The Buffalo Bills entered the season loaded with hype. Their revamped defense, highlighted by new additions Mario Williams and Stephon Gilmore, was meant to lead this team to greener pastures in the AFC East.
However, the Bills stand at 2-2 after Week 4 and have become one of the most difficult teams in the NFL to gauge.
Is this team still good but hindered by key injuries? Are they simply mediocre and not worth the hype, or is Buffalo just flat-out bad?
Well, breaking down the Bills' performance on a week-to-week basis is the easiest way to try to make sense of this enigma.
In the Bills' ugly Week 1 loss to the New York Jets, Buffalo gave up 48 points. Granted, one Jets’ touchdown was a 40-yard interception return by Antonio Cromartie (one of three picks Ryan Fitzpatrick threw on the day) and another was a 68-yard punt return by Jeremy Kerley. Nevertheless, allowing the anemic Jets offense to score as easily and efficiently as they did is a major concern.
Since that Week 1 thrashing of the Bills, the Jets have scored a total of 33 points in three weeks. They scored 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 23 in an overtime win against the Miami Dolphins and posted a goose egg against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
The Bills needed to bounce back after a pathetic display to open the season, and, for the most part, they did, beating Kansas City in Week 2 and Cleveland in Week 3. The only problem is that those teams are a combined 1-7 after Week 4.
With a 2-1 record heading into Week 4’s divisional matchup with the New England Patriots, the Bills could have stamped their imprint on the NFL season with a big win.
You wouldn’t know it by the final score, but they actually led New England 14-7 at the half. Despite this, the Patriots came storming back, as they usually do. They scored 14 in the third quarter and an absurd 31 points in the fourth to win 52-28.
The Patriots have now come back to win the past five games in which they trailed Buffalo at halftime. In those games, the Patriots have outscored the Bills 128-37 in the second half.
The Bills now stand 2-2 and are in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East. However, the Bills' two losses are against the divisional opponents who are tied with them in the standings, so they don’t exactly deserve to be “tied” with the Patriots or Jets.
So who’s to blame for the Bills' struggles? A few key differences emerge when comparing their wins and losses. Or, if you’re a pessimist, comparing when the Bills play crappy teams versus competent ones.
First is the Bills’ defense. In the two losses (to the Jets and Patriots), the defense has one sack and one interception. In the two wins (against the Chiefs and Browns) the Bills have nine sacks and three interceptions.
When Buffalo’s defense shows up, plays well and creates turnovers, it usually translates to a win.
In the two losses, however, the Bills have given up 100 points, an absurd number by any estimation. Even if the Bills had an elite offense (which they clearly don’t), they wouldn’t win giving up that many points.
It doesn’t help that Mario Williams, the player who received $50 million in guaranteed money this past offseason, has just nine tackles and 1.5 sacks through four weeks of the season.
In addition to the night-and-day difference on defense, the play of Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a barometer of success (or perhaps failure).
Despite the six-year, $59 million contract extension Fitzpatrick signed last year, the “Amish Rifle” simply doesn’t have as much gunpowder as Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning or Tom Brady. The Bills need him to be a game manager who leans on the team’s stellar run game for success, while picking his spots in the passing game.
To give Fitzpatrick a Jekyll and Hyde-esque comparison: In the Bills’ two wins, Fitzpatrick hasn’t thrown an interception. In the two losses, he’s thrown seven.
It’s not difficult to decipher why the Bills have been blown out in two games this season, but unless they start showing up against the league’s better teams, they won’t be in the picture come playoff time.