Buffalo “wins” free agency with a spending spree.
Season total wins: Over/Under 6.5 or 7 depending on the book.
Take the UNDER 6.5 +130, HAMMER the UNDER 7 +108.
Buffalo needed to be a spender this offseason to comply with the minimum spending requirements of the CBA over a 4 year window. Their goal was simple. Spend money while limiting future risk. Mission accomplished. Notice how I didn’t mention winning games. Of the money Buffalo spent this offseason there are only 3 deals that include guaranteed money that will force Buffalo to keep them beyond 2019. Mitch Morse who has a concussion history and an injury history. Spoiler, he is in concussion protocol currently. The Jerry Hughes extension which keeps him in Buffalo until he is 33. He is unquestionably their best player. Cole Beasley, a 30 year old slot WR who is signed to a 4 year deal. Truly, Buffalo could abort on Beasley in 2020 but it would come with a painful $4.5 million dollar dead cap hit. Everyone else is (or is essentially) on a 1 year deal. Shrewd accounting. Spending $67.8 million dollars on average players and Mitch Morse who has an injury red flag isn’t shrewd if the goal is winning games no matter how you slice it.
We are told by football machine media that Buffalo had a great offseason and are going to be better. You know what I call that? Opportunity.
In 2017 Buffalo went 9-7 in a season that can only be summed up by one word. Miracle. The bounces, injuries, melt downs and snow globes all fell Buffalo’s way that year. It was a thing of legend. I’m glad it happened. Very glad it happened. Seeing Kyle Williams get to celebrate a playoff berth was a great moment. That old dog got to celebrate taking a monkey off Buffalo’s back. If you can’t root for that, you don’t appreciate the game. That doesn’t change the fact that Buffalo’s Pythagorean in 2017 was 6.4. They should have won 6.4 games. They didn’t but they should have, because they were not a good team. They were a team that fought their way into being lucky. Well earned. In 2018, the Pythagorean fell to 5. They won 6 games. Overachieving is nice. Buffalo was beaten by 7 or more in 8 games. They won by 7 or more in 3 games. They went 3-2 in games decided by 4 or less. 2 of those wins came by 1 point.
I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that Buffalo got better this offseason. The problem is that they got better by an insignificant amount. The defense remains unchanged. The defense was not the problem. However, injuries could change that quickly. White, Hyde and Poyer missed a combined 1 game. Alexander and Milano missed 3. Jerry Hughes did not miss any time. The rest of Buffalo’s defense is filler. There isn’t a gain to be had and a serious injury to one of their few high level contributors could drag this team backwards. We’ll call it a net effect of zero and move on. But Ed Oliver? You lost 657 snaps of Kyle Williams, net effect zero is me trying to be nice. Offensively, Buffalo believes they have made great strides. McDermott is expecting his offense to score 4.2 points more per game. (He’s stated 21 is the goal, 21 would place Buffalo 23rd in the league by 2018 numbers) That doesn’t pair well with the 23.4 points Buffalo allowed per game last year, but to each their own. Buffalo’s RB’s remain the same. McCoy looks completely spent, Gore is the new older Ivory and hopes are pinned on Singletary for added success. Good luck. Buffalo spent $14.4 million on WR’s so that position had to get noticeably better. No. John Brown is a solid WR but Robert Foster, who got benched for John Brown, was a solid WR for Buffalo last year. John Brown is such an impact that when he thrived, his team went 4-5. When Baltimore stopped utilizing him and ran the ball nearly every play, Baltimore went 6-1. Baltimore is a run 1st team that leans on their defense, so don’t worry Buffalo, I don’t see a parallel. Have I mentioned that John Brown has been incredibly injury prone throughout his career? Cole Beasley’s impact was pretty clear in Dallas. He’s a fine 3rd option for Dak when you have Dez or Cooper and Zeke leading the way but when that’s not the case the offense struggled mightily despite him. Dallas has a better OL RB and QB than Buffalo, but never mind that. Frankly, I was excited to see where Cole Beasley would end up this year. I’ve liked him for years. I wanted him in GB, for cheaper than $7.5 million a year. I wanted to see him get unleashed in the slot with a precise QB in a pass 1st offense. Then, finally, his talents would be utilized to their fullest. He got Josh Allen and Buffalo. Yes, Beasley is a better version of Amendola but that’s not what works with Josh Allen. Josh Allen is an inaccurate running QB. Beasley is at his best against man coverage. As teams figure out Allen, they will play less man because that is what you do versus an inaccurate running QB. That limits Beasley’s impact greatly. Are Brown and Beasley upgrades? Sure. Are they dramatic upgrades? No. Landing AB or Odell would have made a sizable impact. This is merely a bit better. Improving a single bad WR to an average WR doesn’t move the needle. There are 3 positions where Buffalo truly improved. One of them makes the team noticeably better. Mitch Morse. Providing he is healthy, Mitch Morse is a sizable upgrade over the C’s Buffalo played last year. This addition helps. TE while better, doesn’t make a big impact. Clay was spent, but Kroft is brittle and mediocre. Knox is better than Croom, but again, he is still a rookie and Croom’s role is small. RT with either Nsekhe or Ford will be a solid improvement over Mills. The offensive line made strides this offseason but both guard spots are still occupied by garbage. For reference sake, John Miller was paid more than any Guard Buffalo added. They didn’t steal anyone in free agency. They threw bodies at the wall and are hoping two stick. Despite the upgrades, Buffalo’s OL is still mediocre by league standards.
I’m sure right now you are adding up the upgrades. Buffalo made a few small upgrades and one sizable upgrade, they were 6-10 last year. Better means 2-3 more wins. Comes out as 9-7!
That is not how this works.
It is easy to be 6-10. It is easier to be 6-10 when you rattle off a 4-3 close to the year while beating teams that drafted 3rd 7th 8th and 13th. 13th being the Miami Dolphins who wanted no part of coming to Buffalo in late December. That was a forfeit. You can win 6 games by being mediocre. Arizona was a dumpster fire and won 3 games. SF won 4 games despite playing Beatherd and Mullens most of the year. 6 is no accomplishment. Cincinnati had one of the worst OLs in the game, started Jeff Driskel (who couldn’t cut it at Florida) for 5 games and still won 6 games.
Climbing up the ladder is the hard part and the improvements made by Buffalo don’t do enough to do that. There are two ways Buffalo has left to improve upon the results of last season. The draft, and major development from their youth. The draft, I have covered and I’m not expecting big gains from the additions made. Ford and Knox have a chance to be great down the road but they will have an adjustment phase. Major development from their youth can come in 2 forms. Josh Allen and Tremaine Edmunds.
That won’t happen.
Tremaine Edmunds came into this league NFL ready. He knows football. He is smart and he is a workaholic. He was ready for last year. The problem is that his instincts are terrible and you can’t fix that. You can’t coach that up. You can’t make sizable improvements in that over a long period of time, let alone one season. This team, and their hopes in 2019, are entirely tied to Josh Allen. Buffalo fans expect to see huge improvements. I expect him to get a little bit worse. At least the optics of him. Folks, Josh Allen cannot read a defense. This was the case at Wyoming. This was the case in Buffalo. This was what caused Buffalo to scrap progressions when Allen returned in week 12. You might notice it on his games log numbers. In Allen’s first 7 games he was sacked 21 times and ran 35 times. When the first read wasn’t there his eyes glazed over and he turned into a statue. In his last 6 games, Allen was sacked 7 times and ran 54 times. 3 sacks to 1.17 per game. 5 carries to 9. Why? Josh Allen was told to make 1 simple read and if it wasn’t there, run. Don’t freeze, and don’t struggle through progressions. Run. This caught teams by surprise. It’s odd, but defensive coordinators are typically slow to react to changes on offense. It seems to take average coaches a half year of film to alter to new tendencies. Good coaches alter in about a month. Once someone figures it out though, the party is over or at the very least the real work begins. Josh Allen, this is about to be your life. Buffalo put 6 games on tape that defensive coordinators have had to work with this offseason. The Patriots and the Lions showed them all the clues they need. Pressure Josh Allen from his right because he struggles to throw moving to his left. Expect him to run. Maybe his inaccuracy can improve? Nope. His inaccuracy is not something that can be fixed without a mechanics overhaul. It comes from the way he throws the ball. His throwing motion completely depends on his stride and his arm. QBs who throw that way are always inaccurate. This is not going to change either. I had Josh Allen as a late 1st round pick when he came out in the draft. I believe Josh Allen is a starter in the NFL. Not a good one, but a starter none the less. I also believed Dak Prescott was a starter in the NFL when he came out in the draft. His rookie season was stunning. Year two had plenty of bumps. Expect the same for Allen.
It’s important to factor in a team’s schedule when projecting O/U win totals. Buffalo’s schedule is fairly soft. It was also fairly soft last year. Patriots 2x, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Dallas and Philadelphia would be colossal upsets if Buffalo was able to steal a game. There are 6 clean losses. These are well coached teams and have far more talent than Buffalo does. It doesn’t help that 4 of these games are on the road. The next group will decide Buffalo’s fate. Ravens, Titans, Giants, Broncos and the Jets 2x. After that Buffalo has a slew of bottom dwellers. Miami 2x, Washington and Cincinnati. If Buffalo is able to push the middle section and run the bottom dwellers they end up 7-9. This is why I believe you should hammer the plus money on under 7. At their upside peak, even if they overachieve again, Buffalo should not top 7 wins. Despite that ceiling, you can get plus vig on the under. Of all the O/U totals on the board, Buffalo Under 7 +108 is the best opportunity.
But, if you are ignoring all this and are hell bent on betting the over, two names should strike fear into the core of your heart. Flores and Fitzpatrick. After all, Flores is a disciple of Belichichk. Buffalo played 4 games vs Belichick or his disciples last year. They scored 13 vs Houston, 14 vs Detroit and a combined 18 points vs the Patriots. You aren’t going to beat many teams scoring 11.25 points a game. If that team’s QB is Rosen you have a very good chance. If that teams QB is Fitzpatrick, Buffalo, you know this cat. You know full well that he can giveth and he can taketh away. Buffalo doesn’t play Miami in the cold this year. There is no scheduled forfeit. November 17th in Miami after a road game vs Cleveland. Beware. Miami is in for a rough year but remember that Arizona won 3 games last year. San Francisco, New York (Jets) and Oakland won 4 games. Miami is not going 0-16 unless they play Rosen all year and from the sound of it, that isn’t going to happen.
Buffalo has a solid coaching staff. Buffalo has a wealth of average talent. Buffalo’s problem is that they lack elite talent. Morse and Hughes are Buffalo’s best players. Hyde is close to elite and there is hope for White and Dawkins to regain their form this year. If you want to count Lorenzo Alexander who plays 50% of snaps be my guest. That’s it. That’s inferior. To find rivals for that level of elite talent you have to look at other teams who are expected to be below 500.
There are no signs that indicate Buffalo can top 7 wins. I expect, at best, they will finish 6-10 again. I wouldn’t be surprised if a bad start sends them off a cliff altogether. From the day McDermott was hired I started the clock. Coaches like him often “lose” the team in their 3rd year if adversity strikes. While you have to wait until the end of the season to collect your winnings, it should not take very long to know that you won. Buffalo starts the year at the Jets, then they play at the Giants before getting the Bengals at home. If the Bills are not 2-1 after their home opener, 7 wins is all but dead. If they drop 2 games under .500 at any point during the season, hitting 7 is nearly impossible with how their schedule stacks up.
Week 1, the Jets are a 3 point favorite at home. I also expect Buffalo to be a slight dog at the Giants in week 2. With Bell, Barkley and Mixon out of the gate, Edmunds is going to be challenged early and often. Allen is going to get challenged all year.