Bills Still Have Plenty to Prove to Establish Themselves as Super Bowl Favorites

David KenyonFeatured Columnist IVDecember 13, 2022

Josh Allen
AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper

Heading into the 2022 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills were the clear AFC East favorite and the front-runner to win the Super Bowl. Nothing has changed three months later.

Heading into Week 15, the Bills have a two-game advantage in the division and are the top seed in the AFC thanks to a head-to-head victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 6. They're still the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl, too.

There are a ton of positives about this roster. They're the best of a reasonably flawed AFC, and only a nightmarish collapse would keep the Bills out of the playoffs.

They're only a Week 15 victory over the Miami Dolphins away from needing one more win to clinch a third straight division crown. Recent wins over the New England Patriots and New York Jets have proved critical in this midseason ascent, too.

However, the Bills haven't been overwhelming teams near the extent they are capable. They are judged not merely on making the postseason; rather, it's about how they look compared to other Super Bowl hopefuls like the Chiefs or Philadelphia Eagles.

The intent here isn't to lambast a strong Buffalo team. The Bills' current position is enviable.

Although the Bills seemed destined for a positive year, they deserve a hat-tip for actually doing it. Fellow preseason front-runners such as the Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers all currently have losing records this season.

Statistically, the Bills are once again thriving on both sides of the ball. After ranking third and first, respectively, in scoring offense and defense last season, they're fourth and second in those categories this year.

The challenge is weighing Buffalo's overall success with an uninspiring month offensively. Want to make that balance tougher? The Bills are on a four-game winning streak anyway.

Exhausting concept, this nuance.

Stefon Diggs
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

Most notably, star quarterback Josh Allen—the MVP front-runner in early November—has faded from a torrid start to the 2022 campaign.

Through the Bills' opening seven games, Allen averaged 357.8 combined yards per outing with 21 total touchdowns, eight turnovers and 11 sacks. But in the last six contests, Allen's production has dipped to 279.5 yards with 11 scores, seven giveaways and 17 sacks.

The best version of this Buffalo offense, which we saw throughout September and October, is nearly unstoppable. The last month-plus has showed a concerning form.

Now, the reason those struggles haven't dragged down the Bills is that their defense has excelled lately.

Since a mediocre three-game stretch that ended Nov. 13, Buffalo has allowed only 6.4 yards per pass attempt and 3.5 yards per carry. The last four opponents have averaged a meager 17.5 points per game, and no less than 16 points can be classified as garbage-time scores.

Additionally, the unit surrendered only 21 and 20 points in two of the Bills' three losses earlier this season. This defense, in short, has given Buffalo a tremendous chance to win every single week in 2022.

But for the Bills to accomplish their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl, the offense needs to rebound.

Allen did suffer an injury to his ulnar collateral ligament in November against the Jets, although he has yet to miss a game because of it. He said on the Pat McAfee Show that the injury is a factor in his preparation but doesn't bother him on game day.

Pat McAfee @PatMcAfeeShow

"I'm gonna have to deal with the elbow for the foreseeable future but on game day it doesn't even bother me" ~<a href="https://twitter.com/JoshAllenQB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JoshAllenQB</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PMSLive?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PMSLive</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BillsMafia?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BillsMafia</a> <a href="https://t.co/C1DkEWTECR">pic.twitter.com/C1DkEWTECR</a>

It's thus simultaneously reasonable to both limit and not erase the criticism of his performance in the last month. Adverse weather hasn't helped in the last two games, but we've seen Allen's missile of a throwing arm cut through gusty wind plenty of times, too.

Beyond him, a major concern is the absence of a reliable pass-catcher beyond Stefon Diggs.

No. 2 wideout Gabe Davis has eclipsed 40 yards only twice since the Bills' Week 7 bye. He and tight end Dawson Knox are Buffalo's next-best options, but they've combined for just 15 catches in the last three games. Isaiah McKenzie has been inconsistent in his supporting role all year, and nobody else has claimed a regular, substantive snap share.

Sacks are not a perfect standalone measure by which to judge an offensive line. Still, this downward trend would be foolish to ignore. Buffalo allowed two-plus sacks in only two of its first six games, but opponents have notched at least two in seven straight outings since the October bye.

That can be—and is—something an elite defensive team may overcome. That doesn't sound like a convincing Super Bowl favorite, though Allen is entirely unbothered by that sentiment.

Kimberley A. Martin @ByKimberleyA

Asked about the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bills?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Bills</a> offense struggling at times and "not looking like an offense that can win the Super Bowl," Josh Allen had a simple response:<br><br>"Okay 😐." <a href="https://t.co/drsbMaxc3m">pic.twitter.com/drsbMaxc3m</a>

Fortunately for the Bills, there's still a month left in the regular season. Alarm bells aren't blaring yet, though they're not terribly far from being tested just in case.

The season-ending stretch opposite the Dolphins, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals and Patriots is an ideal mix of good, bad, solid and decent competition with a few sturdy defenses. It's tough enough to experiment with possible solutions, yet not a gauntlet.

No single adjustment will shake the slump. But maybe Knox needs a more diverse route tree or the threat of McKenzie needs to create more pre-snap stress on defenses, even if he rarely touches the ball. Perhaps there's a larger pass-catching role for trade addition Nyheim Hines or rookie back James Cook to help atone for the offensive line.

Editor's note: Since publish, Buffalo has also signed Cole Beasley to the practice squad. Mike Garofolo of NFL Network noted the expectation is Beasley will be on the active roster soon.

Plus, if the Bills snag the AFC's first-round bye, an extra week of rest might aid Allen's recovery, too.

Either way, the defense—even without sack artist Von Miller—is built to carry the team into the playoffs thanks to edge-rushing depth led by Gregory Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa, who both have at least 5.5 sacks behind Miller's team-high eight.

Buffalo has both talent and a fair bit of time. But the latter will soon run in critically short supply for the Super Bowl hopefuls.

If the offense fails to snap its recent funk, the basic expectations met on the surface and positive details on paper will be overshadowed by another painful on-field loss in the postseason.

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