The ending of the 2022 Buffalo Bills’ season left fans with the same feeling each of the last three seasons has left – Pain. But the end of the most recent campaign has those fans feeling more restless than the previous two seasons. After getting embarrassed at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, how should Bills fans feel about the state of the Bills? Follow along as I put two different spins on Bills’ abrupt ending.
Glass Half Empty
It feels natural to start here. Let’s take our medicine. The Bills feel like they are in a no man’s land. They are consistently good enough to be a final-8 team but not good enough to get over the hump. Three straight exits ranging from last year’s “13-second” heartbreak to two gutting blowouts in 2020 and now. What makes this no man’s land is the lack of clear reinforcements. The team will end the 2023 season ranked 25th in cap space, and no sixth or seventh round draft picks. That is before factoring in the pending free agency of Tremaine Edmunds and Jordan Poyer. To give an idea of what Edmunds’ asking price could be, Roquan Smith just received a $20 million per year contract extension. Though he may not hit that exact number, it should be expected that his asking price will be within that range.
Additionally, the Bills do not have the wealth of young, cost controlled talent they once had. Recent 2nd round picks in AJ Epenesa and Boogie Basham have yet to become more than rotational pieces. Even Ed Oliver disappeared in the season’s biggest game. Their highest drafted offensive lineman of the last four years, Cody Ford, didn’t make it to the end of his rookie contract. Spencer Brown regressed at right tackle, and Tommy Doyle will be coming back from an ACL injury in 2023. The path to improvement relies on the 2022 draft class developing, hitting on 2023 draft picks, and hitting on bargain bin free agents.
All this is unscored by the return of controversial play callers. For all his regular season success, Leslie Frazier has given up 38, 42, and 27 points in his last three playoff losses. And a similar sentiment could about shared about Ken Dorsey. Despite still being loved by advanced metrics like EPA and DVOA, the Bills’ offense felt jerky and difficult throughout the second half of the season. With returning the same staff responsible for the most recent debacle, it is more than reasonable for the Bills fans’ to feel anxiety about how the Bills go up from here.
Glass Half Full
If you have read this far, I appreciate it. That is a dump of pessimism I just dropped on. Let’s do ourselves a favor and consider why this can be fixed. First and foremost, Josh Allen. Despite the mess we most recently watched, Josh Allen is still an MVP tier quarterback. No matter what is around him, he will always give the Bills a chance. Josh Allen, despite the turnover still finished 2nd in total touchdowns, 8th in passing yards, 9th in rating (at least 100 attempts), and 4th in EPA per play.
Second, for all the lamenting about the state of the Bills’ recent drafts, the 2022 draft show has shown promise. Kaiir Elam took down two interceptions in limited playing time. James Cook and Khalil Shakir also made use of their opportunities, as I’ve touched on previously. Even Christian Benford looked like a quality draft pick in limited time as the Bills look to move him to safety.
Thirdly, you can never predict injuries, and the Bills having a ton of injuries this year doesn’t mean they won’t next year, but the likelihood that the Bills will face the same number of injuries in 2023 is low. Nearly every defensive starter missed time at some point in 2022, including Micah Hyde missing the entire season, Von Miller’s season ending on Thanksgiving, and Jordan Poyer playing injured once he did return. With even slightly better injury luck in 2023, the Bills could see a step forward.
Finally, the math still loves the Bills. And yes, I know, math doesn’t win games. But the Bills were first in DVOA, 2nd in Pythagorean wins, 2nd in weighted DVOA, and 2nd in point differential. Despite an ending that was an embarrassing loss at home, the Bills still played a TON of excellent football in 2022. Naturally, the last game of the season will define the 2022 Bills, but the Bills are still, at worst, one of the best rosters in the NFL. They beat the Cheifs in Arrowhead this season and only lost four games, three coming by a total of 8 points. The next step may be smaller than it feels, even if they keep finding ways to trip on the way up.