Buffalo played eight games last season against teams that picked in the top 11 this spring, including four in the AFC East against the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets. The Bills finished 10-6 with a playoff appearance for the 2019 season, but struggled against the tougher teams on the schedule.
Things have changed drastically this season. If the Bills (3-0) make their second straight postseason trip, there will be no questions about the road they took to get there.
Starting with a road trip to play the Las Vegas Raiders (2-1) on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS), the Bills face a tough task over the next six weeks against opponents with a combined record of 13-6 — and that includes the Jets (0-4) in Week 7. After the Raiders, Buffalo is at the Tennessee Titans (3-0), home against the Kansas City Chiefs (3-0), at the Jets and home against the New England Patriots (2-1) and Seattle Seahawks (3-0).
Adding to the Bills’ scheduling difficulty — they have the third most difficult remaining schedule according to ESPN’s NFL Football Power Index — Sunday’s trip to the desert marks Buffalo’s first trip to the West Coast since 2017 after traveling no farther west than Houston over the past two seasons.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen said the adjustment to a different time zone might bother some of the league’s more inexperienced teams, but Buffalo, which ranks No. 4 in total offense and 21st in total defense, believes its locker room is equipped to handle it.
“We’ve got a lot of professionals in this locker room that will handle it the right way, trust what the schedule is and understand that Coach [Sean McDermott] has been here before,” Allen said. “I don’t think it’s a huge deal. Maybe a younger team, they might take that away, but we’ve got really good leadership on this team that I trust and I think we’ll be fine.”
The Bills’ next two opponents, the Raiders and the Titans, rank 27th and 29th, respectively, in total defense — which is good news for Allen, the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Month.
Through three games, Buffalo’s offense has proved it can carry the team when necessary; the problem, however, is that Buffalo’s defense has made it necessary in each of the past two games. Miami erased a 10-point deficit in the second half in Week 2, taking the lead in the fourth quarter before two Buffalo scoring drives stomped out the comeback effort. And last Sunday, trailing Buffalo 28-3, the Rams rattled off 29 unanswered points to take a late lead before Allen led a 75-yard touchdown drive to take command with 15 seconds left.
Both wins took huge efforts from Allen, who threw for a career-high 415 yards against Miami and accounted for a career-high five touchdowns against Los Angeles. The shift in responsibility is a polar opposite from the Bills’ past two seasons, when the Bills’ defense finished in the top three in yards allowed.
Buffalo’s defensive struggles could come to the forefront during this six-game stretch. The Chiefs, Patriots and Seahawks all sport top-10 offenses, and the Titans (11th) and Raiders (15th) aren’t far behind.
As long as they keep winning, however, the Bills aren’t ready to even glance at the panic button.
“I try to explain to our players that at the end of the day it’s about winning in our league,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. “In December — that’s what is going to count, the W’s — especially the ones you win in September. We definitely have some things we need to improve on on defense, and it’s great to be improving while you’re winning games. You don’t want your best football to be in September.
“It’s better for our football team when we have good balance, good offense, good defense, good special teams. It’s better for our team in the long term, not just being dominant on one side of the ball.”
Another area of immediate concern is Buffalo’s drop-off in the second half. In the first half, the Bills have dominated — leading the league in total offense and points scored and are fourth in points allowed and fifth in yards allowed. In the second half, those figures drop to 15th in total offense, 20th in points scored, 30th in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed.
Even more concerning: five of their next six opponents rank in the top 12 in second-half points scored.
Buffalo has stated its goal is to dethrone the Patriots as AFC East champions. To do that, the Bills must maintain their 3-0 momentum — especially with division games coming up.
That means shoring up any glaring weaknesses, regardless of the game results. The Bills’ flaws are on tape and will be exposed before long.
“Whether you’re winning or losing, the corrections gotta be made. That’s the type of defense we have,” Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds said. “We know the expectations. We know our standard. We will make those. It’s still early in the year, man, just Game 3, it’s a great time to correct them now rather than later.
“Every game is not going to be pretty. That’s just part of being in the National Football League. We hold ourselves to a high standard and we’ll get it corrected.”