NFL Analysis: Is Buffalo Finally Ready To Come Back?

I’ve begun to realize that a sign of dating yourself with the younger crowd is that you remember, in vivid detail, the last time the Buffalo Bills were really good. Those of us 40-and-up can remember pretty clearly this organization’s halcyon days of 1990-93 and the unprecedented four straight AFC titles…and yes, the four straight Super Bowl losses.

If you’re younger than that though, memories of Buffalo success are likely to be hazy because the last time this team was even in the playoffs was 1999. A coaching change and a quarterback change lead this year’s effort to make things right. TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis has been on the AFC East today, and we’ll conclude it with the Bills.

Kevin Kolb has been brought in to run the offense, and he’s got some good weapons around him. C.J. Spiller is a versatile and explosive running back and the word from training camp is that the Bills plan to keep feeding him the ball. Steve Johnson is a big-play receiver, slowed down only by a combination of no quarterback, no one to distract defenses and inclimate weather in the latter part of the year.

The last part isn’t going to change, but perhaps the first two might. Buffalo drafted USC wide receiver Robert Woods, a pick I like a lot and he’s got the ability to settle in quickly as a #2 receiver, so long as Kolb proves competent at delivering the football. The pass protection was good last year, ranking 10th in the NFL, and there’s no reason to think that will change.

Buffalo’s defense was lousy in the bottom line last season, ranking 26th in points allowed, but there’s reason for some optimism here—albeit a little more caution than might be exercised on the offense. Mario Williams finally started to come around in the second half of last season, finishing the year with 10 ½ sacks. The pass coverage ranks well in both forcing incompletions and limiting yardage (5th in completion percentage, 10th in yards-per-attempt).

What the Bills don’t do well is stop the run and make game-changing plays. Nose tackle Marcell Dareus, an Alabama product, has got to show some progress this season. And this team has a good ballhawk in free safety Jairus Byrd, so maybe the search for turnovers should focus on improving the pass rush and allowing interceptions to be a byproduct.

Buffalo’s expectations with the smart money in Las Vegas are low, with an Over/Under win prop of 6.5. The fact you have to lay (-130) to take the Under, indicates that early money has shown on the pessimistic side. But I’m going to go the other direction. I don’t think the Bills will do any worse than 6-10 in their first year under head coach Doug Marrone, and I could see them going 8-8, giving me a little bit more room on the Over.

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