2018 NFL Over-Under Win Totals: Overachieving Bills might be in over their heads in 2018
Buffalo was a crazy story last year but it's hard to imagine them having the same success this season
The Buffalo Bills were one of the more improbable playoff teams of 2017, a stunning story in Sean McDermott's first season as a head coach, going 9-7 despite a lack of talent and despite the underlying statistics saying they should have been a much worse team.
All credit due, those factors might create some problems for Buffalo in 2018. The Bills' expected win-loss record based on their points scored and points allowed projected them to be a 6.4-win team. Getting to nine wins, especially with some of those wins coming in weird situations (in the snow against the Colts, etc), was a best-case scenario.
Gone is Tyrod Taylor, and Bills fans are probably happy about it, but his replacement is a three-headed monster that features AJ McCarron (added as a free agent), Josh Allen (added via the draft) and Nathan Peterman (you may remember him from such films as "Five Picks in L.A."). Buffalo has a great coaching staff, but that's going to be an issue this season barring expectations getting shattered.
The offense in general could be a problem; the Bills have a potential breakout tackle in Dion Dawkins, but the offensive line looks like a patchwork group after trading Cordy Glenn to Cincinnati and losing Eric Wood and Richie Incognito. The skill position guys aren't loaded either: Kelvin Benjamin has been up and down in his career, Zay Jones had a rough rookie season and just underwent knee surgery, and it really falls off after that. If your rookie quarterback with accuracy issues is starting and throwing to Jeremy Kerley, Brandon Reilly, Andre Holmes and Kaelin Clay, it might end up being a long season.
LeSean McCoy can mitigate some of that, sure, but it's going to be harder to grind out 1,300 rushing yards with Allen, McCarron or Peterman under center.
The defense should give this team much more hope; there are some really good players returning to this unit, including standout cornerback Tre'Davious White, who excelled as a rookie in McDermott's system. Micah Hyde was a free-agent find last year. Vontae Davis could serve as the same this year. Tremaine Edmunds is only 19 and a rookie, but more than capable of flashing at the middle linebacker position. Star Lotulelei, who played under McDermott in Carolina, should shore up the interior of this defense. If you're bullish on the Bills, it's because of this unit.
Vegas is not quite that excited,.
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Early Schedule Analysis
If you're bearish, it might be the early portion of the schedule, which starts with the Ravens (road), Chargers (home), Vikings (road) and Packers (road). My goodness that's a tough opening, and sure feels like a "throw McCarron/Peterman to the wolves" type of situation. The Titans (home), Texans (road), Colts (road) and Patriots (home) is ... easier? It is, but even going 2-2 would be impressive there for Buffalo. 0-8 isn't off the table here. The Bears (home) and Jets (road) close out the pre-bye schedule. The Jaguars (home) are the reward out of the Week 11 break and then the Bills close with a bunch of division games surrounding a Lions matchup: Dolphins (road), Jets (home), Lions (home), Patriots (road), Dolphins (home).
Why They'll Go Over
The logic in seeing the Bills win seven or more games basically boils down to two things: a belief in coaching, and an utter lack of belief in the AFC East. You know the Patriots will be good, but Buffalo could steal a game from them somehow. If McDermott can coach this team into a top-10 defense, it's not inconceivable the Bills could win a bunch of 17-13 or 17-10 games. They were 18th in points allowed last year but they remained above average in DVOA defensively. They only scored 18.9 points per game, good for 22nd in the league, and it's just hard to imagine that number going up barring everyone being way off on the ability of either McCarron, Peterman or Allen to run a high-octane offense this year. Maybe Allen pulls a 2011 Cam Newton, looking scattershot in the preseason and coming out firing once the real games start. The Bills could pound the ball behind a better-than-we-expected line and take vertical shots with Allen (to who? TBD). Go .500 in the AFC South, beat the Bears or Chargers at home and win four division games and you're at seven wins before you know it.
Why They'll Go Under
Because there is just no conceivable way this offense will be any good. Allen was raw in college, and the Bills can't exactly bust out the read option here. He's not going to be surrounded by weapons or a high-end offensive line, and that might be a problem, assuming he is ready to play. I've got questions about Peterman or McCarron running a good offense with these weapons too. The defense can keep them in games, and if they steal some wins early against the Titans and Chargers, they could be at three or four wins by the time the break happens, which would set them up to win three or four more games down the stretch. If not, the Bills could be staring down an awkward record with only a few games left against easier teams.
I haven't dropped my best bets yet, but this is a pretty good bet to find its way on the list. The Bills just don't have the ammo to keep up with other teams on offense and if they start out slow, it might be time to see what they have in Allen. It feels a lot like last year for the Bears with Mitchell Trubisky, where they just have to hope that their young quarterback shows them growth over the course of the year after a rough start against tough defenses.
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