3 Carolina free agents Brandon Beane and the Buffalo Bills could target

New York Giants, Curtis Samuel

General manager Brandon Beane’s past with the Carolina Panthers could lead to a brighter future for the Buffalo Bills.

In just four years, Brandon Beane is turning into one of the finest architects Buffalo has ever welcomed…and this is a city well-versed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s work.

Over his first four years as the general manager of the Buffalo Bills, Beane, 44, has ended the longest active playoff drought in the NFL and turned it into a strong Super Bowl case. But if January’s AFC Championship Game proved one thing, it’s that more is needed to truly compete for a Super Bowl. Thus, the Bills will look to pull out all the stops this offseason in searching for a way to topple the Kansas City Chiefs.

Beane has a source of untapped potential at his fingertips, one he hasn’t been afraid to approach before…the Carolina Panthers.

Over nearly two decades (1998-2017), Beane held a variety of roles in the Carolina front office. Several former Panthers have played roles in Buffalo’s resurgence. The overseer of the project, Sean McDermott, was a defensive coordinator clad in teal for six seasons. This season, Daryl Williams proved to be a serviceable replacement after the Bills’ blocking corps was decimated through injuries.

Who might Beane and the Bills target this time around? ESM investigates…

T Taylor Moton

After Williams worked in a pinch last season, it feels like Moton could be a similar case but with an eye on the future. One of Beane’s last Carolina acquisitions, chosen in the second round in his last draft, Moton would be a good candidate to take over the right tackle spot with both Williams and Ty Nsekhe both up for free agency. But the thing that could scare off the Bills, and other suitors, is the fact that Carolina has placed the franchise tag on him, which would lead to a pricy contract…one the Bills might not be able to afford that with the 20th-best cap space in football. They can add to that number and move up the ranking by bidding some veterans farewell, like John Brown (over $6.3 million) and Jerry Hugest (over $5 million).

WR Curtis Samuel

Even the briefest looks at the Bills’ stat ledgers and highlight reels shows that they’re well situated with their receivers for the foreseeable future. While the top three producers (Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis) are locked up for 2021 at least, the aforementioned Brown could be let go for the cap money and Isaiah McKenzie is up for free agency. The Bills might be looking for depth at receiver, but Gabriel could provide another top target for Josh Allen. One of Beane’s final moves in Carolina was overseeing the draft that brought in Samuel with the 40th choice, 24 picks before Moton. He’s emerging from a career-best season earned while Carolina deals with an unstable quarterback situation. It’s likely Gabriel’s looking for a long-term contract in a top target’s role, but his connection with Beane could warrant at least a meeting with the Bills. Buffalo has far bigger needs to fill, but Gabriel would be a weapon worth splurging on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp4Lw-69jis&ab_channel=NFL

DT Kawann Short

It didn’t take long for Short, a second-round choice in 2013, to make an impact in Buffalo. He was one of the defensive faces of the Panthers’ run to the Super Bowl in 2015-16, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Short was recently granted his release by the Panthers on February 16 and has stated that several teams have inquired about his availability. It wouldn’t be a shock in the slightest if the Bills were one of them, as they can use all the front seven they can get. The knock against Short is that he turned 32 earlier this month and injuries have dominated the latter half of his career. Short hasn’t played a full season since 2017 and has partaken in a mere five games in the last two years. A short-term for a guy who could not only provide talent to the line but mentorship to young guys like Ed Oliver would be one of the more effective, under-the-radar deals we could see in the AFC East this offseason. In addition to his familiarity with McDermott and Beane, Short has also worked with defensive line coach Eric Washington, who took over the position in Buffalo after nearly a decade in Charlotte.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

How will they “be back”? 4 ways the Buffalo Bills can avoid a hangover

Everyone assumes the Buffalo Bills will be back to the AFC title game, but we’ve heard that one way too many times in the past.

Toward the end of many NFL playoff contests, a mantra of the damned has become as much of a prevalent broadcast tradition as reminding viewers that Bob’s Burgers or 60 Minutes will be coming up next (except on the west coast, in the latter case). When time is low and the game’s outcome is no longer in doubt, time is often dedicated to the team who will have to wait until September to restart their Super Bowl trek. As the camera lingers on images of the downtrodden runners-up between plays, the announcers will often repeat some variation of the phrase “they’ll be back”.

The Buffalo Bills were the latest to hear the chants, as their magical 2020-21 season came to an end in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Buffalo was no match for the Kansas City Chiefs’ title defense, falling in a 38-24 final in their first semifinal visit since 1994. During contentious final minutes defined by post-whistle extracurriculars, CBS broadcasters Jim Nantz and Tony Romo waxed poetic on the Bills, they of 13 wins and an AFC East title, assuring fans that the best was likely yet to come for a team that grew by leaps and bounds. The Buffalo locker room repeated the phrase as Kansas City celebrated their return trip to the Big Game.

“I have no doubt in my mind that we will be back,” quarterback Josh Allen said, per team reporter Jourdon LaBarber. “We’re still young and we’re only going to get better. That’s one thing I take from this. We’re close. The results weren’t good tonight but I’m super proud of how our team fought all season and how we bonded together.”

“Give the Kansas City Chiefs credit. They won, they were the better team tonight. But the Buffalo Bills will be back,” head coach Sean McDermott added in a postgame interview with CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn. “This is a learning experience. It’s a tough environment to play. We didn’t play our best game, we didn’t coach our best game, we’ll be back.”

But, if recent history has proven anything, this mantra has only led to more losing.

Losing the AFC title game can certainly serve as a springboard for future success. Kansas City, for example, hasn’t lost a postseason game since they fell to New England in the 2019 edition. But everyone brushed off the Jacksonville Jaguars’ loss to those same Patriots the year before as a mere stepping stone to something brighter. After all, they were armed with a youthful, fearsome defense featuring Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Yannick Ngakoue, and many others. It was only a matter of time before they made the next step, no?

In the three years since that epic run, Jacksonville has won a mere dozen games (including a single triumph this season) and will choose first in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Los Angeles Rams appeared ready to take over football after their own run that same season but wound up missing the playoffs in the NFC title defense. A “double doink” derailed the Chicago Bears. Even Super Bowl champions aren’t exempt from such hangovers. Only four years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles looked like a dynasty in the making. Now, they’re one of the least desirable situations in football. Doug Pederson has already been dismissed and Carson Wentz appears to be next.

How can the Bills avoid such a hangover? ESM investigates…

 Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Be Buffalo Bold

What eventually did Buffalo in during the AFC title game was their lack of assertiveness in Kansas City. If you want to beat the Chiefs, you have to be the Chiefs, a team so dedicated to securing the victory as quickly and cleanly as possible that they’re willing to throw with Chad Henne on a 4th-and-1 just two games away from the Super Bowl.

Before things got out of hand at Arrowhead, the Bills had several opportunities to assert their authority on the Chiefs and earn precious points on fourth-and-short situations. However, they opted for the relative safety of Tyler Bass field goals, but they proved meaningless when the defense failed to stop Kansas City’s high-voltage offense. The red dagger came when they chose to narrow the lead to 24-15 on a 26-yard Bass boot when three yards would’ve set first-and-goal in the latter stages of the third quarter. Tyreek Hill immediately made them pay with a 75-yard catch-and-run that set up Travis Kelce’s short score through underhanded mastery from Patrick Mahomes.

“Maybe if I had to do it over again, I would have went for maybe one of them,” McDermott said of the costly decisions to kick, per Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN. “But the one before the half, I wanted to get points. We were having trouble coming up with points, and I wanted to at least have something to show for it going into the half, especially knowing they were getting the ball after half. I’ll look back at that and reevaluate that, especially the one after half there, and as an entire team, we’ll learn from the experience.”

Making things all the more tragic from a football standpoint was the fact that the Bills were no stranger to such aggressiveness during this magical season. They tied with Miami for the best fourth-down conversion rate (albeit on only 10 attempts) and pulled one off on their opening possession, later leading to Bass’ first field goal. Hopefully for Buffalo, they took the missed opportunities as the learning experience McDermott alluded to.

 Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Lock the Block(ers)

The Bills are blessed with the multiple talents of Allen, who has proven capable of beating teams both through the air and on the ground. Blessed with such a prime, game-changing force of football nature, Buffalo must do everything in its power to protect him. Allen was sacked 34 times last season, the 10th-worst rate in football, but that tends to happen when you have a mobile quarterback. All in all, the Bills did a decent job, but it still feels like there are ways to improve.

Among the potential departures through free agency is tackle Daryl Williams, one of the most pleasant surprises amongst the league’s contenders. The former All-Pro was signed to an affordable one-year deal but wound up filling in very well for an injured Cody Ford late in the year. Interior regulars Jon Feliciano, Brian Winters, and Ike Boettger will all be free agents, while center Mitch Morse could be a salary cap casualty (over $4.8 million) as the team currently holds under $2 million in cap space.

Buffalo can’t afford any regression when it comes to their blocking help. It’s possible they could use the 30th pick on someone like Creed Humphrey out of Oklahoma to bolster the unit. If the biggest problem on the offense is the fact that the long-sought franchise quarterback has too much protection, you know you’re doing something right.

Lower the Flags

While the Bills tackled numerous streaks of futility in 2020, one unfortunate streak kept on rolling. With 102 penalties (941 yards lost) during the regular season (sixth in the league), the Bills ranked in the league’s top-ten flag drawers for the third straight season. While Buffalo’s penalty ledger was relatively clean against Kansas City (38 yards on a quartet), the final stages of the season were marred by post-whistle extracurriculars that only built the rivalry between the Bills and Chiefs further. Should the Chiefs prevail in their Super Bowl endeavor two Sundays from now (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS), no one would be surprised to see the Bills in the traditional opening Thursday night slot for the defending champions come Week 1 of 2021.

It was great to see the Bills stick up for each other once things got chippy in the final minutes, but it left a sour taste in Allen’s mouth. One of Buffalo’s last possessions ended with Allen taking a late hit from Chiefs lineman Alex Okafor. Allen tossed the ball at Okafor’s facemask, leading to the first of several late-game melees.

“The way it ended doesn’t sit right with me with how chippy and ticky-tack it got. I’m disappointed in myself,” Allen said per Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. “I let my emotions get to me there. That’s not how you’re supposed to play football.”

 Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Figure Out the Rushing Stampede

The Bills have formed one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league through Allen, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and others. But that doesn’t mean they have to solely rely on aerial antics to pull off wins. Over the past two seasons, the Bills are a mediocre 5-5 when Allen throws the ball at least 40 times. Two of those victories came in too-close-for-comfort showdowns with the New York Jets, while two of those losses came in the AFC playoffs (2020 Wild Card at Houston, 2021 AFC title game at Kansas City).

Sophomore rusher Devin Singletary regressed in several major rushing categories, working alongside the roller-coaster rookie antics of Zack Moss, who missed a majority of the postseason after leaving the Wild Card tilt on a cart. The two united for 1,168 yards and seven total touchdowns but struggled to maintain consistency. It’s good that the Bills have a relatively consistent rushing tandem, but they have to develop some true traction to avoid the risk of the offense becoming too shallow. Once Moss got injured, the Bills turned almost exclusively to passing. Singletary earned his first carry of the Divisional round late in the second quarter. Allen put up 88 yards against the Chiefs, but Singletary and T.J. Yeldon mustered only 32 on nine carries.

In another report from Parrino, McDermott flat out noted that “we got to be able to run the football better” after the AFC title game. If anyone in the NFL can do it all, it may well certainly be Allen, but that’s no reason to force him into such a situation.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills’ 2021 opponents finalized after Week 16 action

The Buffalo Bills’ 2021 was finalized during Sunday’s action, as the outliers are shown to be fellow division champions.

While the Buffalo Bills are doing their best to make 2020 tolerable, it’s hard not to join the rest of the nation and look toward next year, especially with December 31 mercifully approaching.

Through a series of scenarios, the Bills’ 2021 list of opponents was finalized, primarily through the crowing of fellow division champions. The Bills are also set to face competition from the AFC South and NFC South, as well as their yearly pair against AFC East divisional competition.

ESM looks ahead at the Bills’ 2021 slate below…

Atlanta (Home)

The Bills and Falcons don’t meet often, but it’s often dramatic when they do. Five of the six most recent meetings have been one-possession games, including Atlanta’s overtime victory when they last visited Orchard Park in 2013.

Carolina (Home)

Buffalo will welcome Carolina to Bills Stadium for the second edition of the de facto Sean McDermott Bowl. McDermott’s former employers gave him a rude welcome to head coaching in the first meet-up in 2017, when the Panthers prevailed in a 9-3 win in Charlotte.

Houston (Home)

Houston’s visit will be their first since 2015, a 30-21 Bills victory. This will also be the first get-together between the teams since their instant classic wild-card showdown back in Janaury, won by the Texans in a 22-19 final.

Indianapolis (Home)

This former AFC East rivalry will mark the first time the Colts come to visit since their snow battle in December 2017. Indianapolis took home a 37-5 triumph in 2018 at home in the interim.

Jacksonville (Away)

The Bills will visit Duval County for the first time since making their playoff return in January 2018, falling 10-3 in a wild-card slugfest to a Jaguars team destined for the AFC title game. While the presumed addition of Trevor Lawrence should generate headlines, this game will also be the first showdown between Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Jaguars pass rusher Josh Allen.

Kansas City (Away)

Could this be an AFC title game rematch come next season? Time will only tell, but hopefully, there will be less drama around its staging. The 2020 matchup between the Bills and Chiefs was initially scheduled for Fox and NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football package, but had to be shifted due to complications with the ongoing health crisis.

Miami (Home/Away)

The Dolphins are one of two opponents remaining on the Bills’ ongoing slate, as the team will square off in the Week 17 finale. Buffalo will be going for its second straight sweep of Miami, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 2006-07.

New England (Home/Away)

Another opportunity for a divisional sweep comes on Monday night, as the Bills have a chance to truly cement their status as the new kings of the AFC East with a sweep of the eliminated Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC). Buffalo’s last sweep of the Patriots came in 1999, the final year before Bill Belichick’s Foxboro-based reign of terror began.

New Orleans (Away)

The Bills have ended countless dubious streaks this season, but will have to wait until next year to conquer a demon that has been anything but The Big Easy. Buffalo has not beaten New Orleans since 1998, with the Saints winning all five meetings since.

NY Jets (Home/Away)

Will this meeting feature a new quarterback adversary for Allen instead of his offseason buddy Sam Darnold? Either way, the Bills have taken control of the rivalry, winning four of the past six meetings, including their first season sweep since 2015.

Pittsburgh (Home)

Victories over the Steelers that set off big celebrations are becoming a bit of a tradition in Western New York. The Bills clinched a playoff spot with a win in Pittsburgh in 2019 and NBC’s Sunday Night Football cameras made their first trek to Bills Stadium since 2007 to document the team’s 26-15 triumph earlier this month.

Tampa Bay (Away)

The Tom Brady nightmare isn’t over quite yet, or at least Buccaneer fans hope it won’t be. Buffalo has been one of the biggest victims of Brady’s dominance, as the arguable GOAT owns a 32-3 record against the Bills.

Tennessee (Away)

It was the delay in the Tennessee visit that caused the aforementioned rescheduling of the Bills’ meeting with the defending champion Chiefs. This will mark the fourth consecutive season to feature a showdown between the Bills and Titans, whose most recent tilt had the honor of being the NFL’s first Tuesday game in almost a decade.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Buffalo Bills ready for challenges of division title, trap game in the Rockies

Thrust into another national spotlight, the Buffalo Bills have a lot to think about as a Saturday thriller looms.

Cold weather, a special Saturday timeslot, and a chance to win a division championship 25 years in the making…if you were trying to make a trap for the Buffalo Bills and their fans, you’ll find no better seduction than what’s waiting for them in Denver this weekend.

This weekend could be one long remembered in Western New York. Collegiately, the University of Buffalo Bulls are seeking their second conference and an (abbreviated) undefeated season when they take on Ball State in Friday night’s Mid-American Conference title game in Detroit (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Less than 24 hours later, the professional Bills will battle the Broncos out west (4:30 p.m. ET, NFL Network). All the Bills (10-3) need to capture the elusive AFC East crown is a win over a Denver squad (5-8) in need of multiple miracles to even think about the playoffs.

The next step of the Bills’ 2020 season comes less than a week after they earned what may be their biggest win of the 21st century. In the first visit of NBC’s Sunday Night Football banner to Orchard Park since 2007, Buffalo topped one of the few teams ahead of them in the AFC playoff chase. Their 26-15 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers has placed the team firmly in the national spotlight. Colin Cowherd, for example, declared that the Bills were the best team in the NFL on his weekday show on FS1, even surpassing the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs (who previously defeated Buffalo in Orchard Park).

Needless to say, dealing with new expectations has been something of a challenge as the Bills go through their prep for the Broncos.

“The only thing we’ve earned at this point is all that noise and we’ve got to block that out, honestly,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said after the Pittsburgh victory, per Jourdon LaBarber of BuffaloBills.com. “We’re dealing with young men and young women, who, you know, some of them are new to this. You’re talking about the best of the best, so every week you’ve got to go back and reset, start all over again. But that’s where the process comes in. You’ve got to love that…You’ve got to love the preparation. You’ve got to love putting in the time and the work to get yourself to where we were with the outcome last night. That’s why it makes it so special when you can win those games because you know the hard work that went into it.”

McDermott’s players have apparently heeded his warning of complacency after such a big win. Shortly after the final seconds ticked away against Pittsburgh, players brandished a flag that bore the message “THE JOB’S NOT FINISHED”. Buffalo nearly had all the help necessary to complete one part of the job, clinching the team’s third playoff berth in four years after a 17-season drought, last weekend. They took care of their business against Pittsburgh and several other contenders dropped their own matchups, but the Baltimore Ravens didn’t feel like cooperating. Their 47-42 win in Cleveland in a Monday night thriller was the one requirement that went unfulfilled.

But Buffalo has been patient, and now the divisional clinch is far more straightforward: win.

Clinching a division title would not only bring some long-awaited good vibes to the Bills’ facility and hope and joy to an area/state in desperate need of it this holiday season, but it would also accomplish one of Buffalo’s most notable goals: it would allow Orchard Park to host a playoff game. Bills Stadium has not staged a postseason contest since 1996, a wild-card round loss to Jacksonville.

“Guys understand what’s at stake and want to be a part of something special,” defender Jordan Poyer said in a report from WIVB. “It’s not gonna be easy, they’re not just gonna come in and hand us over a win so we’ve gotta continue to prepare and continue to get ready to play our best football on Saturday.”

Standing in their way are the Broncos, as the Bills make their second visit to Mile High in as many years. Denver is anything but mathematically eliminated, but their record doesn’t indicate how much of a pest they’ve been against contending teams this season. The Bills, in fact, may be appreciative for one of their more recent efforts, dealing the Miami Dolphins a 20-13 loss last month, partially allowing Buffalo an opportunity to clinch before Christmas. Denver also took the aforementioned Chiefs to the brink in a 22-16 defeat on the road earlier in December and topped the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte last weekend. Franchise quarterback Drew Lock provided some good hope for the future with a career-best four touchdown passes.

Despite their recent success, silencing those who have asked “but who have they beaten?” with their win over the Steelers, the Bills know they’re in no position to take the Broncos lightly.

“I don’t really care what the record is. It’s the same thing each and every week, we don’t care what the record is, we know this is a good football team,” cornerback Micah Hyde said in a report from team writer Dante Lasting. “They got weapons outside, obviously, with the two rookie receivers (Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler) and (Noah Fant). He’s an Iowa guy, and those Iowa guys are studs. They’ve got a running game with two really good running backs, so they’re just another talented offense and it starts with (Lock). He’s able to make any throw on the field (but) we understand if we get pressure in his face and get pressure on him, at times he turns the ball over.”

To Hyde’s point, the sophomore Lock has thrown 13 interceptions this season. Only Carson Wentz of Philadelphia has thrown more (15).

As Buffalo sets their sights on becoming the first team other than the New England Patriots to win the AFC East since 2008, quarterback Josh Allen believes that they can take a lesson from the Foxboro monopoly: that of taking care of business. New England often built their dynasty through handling their affairs in games they were expected to win. Those situations would often come against overmatched divisional competition.

“This division’s been dominated by a team in Foxborough for a long time, and they’ve had a lot of sustained success, and that’s kind of the mold. That’s what people want to be and how they do it and how they’ve done it is what people want to do,” Allen said per WIVB. “We understand what’s a stake every time we step on the field from here on out and we know we have a chance but our goal is to play Saturday and put our best forward and try to win a game.”

While the Bills are aiming for heights they haven’t reached in over a decade, Allen wants both his team and the football-loving public know that they have no intentions of stopping at a mere division title, even if they wrap up the four-team affair by the end of Saturday’s visit to the Rockies.

“It’s not just an end-all, be-all we won the AFC East let’s celebrate. That was our goal, that’s been our goal and that’s the easiest way to get to the playoffs by winning your division. It’s no small task, we set our goal to have a home playoff game and that just secures that one right to do so. It’s not the end all be all, it’s a step in the right direction and we gotta continue to keep working hard.”

Should they fall to Denver, Buffalo can also clinch the division if the Dolphins fall to the Patriots on Sunday.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Prime time, holiday endeavors will be the biggest test yet

The possibly-ready-for-prime-time Buffalo Bills have a prime opportunity to prove they belong amongst the NFL’s elite.

If one had to guess which NFL fanbase would have the most trouble belting the lyrics to “Waiting All Day For Sunday Night”, there would surely far worse estimates than Bills Mafia.

The rock anthem, inspired by Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself For Loving You” is routinely performed by Carrie Underwood (taking over for fellow new century music icons Pink and Faith Hill) prior to the opening kick off NBC’s Sunday Night Football coverage. It’s probably ingrained into the minds of Dallas Cowboys fans, who have waited all day for Sunday night on a record 49 occasions.

Buffalo Bills supporters haven’t had to be as patient.

Since NBC took over the Sunday night package from ESPN in 2006, only two Bills games have been broadcast over the peacock-branded airwaves. Buffalo is part of a most unholy trinity, as Cleveland and Jacksonville have likewise “earned” only a mere pair of invites.

But, as the Bills (8-3) start to close in on their first division title since 1995, they’ll finally be able to make up some ground.

The Bills’ December slate features four games that will be available on a nationwide scale. That includes two appearances on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, which sandwich a Sunday night date from NBC. Buffalo’s game against Denver was also recently chosen to fill a Saturday the week before Christmas. Time will tell, but it’s quite possible that the Bills’ Week 17 finale against Miami (8-4) could also get the Sunday night treatment, especially if the AFC East division title is on the line.

This trek to potential glory starts on Monday, as the Bills travel to Glendale, Arizona to battle the displaced San Francisco 49ers (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to understand why a majority of Bills games have been staged in the relatively mundane 1 p.m. ET timeslots on CBS and Fox over the course of the new century. Buffalo, while passionate, is one of the smaller media markets in the NFL (ahead of only Green Bay in the Nielsen market size) but the team’s lack of on-field success and marquee talent surely played a bigger factor.

Needless to say, the modern Bills are looking forward to their moment in the spotlight.

“This is what you want. This is how we built the program to be. The better you get, the more prime time games you have. I think it’s an exciting time for our fanbase,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said of the prime time overload on The Howard and Jeremy Show on WGR 550 SportsRadio. “”When you get to a point where you’re respected by the league and you’ve got a good club, that’s what you work for, and that’s what you get. I think that’s exciting for our organization and our fans.”

The interconference matchup will come up big on both sides. Buffalo is looking to maintain its single-game lead on the Dolphins for the division title, while San Francisco (5-6) is looking to carry one momentum brought upon by a win over the Los Angeles Rams last weekend, one that ended a three-game losing streak. The Niners currently sit a half-game behind Minnesota for the final NFC wild card spot.

This rise in national recognition is perhaps the biggest sign yet that both the NFL and the football-loving public are starting to truly see the football revolution occurring in Western New York. Last season, the Bills were granted one national game when the original schedule was released, bestowed the late afternoon Thanksgiving slot in Dallas. That victorious effort, among others, caused NBC to take notice, booting a matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Chargers in favor of the Bills’ Week 15 trek to Pittsburgh. The ensuing victory over the Steelers allowed Buffalo to clinch not only a playoff berth but also its first 10-win season since 1999. NBC will have the rematch against the undefeated Steelers next weekend, six days after their Monday doubleheader. Pittsburgh’s delayed kickoff with the Washington Football Team (5 p.m. ET, Fox) comes hours before the Bills do battle in the desert.

Buffalo’s other Sunday night showing came in 2007, when they served as the sacrificial lambs to the gridiron dieties from New England.

Monday Night Football has been slightly kinder to the BIlls, inviting them three times since 2010, though that still puts them in a last-place tie with the aforementioned Browns and Jaguars (though Cleveland will get their moment next week against Baltimore). The Bills have ended several streaks in this fledgling era of prosperity, but their Monday night futility still hovers. Buffalo hasn’t won on Garfield’s least favorite day since October 1999, when a trio of Steve Christie field goals earned them a 23-18 victory over Miami.

The second half of this modern Monday night double feature comes on December 21, when the Bills will possibly seek to put New England (6-6) out their misery.

But the Bills know that this onslaught of primetime coverage comes with a major responsibility. That stems not from the networks unwilling to put them on in years past, but from previously wasted opportunities earlier in the year.

Two of the Bills’ three losses have come with the eyes of the football-loving nation upon them. They previously fell in a one-sided Tuesday night display against the Tennessee Titans, a battle of unbeatens pushed back due to the ongoing health crisis. That defeat also had an effect on Buffalo’s originally scheduled Thursday night contest with Kansas City, which also ended with the Bills on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

Mandatory Credit: Jamie Germano-USA TODAY NETWORK

Receiver Cole Beasley has said that the biggest factor will be avoiding the temptation to look ahead to more dashing competition, particularly those of the postseason variety.

“We have to approach it the way we have all season, we try to go 1-0 each week,” wide receiver Cole Beasley last week, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ll deal with the playoffs if and when they get here. We have to take care of everything that’s in font of us before we can look ahead.”

There appeared to some signs of looking ahead, those signs that Beasley warned about, during last week’s visit from the Chargers. Buffalo prevailed in a 27-17 final, albeit in one of the sloppier efforts of the season. The Bills turned the ball over three times and earned 332 yards on offense, their worst output since tallying 206 in the aforementioned loss to Kansas City on October 19.

Monday’s game comes with its own share of distractions. It comes against a 49ers team fresh off a Super Bowl appearance struggling to tread water in the crowded NFC playoff picture and one that will start backup quarterback Nick Mullens in place of the injured Jimmy Garoppollo.

The Bills will also return to the scene of one of their most heartbreaking defeats in recent franchise memory. With San Francisco’s proceedings disrupted by local government orders made in the wake of rising disease cases, Monday’s game will take place at State Farm Stadium. The Bills seemed well on their way toward a major victory against the stadium’s regular tenants, the Arizona Cardinals, but everyone who has followed the NFL for five minutes this season knows how that one ended. The Kyler Murray miracle, a 43-yard desperation heave that landed in the outstretched arms of DeAndre Hopkins, affected the fates of both Monday participants. Buffalo missed out on a major opportunity to expand their lead in the AFC East, while the 49ers remain behind the Cardinals for crucial ground in the both the divisional and wild-card races.

“The biggest thing is just kind of looking back, having that nasty taste in our mouths,” linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said of the venue switch to Glendale in another report from Maiorana. “When we show up to the stadium, we’re going to obviously know what happened last time we were there. We’re motivated to get back there and redeem ourselves. I know it’s a different team, but at the same time it’s in that stadium.”

Buffalo will enter Monday’s game at their healthiest, as not a single player was give any injury designation in the official injury report released over the weekend.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills: Resurgent rushers looking to continue momentum building

Having reached triple digits in three of the last five games, Buffalo Bills rushers are ready to roll into December.

The glory days of the Buffalo Bills have long been defined by the antics of a strong game, more or less emulating the streaking buffalo that has graced their helmets since 1974. Wray Carlton and Cookie Gilchrist led the way during their AFL championship days, famously followed by O.J. Simpson, who sat in second place on the NFL’s all-time rushing upon his retirement. Thurman Thomas and Kenneth Davis then became reliable presciences during the AFC title streak. Even the dark times provided relief through the legs of Joe Cribbs, Fred Jackson, Travis Henry, and Willis McGahee.

As the Bills seek to form a new consistent brand of glory days, the run game is rising to the occasion.

Buffalo (8-3) enters their most hopeful December yet, one where they’re well on pace to earn their first division title since 1995. The team may be new to the AFC penthouse, but they’re well aware that they’ll have to be clicking on all cylinders to make some postseason noise and officially put the league on notice. Head coach Sean McDermott spoke about it in the earlier stages of the fall.

“Most coaches would say they want to hit their stride in November, December, when the leaves are coming off the trees,” McDermott said, per Mary Margaret Johnson of WIVB on November 3. “Overall, at the end of the day, you’re trying to win one game. Rosters change week to week, lineups change week to week, challenges normally come, and with COVID, we’re trying to find one week wins and do the best you can to put the best lineup out there.”

One area where the Bills are starting to peak is the aforementioned run game.

Exciting as the idea of Josh Allen torching opponents with both his arms and feet may be, Buffalo sought to get their run game rolling. The unit appeared to be well set for the future with Devin Singletary set to return after a strong rookie season (775 yards, fourth amongst first-year rushers). Buffalo would also replace the Jets-bound Frank Gore by drafting Utah’s Zack Moss in the third round of the 2020 draft proceedings. Bills general manager Brandon Beane was hopeful was Singletary’s finesse and and Moss’ physicality would be the next step forward for an offense on the rise.

“Devin has that shiftiness. Zack’s going to be more of that banging in there,” Beane said after the draft, per Alex Brasky of The Daily News (Batavia). “He’s going to lower that shoulder and try to, a little bit like Frank did at an older age for us. I see that role.”

But with the blocking names in front of them changing more than those on the North Park Theater’s marquee, the Bills rushing attack had struggled in the early going. The team managed to get off to a strong start, but a challenging stretch, when the Bills lost two of three in October, coincided with the run game working on a streak of earning less than 100 yards.

The display was particularly scary during an October 19 loss to Kansas City, one of the two teams ahead of the Bills for AFC supremacy. As Clyde Edwards-Helaire broke loose for 161 yards, the Bills mustered only 84 on the ground as a team. Singletary struggled to the tune of 32 yards on 10 carries in defeat.

Keeping the pace of a strong rookie season proved to be a challenge for Singletary. He struggled to reach the 300-yard mark over his first seven games, averaging less than four yards a carry. He noted the big plays that came naturally in his debut failed to resurface in modern times.

“Making big plays, creating big plays. We haven’t been able to do that yet,” the struggling sophomore Singletary said after the game, per Jourdon LaBarber & Dante Lasting of BuffaloBills.com. “We’ve got to find a way to get that going.”

Singletary’s words, however, proved prophetic and he found a way to get things rolling again.

Two weeks after the Chiefs’ visit, the Bills battled the New England Patriots, often seen as a weekend for plenty of Western New York fans to skip due to an infamous streak of futility against the AFC East monopoly-holders. Singletary, helping co-author a new narrative in Orchard Park, came up big with a team-best 86 yards on 14 carries, 59 of that tally coming in the second half. Assistance came in the form of Moss, who tallied 81 yards on an equal number of carries, and he also punched in his first NFL touchdowns. They wound up being the difference in the 24-21 Buffalo victory.

“This is probably the most I felt like myself just from everything from top to bottom,” Moss remarked afterwards, per Jenna Callari of WKBW. “I was just happy I was able to come out and be ready to go in a game like this. I was really comfortable today and want to build off that going into the rest of the year.”

As the Buffalo run game continues to surge forward, they continue to fulfill Singletary’s prophecy. With a more balanced offense, the Bills are well positioned to make their first legitimate postseason run. That was on display during their most recent win, a game where three turnovers could’ve threatened to destroy what they were building.

Sunday’s 27-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers to wrap up the November slate could’ve been the type of trap game that caused Buffalo to fly off the rails, a game that might’ve left them uncomfortably sharing the top spot in the AFC East with Miami. But a strong attack from the run game helped them finish things off. There were no antics from Allen or Stefon Diggs necessary to close out the win. Even if Allen tallied a score on the ground, it was the running that kept things rolling, with Singletary and Moss uniting for 141 yards. Their magnum opus came on the final drive, when Moss opened things up with a 31-yard gain, followed by a 24-yard tally from Singletary that set Tyler Bass for a de facto game-winning field goal from 43 yards way.

Things weren’t fully perfect just yet. A lost Singletary fumble led to a Los Angeles field goal. Moss was penalized 15 yards for taunting. But the Bills made sure that their offensive fate goes far beyond Allen. The quarterback (18-of-24, 157 yards, 2 total touchdowns, 1 INT) expressed his gratitude and hope for more after the game in Heather Prusak’s report for WIVB.

“Our guys did a great job, Zack and (Moss) carried the ball extremely well, they ran hard,” Allen said. “When my number’s called I gotta make some plays too but our guys did a good job blocking up front and you put the ball in your backs’ hands and let them do things and they were great today.”

Singletary explained that the success against the Chargers partially stemmed from an increased emphasis on the rushing attack in practice that week, mentioning that the team ran “an extra drill” leading into LA week.

“It wasn’t even full speed, it was kind of like half speed but just seeing the guys get to their landmark,” Singletary said in Prusak’s report, mentioning how it helped the Bills prevaild in a physical game. “It helps us get to our landmark it just kind of helps the offensive line and the running backs get a feel for each other and it showed today.”

Singletary and Moss will look to carry on momentum in their next game on Monday night, as they battle the San Francisco 49ers in Glendale, Arizona (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills seek to awaken run game, bolster defense as bye commences

The Buffalo Bills are off to their best start in literal decades, but they know that there’s room to improve as they hit their bye.

For fans of a team that hasn’t won a playoff game a Bad Boys movie came out…the ORIGINAL Bad Boys movie…you’d think Buffalo Bills fans would be perfectly content with a 7-3 mark in a season whose mere existence is seen as a miracle by some.

Still, concern reigns in Western New York football circles as the Bills hit their late bye week. By now, even those who haven’t touched a football in their lives have seen how the Bills’ most recent endeavor ended in the form of a collaborative miracle between Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. While the rest of the world marvels at the sight, the victimized Bills have to live with it for two weeks, powerless to stop the endless stream of replays that will inevitably come with the Arizona Cardinals set to play on national television on Thursday.

“It sucks going into the bye week because it’s going to be the only thing on our mind for a week and a half, two weeks,” quarterback Josh Allen remarked to Adam Unger of WKBW. “But at the same time, it’s fuel on the fire.”

From one perspective, heartbreaking losses are almost refreshing in Buffalo, which suffered through a playoff drought that would be allowed to see an R-rated movie without a parent or guardian, but they’re starting to pile up. Sure, the resurgent Bills are in a healthy spot when it comes to the slow-forming playoff picture, but the quest toward ending another drought, that in earning an AFC East title, is no longer assured thanks to the rise of the red-hot Miami Dolphins.

To their credit, the Bills have moved on in a mature fashion, knowing that nothing can be done about the Cardinals game and that there’s no better time than the present. That maturity also stems from knowing that the game was far from being decided by a single play. Buffalo held a 23-9 lead in the second half before allowing Murray to run wild.

“They made the play, the special play they had to make to win the game and beat us,” head coach McDermott said, per Jeff Kerr of CBS Sports. “But that game should not have come down to that play and, unfortunately, it did. So, we take our lumps, we live by it and we learn from it and it’s got to drive you harder, man. It’s got to drive us all harder to want it more. We felt like we came here, we made enough plays to win the football game, just didn’t make one more. It’s unfortunate.”

“I think we do have some good momentum, but we can also use this game as great teaching tape,” defensive end Jerry Hughes added in Unger’s report. “You gotta finish teams off in this league. Whenever you have a team on the ropes, you gotta finish.”

The bye week has given the Bills a chance to regroup as they gear up for what many believe could be a Super Bowl run. There’s certainly time to revel in the good accomplished during this stretch…after all, 7-3 is their best 10 game start since 1996…but the Bills know they’re reaching a point where a mere playoff trip isn’t a milestone of success. With that power, however, comes major responsibility.

Buffalo’s defense certainly took their share of criticism in defeat, especially with the aforementioned highlight still making its rounds. All things considered, one could certainly call Sunday’s output respectable after Josh Norman missed the game with a positive COVID-19 test and fellow starting cornerback Levi Wallace was also rendered absent due to contact. Seventh-round rookie To hold Murray in check as long as they did was almost a miracle, but they still let up 453 yards in defeat, the third time in the five that they’ve let up at least 400 yards. Buffalo has done a better job in forcing punts and turnovers (earning two on Sunday in Glendale), but defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has vowed to do some soul-searching during the bye.

“That game was such a unique game and even the game plan going in where we were very concerned about giving up plays over the top of the defense and yielded a little bit in the run game,” Frazier said, per Marcel Louis-Jacques. “We’ve taken a different approach going forward, but it was a unique game in itself and we learned some things from that game. We just tried to become more who we are.”

Offensively, the Bills will look into reforming their struggling rushing attack. After ranking eighth in the league in rushing last season, the Bills have plummeted to 29th in ground yards per game. That number plummets to 31st, ahead of only Chicago, if one removes a 190-yard outlier in their win over New England two weeks ago.

Rookie Zach Moss has been a reliable red zone option to the tune of three scores thus far and Devin Singletary has struggled to create sustainable momentum. Allen has taken on a majority of the rushing burden as a result, contributing to a problem McDermott called “a legitimate concern” according to Heather Prusak of WIVB.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has absolved his rushers of the blame, and is likewise seeking to do what he can in this process.

“We need to do a better job, it starts with me and we gotta do a good job of designing things for those guys that they can go out there and execute at a high level. And then we need to make sure we’re getting hat for hats at the line of scrimmage and making the proper reads and blocking the guys on the perimeter.” Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll explained in Prusak’s piece. “It takes all of us to get that job done. We’re not where we need to be in regards to the running game, we acknowledge that and we look forward to working on it particularly in this bye week and getting ready for the Chargers here in a couple of weeks.”

It’s a win in itself that the Bills sit at 7-3 and still see room for improvement. Alas, it’s not the kind of win that can count as paint in the slowly developing NFL playoff picture.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Buffalo Bills ready for the challenge of Kyler Murray, Cardinals offense

New York Giants, Lorenzo Carter

The Buffalo Bills conquered the forces of Russell Wilson last week, but their NFC West endeavors get no easier.

A win over the NFC-leading Seattle Seahawks should’ve, in theory, rendered doubters in the 2020 Buffalo Bills an endangered species. The Bills not only led a majority of the Seattle game by at least two possessions, but they neutralized the Swiss Army quarterback that is Russell Wilson through four turnovers (two interceptions and fumbles each).

But any progress the Bills made last weekend can immediately become undone by Wilson’s NFC West compatriot.

The road to respectability revealed a fast lane for the Bills last weekend, but another roadblock awaits in the form of the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS). Buffalo (7-2) will face an Arizona offense that sits atop the NFL at 422 yards a game. The Cardinals (5-3) not only enter with voltage but fury as well after enduring a 34-31 defeat to the Miami Dolphins last weekend.

The primary reason for the revolution has undoubtedly been a combination of quarterback Kyler Murray, a top overall draft pick who has made several large leaps in his sophomore season. Murray has thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of his eight games thus far. That includes three each over the past two games to tally 16 on the season.

Buffalo brass knows a dangerous challenge lies ahead.

“They’ve got a terrific young quarterback…and an offense that is ranked number one in the league, so we’re gonna have our hands full with what they do on offense,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said earlier this week, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “Trying to get a grasp around what’s the best approach that we need to take to slow them down. It’s hard to compare (Seattle and Arizona) other than the fact that they are both very explosive offenses. We’re gonna have to bring our ‘A’ game to have a chance to be successful.”

“The speed and quickness element are off the charts,” head coach Sean McDermott added in the same report. “Having never coached against him before, just when you’re watching on film and you watch it on TV, you can see the difference. We’re talking elite (defensive) athletes that are around him, he’s not running around just average athletes out there, he’s running around great athletes, and he looks different even than those athletes, so I’ve been able to get an appreciation for him.”

Murray has also caused relentless damage on the ground, gaining at 50 rushing yards in all but two games this season. He put up a career-best 106 in a losing effort against the Dolphins last week but the Cardinals are 6-3 when he otherwise reaches the half-century mark on the ground.

During game prep for Arizona, reserve receiver/returner Isaiah McKenzie played the role of Murray on the scout team.

“It certainly helps,” McDermott said of the McKenzie imitation, in another report from Garrett Stepien of 247 Sports. “A lot? I don’t know, I think that remains to be seen. I would just say it certainly helps to get ourselves acclimated to that type of speed and quickness.”

Another factor in the Arizona revolution has been receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who came over to the Cardinals through an offseason trade with the Houston Texans. Hopkins’ final game in the Space City came against the Bills during the AFC Wild Card playoffs, when he earned 90 yards on six receptions in addition to a two-point conversion in the Texans’ overtime victory. Arizona’s other offensive talents include running back Kenyan Drake and Hopkins’ fellow receivers Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, and the immortal Larry Fitzgerald.

Only adding to the Bills’ plight is the fact that they’ll be missing two of their top cornerbacks (Josh Norman, Levi Wallace) and a strong reserve safety (Dean Marlowe) after a positive COVID-19 test also sidelined several of those in close contact. Buffalo has made several roster moves to combat the losses.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Clear-cut kings of the AFC East, Buffalo Bills ready for bigger challenges

After besting New England, control of the East belongs to the build. There’s work to do, but the team is officially ready for loftier goals.

Last Sunday, it finally happened. The rabbit got to have a bowl of Trix. Wile E. Coyote caught the Road Runner. The Buffalo Bills beat the New England Patriots.

Buffalo is in the midst of a potential stretch of prosperity. Success in the NFL is anything but guaranteed…just ask, say, the conference finalist Jacksonville Jaguars…but the Bills, one of seven AFC teams with a winning record over the past four seasons, have set themselves up well in terms of the league’s long-term landscape. But something was missing, the slaying of a proverbial dragon, a monster that had dominated the lands for years. Buffalo’s first year mingling with the NFL’s elite saw then engage in a pair of competitive matchups with the fearsome Patriots but ultimately fall short on the scoreboard to create a 4-34 tally over nearly two decades of meetings.

But with the chief tormenter, Tom Brady, having absconded for pre-retirement in Tampa Bay and several other key contributors in the area dealing with injuries, inconsistency, or both, the Bills finally best their Foxboro foes. The 24-21 final, earned when Division II Ferris State alum Justin Zimmer stripped the ball from Cam Newton, wasn’t pretty but was enough to build a sizable distance between them and the Flying Elvises. It was a symbolic official passing of the AFC East torch in the eyes of some and the impact of such a win was not lost on the victors.

“Man, that was fun,” Bills defender Jerry Hughes said of the win per John Wawrow of the Associated Press. “It feels good, to be honest with you, to be on the other side of the spectrum, to be watching our offense hit that victory formation. It felt amazing.”

Buffalo (6-2) is now up 3.5 games up on the reeling Patriots and a game-and-a-half ahead of a Maimi Dolphins team that made it clear where its focus is when they sat the effective Ryan Fitzpatrick for future franchise man Tua Tagovailoa. Even if one of their immediate chasers pulls off an improbable…and the Bills own all tiebreakers with a 4-0 mark against divisional foes this season…the 6-2 mark should well sustain them in terms of an expanded playoff picture.

The playoffs seem clear. The division looms large. But the Bills know that this is no time to become complacent, even though they’ve managed to earn a sterling start under complicated circumstances.

“Most coaches would say they want to hit their stride in November, December, when the leaves are coming off the trees,” head coach Sean McDermott said of the team’s intriguing first half, per Mary Margaret Johnson of Informnny.com. “Overall, at the end of the day you’re trying to win one game. Rosters change week to week, lineups change week to week, challenges normally come, and with COVID, we’re trying to find one week wins and do the best you can to put the best lineup out there.”

One checkpoint has been reached. Now, it’s time for this team to set loftier goals for themselves.

As another New York state sensation that wore red and blue once learned, with great power comes great responsibility. The Bills need to set their sights on something higher, something bigger. No longer does the New England demon hover over Western New York. The video boards at Bills Stadium no longer need to highlight the Patriots on the out-of-town-scoreboard. Buffalo has taken care of business and has free reign of the division, at least temporarily.

A de facto reward awaits the Bills in the form of three nationally televised games over the final eight games, and that’s before flexible scheduling kicks in. The Week 14 team matchup with the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers is currently placed in NBC’s Sunday Night Football package; it would be the first time the peacock network came to visit Buffalo for football reasons since 2007…a game that became a 56-10 shellacking at the hands of the unbeaten-in-the-regular season Patriots.

It’s time for the Bills to defend their newly earned spot amongst the NFL’s elite.

Strong as the Bills have looked, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Despite holding one of the NFL’s best records, they somehow have a negative point differential (-2) thanks to one-sided losses at the hands of Tennessee and Kansas City. The heroics of Zimmer notwithstanding, Buffalo would also like to see some more pressure generated by the pass rush.

Every week they know they’re the tip of the spear for our defense,” McDermott said of the pressure he’s hoping to generate with the front group, according to Alex Brasky of The Daily News (Batavia). “I’ve enjoyed watching them the past few weeks as we continue to build our defense. Their coordination and their chemistry and how they’re playing – that’s a work in progress at this point.

“Regardless of what type of QB you’re going against, you have to have the front to impact the QB. Your front has to play well every week. You have to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”

Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

A trial by fire could be the best thing for the Bills at this point. It ignites this Sunday with a visit from the NFC-leading Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in Orchard Park (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Everywhere the Bills go, there’s going to be a larger spotlight on them. It’s better that they get used to it now rather than later.

Buffalo is worried about the surprises that Seattle and their MVP quarterback, Russell Wilson, have in store for them. They’re ready for such a challenge with both wariness and anticipation.

“(Wilson) does everything well,” cornerback Tre’Davious White said about the challenge to Ashley Holder of WGRZ-TV. “He knows the coverages and what makes the offense go. (There is) nothing he can’t do. He can make every throw on the run and always knows the coverages we are in. He’s the total package and a triple threat.”

Their New England demon exorcised at last, the Bills have earned their spot amongst the NFL’s elite. It’s time to prove they can stay there. Thus far, there’s indeed reason to doubt they can truly stick around. For example, they completed their season sweep against the lowly New York Jets but failed to score a touchdown. They’ve looked suspect against established contenders like the Titans and Chiefs. It’s something that the Bills are aware of…and yet another challenge they welcome.

“Our job is to put together a plan to do the things we need to do just to win a game,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll remarked, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “The stats and all that other stuff, the only important one is the letter (W or L). That’s the most important thing to us, and that’s how we approach it.”

“Certainly, we’d like to improve in really every area of our game. We’re only half a season in, so there’s a lot of growth that we all need to have. We’ll just continue to work at it, grind it out and try to improve.”

The challenges of the NFL resemble the villainous Marvel Comics organization Hydra, where it’s said that if one head is cut off, another will take its place. Good teams find a way to tackle these challenges and fully establish their spot among the great teams. The Bills’ former tormenters from New England developed an endless stream of victorious football by tackling these challenges and taking care of business through doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well (as evidenced by their jaw-droppingly strong divisional record since the turn of the century).

Buffalo is handling the latter part. This trial by fire…with Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Arizona all looming large…will be their first chance to truly stick around the NFL’s great squads.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Report: New York Jets to face off against Buffalo Bills in week 1

New York Jets, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

As the NFL prepares to release the official schedule this evening, Manish Mehta of the NY Daily News has now leaked the New York Jets‘ first opponents. The betting favorites to win the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills will be hosting the Green & White in week 1.

The Jets will visit Orchard Park after facing the Bills in Week 1 & 17 of last season. They’re reportedly slated to play at 1 PM to kick off the season. Although there were initial reports that the NFL would structure the season with AFC vs NFC games for the first four weeks to kick off the season, they’ve now shown that’s not the case, at least for two AFC East teams.

Breaking Down The Matchup

A brief look at the Bills roster shows you how talented they are. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have built an excellent squad of high character guys in Buffalo. They’ve used lots of resources to build through the trenches, just like Joe Douglas has done for the Jets. The difference between the teams to me is in the coaching staff(s). The Jets are still looking to build an identity under second-year coach Adam Gase. The Bills have constructed that identity under McDermott and now been to the playoffs twice under his guidance. As Josh Allen continues to develop and the team added pieces like Stefon Diggs, Josh Norman, and AJ Epenesa to an already talented team, they look primed to contend for the AFC East title.

As for the Jets, although they’ve had a great offseason, the team has one of the hardest schedules in football and is facing a lot of pressure. There’s real skepticism about Adam Gase, and if he’s the right guy to lead this team, if he wins this year and shows he can win with this team, he’ll keep his job, but if he does not prove that he can lead this team to wins, the Jets will be looking for another coach. The Jets QB 1 also faces pressure. As his third year approaches, Darnold has shown flashes of brilliance. When he’s not hurt, the Jets have also been a productive offensive team. If he can stay healthy and produce, he will prove he’s the true franchise QB, but another average or slightly above average season could lead fans to question his ability to lead this team.

Both teams are young with loads of potential, and with pressure to win on both sides of the ball, week 1 can’t get here soon enough.