Each week of the NFL Regular Season I’ll be posting a new edition of my 2022 Matchup Preview Series. Leading up to that, I’ll be using the same format to preview all four teams in the AFC East.
These previews will look at five components of each team; Pass Offense, Rush Offense, Pass Defense, Rush Defense, and Special Teams. Each component will be ranked using my patented 👏 scale which ranges from 👏👏👏👏👏 (Best) to 👏 (Worst). The post culminates with a Floor, Ceiling, and Prediction of the team’s record.
Buffalo Bills Pass Offense
Not too long ago the Bills’ signal caller simply flashed high-level play, but now the lights are always on. A fixture in the “Best Quarterback in the NFL” debate, Josh Allen has improved unlike any quarterback in NFL history. The ultimate dual-threat weapon, Allen has now demonstrated the ability to single-handedly take over games at an insanely high level. In the last two games Buffalo played in the 2021 season, Allen posted a 95.56 QuBeR against the #4 (Patriots) and #13 (Chiefs) Defenses by Weighted DVOA. Of course, this is a very small sample size of games but what Allen has done overall in his past two seasons is nearly as impressive. Heading into 2022, the Bills are the odds on favorites to win the Super Bowl and Allen is the betting favorite to win MVP, for good reason. Helping Buffalo achieve both of those outcomes is a skill group chock full of high level talent.
The Bills did elect to move on from both Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley heading into 2022, the latter of whom leaves a hole in Buffalo’s offense. Beasley’s ability to find open spots against opposing defenses provided the perfect safety valve for Josh Allen. The Bills’ hope is that some combination of Isaiah McKenzie, Jamison Crowder, Khalil Shakir, and possibly James Cook can provide a comparable output as Beasley did in a slot role.
Their ability to do just that is buffeted by a duo on the outside that may be considered Top-3 in the NFL come season’s end. Stefon Diggs speaks for himself as one of the best WRs in the NFL but it’s Gabriel (Gabe) Davis who everyone is enamored with. The last time we saw Davis, he broke the single-game postseason receiving touchdown (4) record and since then has bulked up and showed out in both training camp and preseason. If Davis is able to live up to expectations his ability along with Diggs, the slot options, and TEs Dawson Knox and O.J. Howard may just provide Josh Allen with the best set of weapons he has had in his career.
The Bills have also revamped the protection in front of Josh Allen in an effort to significantly drop the Pressure Rate he deals with. Since 2018 Allen has been pressured 6th (29.2%), 12th (23.2%), 21st (21.9%), and 11th (25.7%) most in the NFL. To reduce those rates, Buffalo added Pro Bowler Rodger Saffold to the mix. Saffold may be considered more of a run blocker but he is a certifiable upgrade over the rotation the Bills have seen at guard the past few seasons. Opposite him will be Ryan Bates, who takes over the starting RG spot after nearly being poached by the Chicago Bears. His four-year contract all but locks him into this role resulting in a starting offensive line of Dawkins (LT), Saffold (LG), Morse (C), Bates (RG), and Brown/Quessenberry (RT). Similar to the Bills skill players this may be the best Offensive Line that Buffalo has had during the Josh Allen era.
Buffalo Bills Rush Offense
While some may daydream of alternatives at this point, it should be unquestioned that Devin Singletary is Buffalo’s RB1. He is one of just five players in the NFL to have 950+ Scrimmage Yards and 25+ Receptions each season since 2019 (Elliott, Cook, Jones, Kamara). By no means is he Jonathan Taylor or Derrick Henry, but his career 4.7 Y/A is more than sufficient for the primary back of a pass-first offense.
This season he will be spelled by rookie James Cook, who has all the makings of a three-down back. Early in his career, it’s likely he will be used more in the passing game but his speed and ability to generate chunk plays may force him onto the field as the season progresses. Add in a newly healthy Zack Moss who looks reinvigorated after a disappointing 2021 campaign and Buffalo seems to have a solid three-headed monster at RB in 2022.
These RBs may also realize gains because of the improved OL in front of them. Devin Singletary has finished 30th (2.3) and 49th (1.5) in Yards before Contact the past two seasons signifying a lack of consistent blocking in front of him. A primary reason that Bobby Johnson was jettisoned to New Jersey in favor of Aaron Kromer, who was brought back to Buffalo to re-physicalize the trenches.
When you consider his addition along with Rodger Saffold and David Quessenberry, who have each created running lanes for Derrick Henry since 2019, the writing is on the wall that the Bills’ offense should improve on the ground in 2022. The more sneaky improvement, though, is the consistent usage of Ryan Bates. Bates started the last three games of Buffalo’s regular season. In those games, the Bills averaged 4.92 Y/A while in the prior 14 they averaged 4.75. That 0.17 yards may seem minuscule, but in a game of inches, it could be the difference between home-field advantage in the playoffs or missing them entirely.
Where the Bills’ rushing attack goes from average to above average is at the quarterback position. While he may run like Mose Schrute at times, Allen has been one of the most prolific runners in the NFL. Since 2018, Josh Allen is the only player to rush for more than 25 Touchdowns with a Y/A north of 5.4, that’s amongst all players, not just quarterbacks. His physical, yet finesse run style has not been seen in the NFL since Randall Cunningham and has only become more deadly as he improves as a passer. With teams all but required to keep a spy in the box against Allen, it reduces the dynamism allowed by opposing Defensive Coordinators and is a primary reason that the Bills have one of, if not the best Offenses in the NFL.
Bills Pass Defense
Since 2018, the Bills have produced a cumulative Passer Rating against of 76.5, finishing no worse than fifth in any given season. Why is 2018 an important demarcation of time? Since then, Buffalo has utilized the same core four at DB in Micah Hyde (S), Jordan Poyer (S), Tre White (CB), and Taron Johnson (SCB). Each returns to the Bills in 2022 with all except Johnson having been selected to at least one All-Pro team. There is some turnover for the Bills though as CB2, Levi Wallace, moves on to yellower pastures leaving a void in the Buffalo secondary. How Sean McDermott and Leslie Frazier elect to fill this void will be a key in determining the success of this unit as a whole in 2022.
The CB2 discussion for the Bills has been much more convoluted than first expected.
For one, the possibility of a delay in Tre White’s return makes the CB2 battle effectively a CB1 Placeholder and CB2 battle. For two, there are more actors battling for that role than first expected. 2021 backup, Dane Jackson, returns as the supposed frontrunner for the role. A seventh-round pick out of Pittsburgh, Jackson has been impressive given his small amount of opportunities, holding a career 79.2 Passer Rating against on 61 targets.
Jackson’s primary competition is presumptive future starter, first-round draft pick Kaiir Elam. Elam was thought to be an early first-round pick after his 2020 college campaign, but an injury-riddled 2021 resulted in a significantly less impressive season. Still, Elam seemingly possesses all of the physical and mental traits necessary of a future starting CB in the NFL.
The last player in said competition is surprise candidate, Christian Benford. Benford comes to Buffalo via a sixth-round pick as a boom or bust prospect out of FCS Villanova. Benford dominated in the FCS and has impressed McDermott and the Bills’ coaching staff to a high degree. However, it still remains to be seen if his skillset will translate into meaningful NFL games.
It’s difficult to improve upon the best defense in the NFL, but the Bills may have found a path to do so. In an effort to improve upon their Pass Defense, Buffalo brought in future Hall of Famer, Von Miller. Miller brings with him a proven track record of not just pressuring Quarterbacks, but bringing them down. The Bills finished the 2021 NFL season with a league-high 30.8% pressure rate but a middling 7.0% sack rate. In the playoffs, these numbers both dropped to a pressure rate of just 14.6% and a sack rate of 5.2%. Miller’s sole responsibility with Buffalo is to assure that this does not happen, but that isn’t all he is providing the Bills. His presence on the field shift blocking protections as focus will need to be applied to him. This reduces the double teams that players like Ed Oliver and Greg Rousseau will likely see. Add in Miller’s tutelage to said players and the Bills are on the precipice of a dominant pass rush.
Most coverage snaps played without allowing a touchdown last season
1️⃣ Nik Needham: 414
2️⃣ Tre’Davious White: 403
3️⃣ Dane Jackson: 390 pic.twitter.com/MGv7mCwRGK
— PFF BUF Bills (@PFF_Bills) April 13, 2022
Bills Rush Defense
The Achilles Heel of the Buffalo Bills’ defense the past few seasons has been their inability to consistently stop the run. Since 2019, they have finished no better than #12 in Y/A and have given up a cumulative Y/A of 4.35. This issue has been somewhat hidden due to the potency of the Bills offense but will still be a concern throughout the season. With players like Derrick Henry, Lamar Jackson, Najee Harris, Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb, and Joe Mixon on the Bills’ 2022 schedule, Buffalo will have to find ways to consistently slow the run in order to obtain the #1 seed in the AFC. A key to accomplishing just this was adding an anchor to the interior of the DL.
Star Lotulelei was expected to be the 1-Tech that pushed Buffalo’s defense over the top. While Lotulelei proved capable at times, inconsistency both on and off the field left the Bills’ defense vulnerable. To rectify this, Buffalo ate $5.2m of Dead Cap in 2021 and proceeded to replace Star with another ex-Panther in DaQuan Jones.
Jones was a six-year starter for the Titans, who recently transferred to the Panthers to help lead them to the #9 ranked run defense by Y/A (4.1). At 6-foot-4, 320-pounds, Jones will be expected to soak up blockers in the interior of the Bills defense. He will rotate with the likes of Tim Settle and Jordan Phillips alongside Ed Oliver to produce what should be the best Bills interior DL since the Williams/Dareus years. If this experiment proves successful the Bills could not only sure up the trenches of their Defense but make life for those directly behind it that much easier.
The key player who could benefit from an improved front is Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds is a flash point for discussions within the Bills’ fanbase, as some mark him as a vulnerability and others as a dominating force. The truth likely lies somewhere between, as Edmunds has proved to be an average if not slightly above starting Middle Linebacker. Still, he has not consistently enough played at the heights of the Fred Warner’s and Bobby Wagner’s of the world to satiate some of the fan base. The potential is there, though, and in a contract season, behind an improved DL, with a feasible Super Bowl on the horizon, the environment seems ripe for Edmunds to break out in 2022. If he is able to do just that, along with running mate Matt Milano, and the Bills improve even minimally against the run in 2022 Buffalo may just boast their most dominant defense in recent memory.
Bills Special Teams
The star of the Bills Special Teams is none other than their Kicker, Tyler Bass. Bass and Eagles Kicker, Jake Elliott were the only 2 NFL Kickers in 2021 to kick 33+ XPs and not miss one. A model of consistency in the regular season, Bass’ career 84.8 FG % and 98.2 XP % becomes all the more impressive when you consider the weather conditions he has been forced to play in. Kicking with him this season is Buffalo’s newly minted Punter, Matt Araiza. Araiza, better known as “Punt God” comes to Buffalo as arguably the most highlight-worthy punter in collegiate football history. He possesses possibly the biggest leg we have ever seen, but questions remain on his hang time and accuracy heading into the regular season.
The biggest hole on Buffalo’s roster seems to be in the return game. Ball security became such an issue in 2021 that Sean McDermott was forced to have Micah Hyde return punts. This came on the heels of issues with both the way Isaiah McKenzie and Marquez Stevenson handled the ball during returns. In 2022, it seems that rookie Khalil Shakir will get the first crack at PR and rookie James Cook the first at KR. This is a fluid conversation, though, because at the first sign of a bobble you can fully expect that Sean McDermott will be prepared to make a change at the position.
FLOOR: 10-6, CEILING: 15-2, PREDICTION: 13-4
It’s do or die this season for the Bills. The looming regular season question is whether or not they can avoid lapses like they saw against the Jaguars in 2021. Buffalo will likely be favored in just about every game they play in 2022 as they posses possibly the best Offense and the league and one of the best Defenses. The story seems written for Buffalo, dominate the regular season, earn the #1 seed, host an AFC Championship Game, and take a shot at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.