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State of the 2023 Buffalo Bills: Super Bowl or bust for Josh Allen and Co.?

Where does your squad stand in 2023? 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 are willing to jump through a table like they are Sabu from the ECW days ...

I'm going to state the obvious to begin here. It's so good to see Damar Hamlin on the field again living his dream. There was a great moment at The ESPYs this week, when he introduced the Bills' training staff as it received the Pat Tillman Award for Service, the same staff that helped to revive Hamlin when he went into cardiac arrest last January. He even threw out the first pitch recently at Yankee Stadium. Before we move on to talk about the Bills' coming season, here's a brief look back.

2022 rewind

One high from last season: Week 6 in Kansas City. The Bills defeated the Chiefs, 24-20, to get some revenge for their overtime playoff loss from the previous season. Although, the Bills' win didn't quite measure up to the Chiefs' victory. It's like if somebody stole your car and you responded by finding that person and letting the air out of the tires. Sure, it's somewhat satisfying, but not nearly equal at all. Still, Josh Allen was amazing, throwing for 329 yards and three touchdowns. It had to feel good to be the Bills that night. 

One low from last season: Losing to the Bengals in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Bills survived a scare against the Dolphins the previous week and then were decisively defeated by Cincinnati. It was a horrible way to end the season.

2023 VIPs

Quarterback: Josh Allen. Allen is like the Justin Timberlake of the NFL. He can run and pass. He leads the NFL with 130 offensive touchdowns since 2020. He joined Drew Brees as the only players all-time to have 40-plus offensive touchdowns in three consecutive seasons. It's hard to imagine they're the only two to have accomplished that feat considering the greatness we've witnessed from guys like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Peyton Manning. But Allen is one of the rarest athletes I've seen. He's the only player in NFL history with 35-plus passing touchdowns and five or more rushing touchdowns in three seasons. Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young did it twice, and he's considered one of the best to ever do it. There is no doubt Allen is one of the most electric guys in the game.

Projected 2023 MVP: Josh Allen. You just can't replace Allen, and no, that's not a shot at Matt Barkley. Although the team did sign Kyle Allen to compete for the backup job. But when you look at the things Josh Allen has done, there is no doubt that it all comes down to him. The dude has posted 5,000-plus offensive yards and 40-plus touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. There are just four quarterbacks who have reached those numbers in multiple seasons in a career all-time. He's incredible. But he can protect the ball a bit better. Allen has thrown 29 picks over the last two seasons, the most in the NFL. The Bills are 8-0 and average 32.4 points per game when Allen has had no giveaways since 2021.

New face to know: Dalton Kincaid, tight end. You know, a lot of times that when I do my pre-draft rankings, I'm dreaming of fantasy fits. I had Kincaid to the Bills in the back of my mind as an ideal situation. And this isn't a shot at Dawson Knox, who is a nice player. But when you watched Kincaid at Utah, you couldn't help but imagine him being the next Travis Kelce. Which I know is a heavy burden to carry. But you put this guy in the slot (he's probably not going to block much) and watch him go. Kincaid is the only Division I tight end to have four seasons with eight-plus receiving touchdowns over the last 25 seasons. Also, he recorded the third-most receiving first downs (49) in a single season among FBS tight ends since 2014, according to PFF.

2023 breakout star: Kaiir Elam, cornerback. I'm not exactly sure what's going on with Elam, a first-round pick of the Bills a year ago. He still hasn't claimed the CB2 role that he was projected to fill and was even a healthy scratch in Week 13 last season. But then he had an interception in the Bills' playoff win. Elam is likely going to get every opportunity to start, but the team isn't going to hand the job to him. My conjecture is he steps up this season.

2023 braintrust

Table inside Article
Head coach Sean McDermott
General manager Brandon Beane
Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey
Special teams coordinator Matthew Smiley
  • The Bills have made the playoffs in five of six seasons under McDermott. He broke a 17-season playoff drought in his first year after replacing Rex Ryan, who I once thought would be the, well, McDermott in Buffalo. The new wrinkle this year is McDermott will take over as the defensive play caller. Leslie Frazier announced in February that he was going to step down for a year as defensive coordinator. Frazier told Sports Illustrated in May that stepping away would give him "a chance to see things from a different perspective, get recharged again and reenergized." It was surprising news, to say the least. But don't worry, it wasn't a bad breakup like when David Lee Roth left Van Halen. And instead of finding a Sammy Hagar to run the defense, McDermott is just going to do it himself.  
  • Ken Dorsey had an interesting first season as offensive coordinator with the Bills as he replaced the popular Brian Daboll, who left to become head coach of the Giants. The Buffalo offense looked sharp in the first half of the year. But then it sort of stumbled at the end. The offense was a shadow of its former self at the end of the season, especially in the playoff loss to the Bengals. Also, Dorsey’s outburst after a Week 3 loss to the Dolphins became a meme.

Roster reshuffling

Below is a rundown of the Bills' most notable roster developments for the 2023 season, including this year's draft class, as well as key acquisitions and departures via free agency and trade.

Table inside Article
Draft class (round-pick) Key additions Key departures
Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah (1-25) Kyle Allen, QB Case Keenum, QB
O'Cyrus Torrence, OG, Florida (2-59) Damien Harris, RB Devin Singletary, RB
Dorian Williams, LB, Tulane (3-91) Latavius Murray, RB Jamison Crowder, WR
Justin Shorter, WR, Florida (5-150) Deonte Harty, WR Isaiah McKenzie, WR
Nick Broeker, OG, Mississippi (7-230) Trent Sherfield, WR Rodger Saffold, OG
Alex Austin, CB, Oregon State (7-252) Brandon Shell, OT Greg Van Roten, OG
David Edwards, OG Tremaine Edmunds, LB
Connor McGovern, OG Jaquan Johnson, S
Leonard Floyd, Edge
Poona Ford, DL
Cameron Dantzler, CB
Taylor Rapp, S

2023 roadmap

Three key dates:

Will the Bills be able to ...

... keep things copacetic with Stefon Diggs? Diggs was clearly frustrated at the end of last season, and then there was a flare-up last month, when Sean McDermott told reporters he was "very concerned" about Diggs' absence from the first day of mandatory minicamp before saying the next day that Diggs' absence was excused and that the situation had been resolved. I feel like this will get settled once he hits the end zone on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Allen, who recently said the minicamp situation was blown "out of proportion." Diggs has posted 100-plus receptions and eight-plus touchdowns in three straight seasons, which is tied for the third-longest such streak in NFL history. The guy with the longest streak? Antonio Brown, who had six. And while I'm addressing the pass-catchers, can I add something here? The Bills were second in the NFL with 34 drops as a team last season. Diggs led the NFL with nine.

... have a leading rusher who isn't Josh Allen? I'm pretty confident I wrote this same thing last year. This isn't a cut-and-paste, though. And look, as a guy who spends most of his time talking about fantasy sports, I kind of love what Allen can do as a runner. But you need to have one of your running backs do the job. It's like hiring a cleaning service and spending all of your free time cleaning your place before it arrives. Let the cleaning service do its job. Same for the Bills' running backs. Allen has had 100-plus carries in four consecutive seasons, the second-longest such streak by a quarterback in NFL history. The Bills moved on from Devin Singletary in the offseason, but they have James Cook, a second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, and signed a couple veterans in Damien Harris and Latavius Murray. Cook led the NFL with a 48.6 breakaway percentage in 2022 (minimum 75 carries), per PFF. I'm not quite sure what that means, but the NFL Research team sent it, so it must be legit. Also, James' older brother, Dalvin, is a free agent and could be a fit in Buffalo.

One storyline ...

... people are overlooking: The Bills still have Von Miller. And the eight-time Pro Bowler was dope when he played last year. He recorded eight sacks in 11 games before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season. Still, the Bills finished with a top two scoring defense for the second consecutive year. If it were me, I would hold Miller back for the playoffs, which you're probably making anyway. Then you could have that magic moment late in the season. Kind of like in the old ECW days when Enter Sandman would hit and The Sandman would enter the ring and the crowd would go nuts.

For 2023 to be a success, the Bills MUST:

  • Win the Super Bowl. Last year was an opportunity lost. You can look back and point to a variety of reasons for the outcome. The fact is the Bills entered last season as the most popular Super Bowl pick. But the goal remains the same: Win the Super Bowl. Anything less is going to be a disappointment. And I'm not going to pretend like it's going to be any easier. The Chiefs and Bengals have had success against the Bills in recent years. Now teams like the Jaguars and Dolphins might be gaining ground, too.

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