Where does your franchise stand heading into 2022? Adam Rank sets the table by providing a State of the Franchise look at all 32 teams, zeroing in on the key figures to watch and setting the stakes for the season to come.
Members of the Bills organization, Bills fans around the world and those who know that the true fans are not the ones flying through the table like Tommy Dreamer, but the ones who convince other people to fly through the table like Tommy Dreamer:
This feels like one of the most highly anticipated seasons for the Bills since the 1990s, when they won four conference titles in a row -- a feat that has not been accomplished by anyone since. This year, many people have the Bills as the favorites to not only go to the Super Bowl, but win the whole thing. Can they do it? Let's take a look.
One high from last season: Blowing out the Patriots in the Wild Card Round. There was that Monday Night Football loss to the Patriots in Week 13, and you could kind of tell the Bills' coaches and players were a bit embarrassed. While they evened the regular-season score in Week 16, going out and absolutely destroying the Patriots in the first round of the playoffs had to be extremely cathartic.
Head coach: Sean McDermott. I'm a big Sean McDermott guy. And nothing about what happened last season -- especially those fateful final 13 seconds in regulation in Kansas City -- will change that view. I was thinking at the time it would have been great for Tyler Bass to keep the ball in play on the kickoff after the Bills took a 36-33 lead, which would have forced the Chiefs to run off some clock -- or at least take a knee inside the 10-yard line. And Buffalo should've probably just tackled and held every Chiefs player on that first play from scrimmage; I'm not sure that is within the rules, but it's something I would have done. When you look at that Divisional Round heartbreaker and the regular-season loss to the Patriots -- New England threw three passes! -- you see the Bills getting beat by some NFL legends, Andy Reid and Bill Belichick. They are the two best in the league right now. I really do believe experience is a huge factor in NFL coaching, and McDermott, who is heading into Year 6 in Buffalo, is going to learn from last year and be even better this season.
I just saw Pro Football Focus labeled McDermott No. 16 in its 2022 head coach rankings, because while the defense is great, his teams aren't as good on offense. The Bills were third in the NFL in scoring offense last season. Just saying.
Quarterback: Josh Allen. You're all aware that I'm a weirdo, so I'll let you know that I've already completed one fantasy draft this season. That's right. I had the first overall pick and took ... Justin Herbert. I feel like I've made a big mistake. Allen had 42 total touchdowns in 2021 (36 throwing, six rushing), behind only Tom Brady (45). Allen became one of six quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 5,000 offensive yards and 42 touchdowns in one season. He also had seven games in which he rushed for at least 50 yards. But he's more than fantasy numbers.
Allen is one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the NFL. He led the league with a 70.8 completion percentage in the fourth quarter and overtime in the regular season last year. (I know it hurts thinking about what could have happened if the Bills had won that coin toss.) Allen also had 18 passing touchdowns on third and fourth down in 2021. That was tied for the most with Brady. So, I look ridiculous passing on him in fantasy. He's a better big-time quarterback than people give him credit for.
Projected 2022 MVP: Allen. Obviously one of the most important players in the league, he's also one of the front-runners for league MVP in 2022. Buffalo has recorded at least 10 wins in three consecutive seasons for the first time since those Super Bowl campaigns in the 1990s. The Bills are 11-1 against the AFC East since 2020 -- that's the kind of dominance we used to see from the Pats. Allen also had a 149.0 passer rating during the playoffs last year. It's all about Allen.
New face to know: Von Miller, defensive end. The Bills signed Miller to a six-year, $120 million contract this offseason. He leads the NFL with 115.5 sacks since 2011. He was acquired by the Rams (from the Broncos) via trade as a mercenary last season, and he dominated in the playoffs. So much so that, if I'm the Bills, I just let him take the first month of the season off and ease his way in. Could you imagine if he wins three Super Bowls with three different teams, after capturing titles in Denver and Los Angeles? Only former NFL linebacker Matt Millen has done it. Actually, Millen wasn't active for that Washington team in Super Bowl XXVI (though he did play the entire regular season for Joe Gibbs' squad), so Von could be the first to appear in and win three Super Bowl games with different teams.
2022 breakout star: Greg Rousseau, defensive end. The 2021 first-round pick made an immediate impact, notching four sacks in his rookie season (tied for second-most on the team). He was out there making big plays on the regular. Now he's on a line with Von Miller crashing in from the other side. Don't be shocked when he ends up with double-digit sacks in Year 2.
Three key dates:
- Week 1 at Los Angeles Rams (NFL Kickoff Game). I know, I know. Possible Super Bowl preview. And it makes sense, because that would be a fantastic game. But this is the Bills' first appearance since last year's painful playoff exit. They need to make a huge statement. Buffalo did lose Week 1 against Pittsburgh last year; don't make that a trend.
- Week 6 at Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills have to win this game. There can be no other outcome. Otherwise, doubt is going to start to creep in.
- Week 17 at Cincinnati Bengals (Monday night). I mean, this should have been the AFC Championship Game last year. Let's go.
Will the Bills be able to ...
... find the answer at running back with James Cook? As a fantasy guru, it's always wild to me that as great as the Bills' offense has been in recent years, there really hasn't been a running back we can rely on. The Bills ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing last season, but a lot of that had to do with Josh Allen, who rushed for 6.3 yards per carry and six TDs on 122 attempts.
Devin Singletary was great down the stretch last season, logging 71.7 rushing yards per game and eight rushing touchdowns from Week 15 through the playoffs. But I love the drafting of Cook, who logged 1,012 scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns for the national champion Georgia Bulldogs last year. Cook -- yes, the younger brother of Minnesota's Dalvin Cook -- was great as a receiver out of the backfield. He had 27 receptions for 284 yards and four receiving touchdowns for the Bulldogs in 2021. This is huge for a Bills team whose running backs ranked in the bottom 10 in both receptions and yards in 2021.
... continue to dominate on defense? Buffalo led the NFL in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense in 2021. The Bills' 30 takeaways were tied for third in the league. We talked about Miller. We talked about Rosseau. But there are plenty of other great pieces. Ed Oliver had four sacks and set career highs with 14 quarterback hits and 10 tackles for loss last season. Micah Hyde (74 tackles, five picks, 10 passes defensed) and Jordan Poyer (91 tackles, five picks, 10 passes defensed) earned PFF grades that placed them both among the top 10 safeties (of those with 100-plus snaps). Then there's cornerback Tre’Davious White, who's recovering from a torn ACL in Week 12 that cost him the remainder of the season. We still aren’t 100 percent sure when White will return from his injury, but the Bills have plenty of talent to manage as he works his way back onto the field. One of my favorite picks in the draft was Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam, selected 23rd overall after the Bills traded up. I would expect him to beat out Dane Jackson for the spot opposite White, but both could end up playing if White still can't go early on.
One storyline ...
… people shouldn't overlook: Jamison Crowder might be the receiver to watch after Stefon Diggs. Listen, I love Gabe Davis. I was on the Gabe Davis train before many of you even knew who he was. (Not you, the Bills fan; I'm talking to the NFL casuals.) I was not shocked to see Davis compile a remarkable 10 catches for 242 yards and five touchdowns in two playoff games last season. The 23-year-old is undoubtedly set for a big Year 3. But don't forget about Crowder, a great low-key signing to replace Cole Beasley in the slot. In his three seasons with the Bills (2019-2021), Beasley ranked second in the NFL in slot targets (266), second in slot catches (194) and third in receiving yards from the slot (2,087), per Next Gen Stats. Crowder, who is four years younger than Beasley, ranked eighth or better among receivers in those categories in that same span, and he should be in line for a healthy workload, based on recent history. No receiver in the NFL has been targeted more than Diggs (329) in the two seasons since he joined the Bills, but the second-most-targeted player on the team by far in that span was Beasley.
… people shouldn't overthink: The loss of Brian Daboll. We might as well jump into this here. Daboll, who was the offensive coordinator in Buffalo over the past four seasons, exited to take the head-coaching job with the Giants this offseason. This could be a huge loss. There is no doubt Daboll had a major impact on developing Allen from a promising-but-raw rookie into the player he is today. The good news is, the Bills kept Ken Dorsey, who had been Allen's position coach since 2019, as Daboll's replacement. With Dorsey's promotion being more of a turn-key move than a total restart, Allen should continue to have the advantage of stability, and the Bills should be fine offensively.
For 2022 to be a success, the Bills MUST:
- Win the Super Bowl. The Bills went 17 seasons without a playoff berth before Sean McDermott arrived. He ended that drought in his first season on the job. Now they've been to the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. They've been to the AFC title game. Everything has been leading up to this point. There are unlikely to be any more moral victories in Buffalo, no more feel-good moments coming from just making a run. For me, the Bills have to win the Super Bowl for this to feel like a success. Nothing else.