How the Buffalo Bills Can Actually Fix NFL Playoff Woes in 2023 Offseason

Alex KayContributor IJanuary 24, 2023

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 22: Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills reacts against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Highmark Stadium on January 22, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills went into the 2023 NFL playoffs with genuine hopes of competing for a championship, but they ended up exiting in the second round for the second successive season. Entering the divisional round as sizable favorites, Buffalo was thoroughly dismantled by the Cincinnati Bengals in a 27-10 rout.

The front office now has some tough decisions to make around whether it should try to keep the band together or make some sweeping changes to a core that has compiled an impressive 47-18 regular season record over the past four years—a winning percentage that trails only the Kansas City Chiefs during that span.

It's certainly been rare to see Buffalo get trounced the way it was during Sunday's game. That result marked the only time the Bills have been defeated by more than three points this season, as well as the first time they've lost by more than a touchdown since November 2021.

It was the only time in the five postseason trips under head coach Sean McDermott that the Bills were beaten by more than seven points.

Whether it was an anomaly or a sign of something larger wrong with this squad, some roster turnover appears to be on the horizon no matter how Buffalo's brass decides to proceed.

The Bills have several key impending free agents—mostly on defense—including captain Jordan Poyer. The safety was lobbying for an extension last year but failed to get more than an incentive-based raise for 2022. He'll now get to the test the open market with a chance to cash the major payday he desired.

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 2: Jordan Poyer #21 of the Buffalo Bills stretches prior to an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium on January 2, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)
Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Tremaine Edmunds, Dane Jackson, Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips all just finished out the final year of their respective contracts as well. These veterans have all played various key roles over the past few years, but several could be on their way out with the cash-strapped Bills facing the tall task of getting cap compliant in 2023.

Spotrac notes that Buffalo is nearly $16 million over next season's projected cap, limiting the amount of splashy signings it can make. Poyer's projected market value of $11 million annually could price out a Bills side that has to shed some salary.

Jackson, Lawson and Phillips all notched replacement-level PFF marks this season, rendering them expendable if cheaper alternatives can be found. Retaining Edmunds should be a priority, however, as the linebacker finally harnessed his athletic talents into great on-field production.

Edmunds earned a career-high 79.0 PFF grade in 2022, a major jump from the 50.4 he scored last year. Though he's already played five seasons in the league, the 2018 first-round pick is still only 24 years old and has plenty of upside heading into his second contract.

While the defense could see a bit of free-agency-based roster churn, the offense is where real adjustments are needed for the Bills to get over the hump.

The running game is the main area where the Bills must improve. They will likely make at least one move because of Devin Singletary's impending free-agent status.

The team began relying on rookie James Cook more as the season wore on, but he was still outperformed by Singletary in the postseason. Cook's 17 playoff totes went for just 52 yards and a score, while Singletary at least mustered 72 yards on his 16 carries.

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 08: Devin Singletary #26 takes a handoff from Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Highmark Stadium on January 08, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images)
Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Neither of Buffalo's backs has been reliable in big games, and it wouldn't be a shock to see the Bills look to this position in the draft even after expending a second-round pick on Cook last year. The club lacks the finances to splurge on a high-end free agent, but running backs on a second contract often fail to live up to expectations anyway.

Letting Singletary walk and replacing him with a Day 2 draft selection would shore up the backfield and provide a cost-effective rusher to rotate with a hopefully improved Cook in his second year.

The offense line could use an injection of talent as well. Aging guard Roger Saffold should be allowed to walk in free agency after earning a pitiful 43.7 PFF grade this year, and some of the younger players may also need to be replaced or shuffled around.

Buffalo notably struggled to get consistent showings from its right tackle during the postseason. Spencer Brown was a sieve during the last two matchups, giving up seven pressures to the Miami Dolphins in the Wild Card round and allowing Cincinnati's defenders to deliver several big hits on Allen this past weekend.

Steven Ruiz @theStevenRuiz

the bengals were sending their DBs from some crazy depths and i don't think allen saw a single one coming.<br><br>mike hilton had four pressures in the game ... on five pass rush snaps <a href="https://t.co/AGoZ4VkirU">pic.twitter.com/AGoZ4VkirU</a>

Much has been made about Allen's propensity for turnovers—he threw six interceptions over the last four games—but it can be exceedingly difficult to prevent mistakes when opponents aren't being kept honest by the running game and protection is spotty at best.

Upgrading these two areas would only make an already-dangerous Buffalo passing attack even more effective come this time next year.

While the Bills couldn't keep their own quarterback safe—Allen dealt with 17 pressures against Cincinnati—they also largely failed to harass opposing signal-callers when it mattered most. Joe Burrow was sacked 41 times in 16 regular-season games and four times in Cincinnati's playoff-opener against the Baltimore Ravens but was largely unharried in the divisional round.

The Bills at least know they have some reinforcements coming on that side of the trenches. Star edge-rusher Von Miller will eventually return from a torn ACL that cut his season short. The 33-year-old's absence was sorely felt on Sunday after just one of Buffalo's 12 total pressures resulted in a sack on Burrow.

Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller takes the field before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)
AP Photo/Joshua Bessex

Miller remains under contract through 2027 and believes Buffalo's championship window is still open: The veteran—who won a Super Bowl last year with the Los Angeles Rams and captured another title in Super Bowl 50 with the Denver Broncos—reminded his team that they had a great year and better days are ahead (via Myles Simmons of ProFootballTalk):

"My message to the guys was, as competitors, whenever you lose, you go back to the drawing board and you say, 'Oh I've gotta make some changes, I've got to do this, I've got to do that, I've got to work harder. You should always debrief. But I honestly feel like we're in a unique spot. We've got a great football team. We've got great coaches. We've got great staff, great players. Sometimes, more isn't always the answer. Sometimes you've just got to keep playing. Sometimes you've got to line back up, give us another year, and just go through it again."

While that advice is sound, Buffalo won't get a chance to run back this exact squad next year. There will inevitably be some changes because of financial limitations and free agency, but Miller's message rings true regarding how Buffalo's core has a chance to do something special.

The Bills simply need minor adjustments at this point, including finding a few impact rookies who can serve as cap-friendly replacements to some of the departing talent. A good draft and some value veteran signings can easily patch up the handful of weak areas still hampering this roster after it was carefully crafted into a contender over the past few years.

While the few problem areas that remain were masterfully exploited by a talented and battle-tested Bengals team, Buffalo shouldn't panic after failing to reach the AFC Championship Game for the second successive year.

Once the offensive line is reinforced and a more reliable ground game is established, this club will surely be one of the favorites—if not the favorite—heading into the playoffs next year.

With some injury luck and a few things breaking their way, the Bills may even make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1993 with a chance to win it all for the first time in franchise history.