Bills are definite contender for playoffs

Owen Stewart, Print Managing Editor

Over the years, the Buffalo Bills have become one of the most pitied teams in professional sports. After all, they are the only team in any of the four major sports to ever make it to four straight championship games, only to lose all of them (Super Bowl XXV-XXVIII). They also haven’t made the playoffs since 1999. However, they are a new team this year, and despite the 17 year postseason-less streak, they shouldn’t be counted out as a playoff contender.

The Bills finished 8-8 in 2015, an improvement from previous years, but still not what was expected of a team with what was supposed to be one of the best defenses in the NFL. While the defense didn’t live up to expectations last year, Buffalo did find a hidden gem in quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who had spent the first four years of his career as the backup to Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Taylor was originally signed as a third-string insurance policy, but eventually beat out EJ Manuel and Matt Cassel for the starting job. The duo of Taylor and veteran running back LeSean McCoy has created a tough matchup for almost any defense, as Taylor is both a deep passing threat and a threat to run the football if necessary.

As for that defense that struggled during the 2015 season, well, those struggles are no more. Through five games, the Bills are 3-2, and middle linebacker Zach Brown is the NFL’s leader in tackles. In addition to Brown’s success, outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander leads the league in sacks, and has become a sneaky weapon as an edge rusher. The cornerback trio of Stephon Gilmore, Ronald Darby and Nickell Robey-Coleman has blossomed into one of the better groups in the league, and safeties Corey Graham and Aaron Williams are steadily improving as well.

Some might argue that a 3-2 record isn’t much to brag about, but considering Buffalo’s start to the season, there is still plenty of optimism in western New York. Through two games, the Bills were 0-2, with losses to the Ravens and Jets, and had already fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Since Roman was replaced with Anthony Lynn, however, the Bills are 3-0, outscoring their opponents 79-37. Two of those wins were against the Cardinals and Patriots, who both entered their matchup with the Bills at #1 in the FPI (Football Power Index) rankings. Even with the recent winning streak, there could still be a lot more success coming the Bills’ way. Taylor hasn’t played his best so far, throwing for under 200 yards a game, but is starting to find his dual-threat game again, and that should open up some deep passes as the season moves along. The Bills also have plenty of contributors that are out with injuries. First round draft pick Shaq Lawson, a defensive end out of Clemson, is projected to make his debut in Week 7 after injuring his shoulder in the preseason. Buffalo will also get star defensive tackle Marcell Dareus back from a hamstring injury in a couple weeks, and is optimistic that #1 wide receiver Sammy Watkins can return before the end of the season with a foot injury.

My final reason to watch out for Buffalo come December is their schedule. Of the final 11 games the Bills play, only five should really give them a threat. If they can even manage a 2-3 record in those games against the Patriots, Seahawks, Bengals, Raiders and Steelers, they could pull out of the regular season with an 11-5 record, easily good enough to make the playoffs. It’s certainly not a sure thing, but there’s a decently high probability that it could happen. All in all, don’t be shocked if you see the Bills celebrating a playoff berth in a couple of months, and also don’t be shocked if your favorite team falls to them in the postseason. And if it does happen? One postseason loss isn’t the end of the world. I know for a fact your favorite team never lost four straight Super Bowls.

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