On August 16, I made a proclamation to the football world that the Bills would win Super Bowl LVI as part of our "bold predictions" series for the 2021 NFL season.
Of course, I provided justification. Buffalo's roster and coaching staff continuity was my main rationale. However, for another prediction in that piece -- the Bills will earn the AFC's No. 1 seed in the playoffs -- I got more specific. They'll see a relatively low amount of established high-end quarterbacks this season.
But I have more reasoning for the prediction that envisions a rip-roaring, table-smashing, Labatt Blue-guzzling Super Bowl parade down the streets of Buffalo in mid-February of 2022.
The Bills have proven it -- they've fully embraced analytics. For years the football-analytics community has banged the drum for more passing -- particularly on first down -- and less running -- particularly when the game is close.
Last year, counting the playoffs, Buffalo attempted a pass 64% of the time with the game between +8 and -8 points. Box checked. Also, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's attack finished with the NFL's highest passing rate on first down when the game was within one score and on every first-down occasion, according to Sharp Football. Another one checked.
And the analytics-based decisions with play-calling paid massive dividends. The Bills finished with the league's highest Expected Points Added (EPA) on all drop backs on first down, tied for third in average yards per play on all passes, and ended the regular season fourth in pass attempts that moved the chains (38.7%).
It's not as if converting on third downs has suddenly been deemed irrelevant. But you know what's better than moving the chains in third-down situations? Not having to even get to third down. The Bills finished with the fourth-fewest third-down plays in football last season.
Daboll is back. So is Josh Allen. He's just set to be a lot wealthier. Emmanuel Sanders is the logical replacement for John Brown, and promising rookie from a season ago, Gabriel Davis, enters Year 2. The offensive line is intact. If there was any doubt about the Bills offensive philosophy -- Daboll didn't call a run until the second play of the second quarter in Buffalo's preseason win over the Green Bay Packers last week.
All signs are pointing to the exceptionally talented Bills once again getting even more of an edge from their play-calling tendencies this season.
And scoring points have never been at more of a premium in the NFL. Not only have six of the last seven Super Bowl winners finished in the top 5 in points scored during the corresponding regular season of their title, six of the last seven teams that took home the Lombardi Trophy were a top-5 scoring team in the regular season the year before, a sign that a point-generating machine had already been constructed. The Bills scored the second-most points (501) in the regular season in 2020 and are primed to field an elite offense again.
Improved pass rush
Let's ride the analytics train a little longer -- pressures (and pressure rates) are more predictive of future sacks than sacks themselves from a previous season. And the 2020 Bills are prime examples of that. In 2019, despite finishing 12th in sacks, Buffalo's defense only had the 19th-best pressure rate in football. Last season, the Bills sack total dipped to 15th-best.
However, the squad's pressure-creation rate was the NFL's sixth-highest.
Added to the unit are first-round pick Gregory Rousseau, who had 15.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman at the University of Miami in 2019 before opting out, second-round pick Carlos Basham, a former Wake Forest star with 19.5 sacks in his final three collegiate seasons, and free-agent acquisition Efe Obada, who quietly had an encouraging 11.2% pressure-creation rate in 2020. Not to mention A.J. Epenesa's was 9.9% in 2020.
Heck, the numbers suggest elder statesman Jerry Hughes will be more productive in the sack department this season. He finished 5th in the NFL in pressure-creation rate (16.6%) among defensive linemen and edge rushers with at least 500 snaps but had just 4.5 sacks last year.
Bills GM Brandon Beane recently said the Bills will be "rushing in waves" this season. The depth of Buffalo's personnel along with what last year indicates about the unit's immediate future suggest quarterbacks will be taken to the turf more frequently when facing the Bills this season than they were in 2020.
What's the ideal complement for a high-powered offense? That's right, a bolstered pass rush. And it'll directly impact the Bills secondary that has proven to be one of the best turnover-creating units in the NFL. Buffalo has finished in the top 10 in takeaways in each of the first four seasons of the Sean McDermott era.
The Bills are ready to make another run at the AFC. Can Josh Allen get the job done? Download the CBS Sports app to get all the latest Bills news, analysis and insights. Favorite the Bills now if you already have the CBS Sports app so you don't miss any headlines.
The Bills possess the most vital luxury in today's NFL. An elite quarterback. I could spend five paragraphs listing all the ways Allen was elite last season, but I've already inundated you with nerdiness.
Football is the ultimate team game, but we all have come to terms -- even your grandpa -- that nothing sways a franchise more in the modern day than the play of its quarterback.
And Allen is the most formidable competition to Patrick Mahomes. Buffalo's quarterback is a prodigious specimen everyone agrees has at least close to the same volume of raw talent as his Chiefs rival. And that's without factoring Allen's magnificent running skills. Similar to Mahomes, Allen's grandiose natural abilities have been meticulously honed inside a cozy environment rife with smart coaches and stellar skill-position talent.
While the Bills undoubtedly boast one of the league's best rosters, reasonable arguments can be made that other top-tier clubs have more superstar power on defense, or, say, a sturdier offensive line, thereby theoretically giving those teams a better opportunity to take down the goliaths in the AFC or the juggernauts in the NFC.
But deep down, everybody knows Allen is the quarterback most suited to beat Mahomes and whatever the NFC has to offer in the Super Bowl.