullback Jerome Felton to block for McCoy, tight end Charles Clay and veteran QB Matt Cassel who will compete for the open quarterback job.
The numerous offensive additions have instantly made the Buffalo Bills a playoff contender to win the AFC conference (16/1) and the AFC East (+425) but are still longshots in Super Bowl odds (33/1) at sportsbooks to hoist the Lombardi trophy in 2016. Former first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel is facing a make-or-break season in 2015. If Manuel does not clearly win the starting job, it is likely that Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman will turn the reins over to Cassel who had seasons of 10-plus wins in New England and Kansas City. Whoever starts at QB will have the weapons to make the Bills explosive. McCoy in the backfield will help the passing game. Second-year pro Sammy Watkins caught 65 passes for 982 yards last year, both Buffalo rookie records. The Bills also have Robert Woods, picked up Percy Harvin, and Clay gives Buffalo a tight end who can take advantage of some matchups in the downfield passing game.
If defense wins championships, then predictions have the Buffalo Bills ending their 15-year playoff drought. The Bills were fourth in the league in scoring defense (18.1 ppg) and in total defense (312.2 ypg). They led the league in sacks thanks to a defensive line that features three Pro Bowlers: Marcell Dareus, Mario Williams, and Kyle Williams. Add in Jerry Hughes and you have a front four that accounted for almost 75 percent of the Bills’ sack total. Buffalo did lose MLB Kiko Alonso in the McCoy trade, but Alonso missed the entire 2014 season with an injury. The Bills defense should continue to shine. An improved running game will make Buffalo much better offensively but enough to upset Super Bowl odds as longshots still remains a question.
They will need to be as they start the season with Indianapolis and New England, the two teams that played for the AFC title last year. Then, they will go on the road to face an improved Miami team for a second consecutive divisional game. While much has changed in Buffalo, much has remained the same. Ryan’s enthusiasm and the addition of McCoy should infuse the Bills with a new energy. A favorable schedule will help as the Bills seek that elusive playoff berth and an obtainable 2015 AFC East division title and possibly a conference championship.
Bills Update (9/8/15): Buffalo are now +5000 favorites in Super Bowl predictions, +2000 to win the AFC Conference and +600 to win the AFC East.