The NFL season starts this week. For most teams.
For a privileged few, September is not where the real road begins (think Patriots, circa 2018). This year, one of those teams is the Bills.
Buffalo is the much-deserved Super Bowl favorite. They have one of the top 2 or 3 quarterbacks in the game and the roster is stacked at almost every position. They have stars on multiple sides of the ball and at multiple levels.
Super Bowl favorites don’t usually have to worry about September even if the Bills do still have some worries as opening day approaches.
Right at the top of the list is new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey. If the Bills win the Super Bowl this year, they would do something no NFL team has done in nearly three decades: win a championship with a play caller who has never called plays before at any level. Mike Holmgren was the last guy to do it with the Joe Montana 49ers back in 1989.
Tim Graham from The Athletic detailed the difficulties of being a new play caller over the summer. It’s no small chore. Much of the learning and much of the skill involved can only be gained from in-game experience.
Mike Martz called the offensive shots in 1999 for the Super Bowl champion Rams after limited college experience. He’s the most recent and closest example of an exception to the rule. There have been three first-year play callers who have gone to a Super Bowl and lost, but two of them also had prior play-calling experience in college. The third was Adam Gase whose responsibilities as a play caller may have been only to agree with whatever Peyton Manning wanted for the 2013 Broncos.
Dorsey should have one gigundous advantage over the newbie play callers of yore. I highly doubt many first-time play callers got the keys to the type of Ferrari the Bills have on offense. You might not notice any inexperience Dorsey has dialing up the X’s and O’s because his X’s and O’s are gonna be the better X’s and O’s almost every week.
There are other questions, of course. Tre White is going to make it until October before appearing on a practice field. He will miss a minimum of four games and probably more since the team has said they don’t want to rush him onto the field. That means Sean McDermott is going to rely on Dane Jackson plus a rookie to anchor the outside of a pass defense that’s been a constant strength.
On offense, Roger Saffold only had half a camp with his new team and the new starting offensive line has barely played together all summer. Gabriel Davis and, likely, Isaiah McKenzie will be manning much larger responsibilities in the wide receiver corps for the first time in their respective careers. Despite oodles of promise for both, that’s no small step. Mix in the new coordinator and it might take a few weeks for Josh Allen to dial up the MVP-caliber performances.
But that’s the beauty of this situation for the Bills. They have time to work out the kinks.
Barring an injury disaster, this Bills team is about the best lock you’ll ever see in the NFL to be a playoff team. They’re almost as good a cinch to win the AFC East. At worst, Buffalo is going to start out the postseason with a home game, if not after a bye.
This is a team coming off an 11-win season that lost only one important starter off the roster–their second corner. What the Bills gained this offseason is light years better: future Hall of Famer Von Miller.
The former Bronco and Ram is a bit of a risk at 33 years old, but he’s shown zero sign of slowing down. Miller had 9.5 regular season sacks and four more in the playoffs. He totaled nine sacks in the 12 games played after joining the Super Bowl champion Rams and he’s been a terror throughout Bills training camp practices.
By himself, Miller transforms a pass rush from average to scary. He may very well take enough pressure away to create mismatches Ed Oliver can exploit in the middle and the young edge rushers can beat on the other side.
Let’s not forget that Buffalo’s 11-6 record in 2021 included an 0-fer-5 in one-score games. It’s next to impossible the Bills are that unlucky again this season. Regression to the mean should be good for another win or two in 2022.
This season is Super Bowl or bust for Buffalo. They can’t even be on the wrong side of a coin toss after an epic touchdown for touchdown battle with another of the AFC’s elite. This team has all the tools. They have stars and, many of them, in the right places.
For the Bills, this season will come down to three games in January. Either the three playoff games to make the Super Bowl or a week 17 Monday nighter in Cincinnati to maybe lock up a bye and then the two playoff games that come after that.
McDermott doesn’t need his team firing on all cylinders in September or October or November or maybe not even December. Just be the better side for those three games in January.
Even if the wins and losses begin to count in the standings this week, the ones that matter to the Bills are still months away.