Are the Bills the New AFC East Favorites?

The Buffalo Bills are the only AFC East team that will play the New England Patriots during Tom Brady's suspension. Does Brady's suspension make the Bills AFC East favorites in 2015?

The hammer has been dropped on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Punishment from Deflategate has the Patriots losing a 2016 1st round pick, a 2017 4th round pick and a $1 million fine. In addition to the team punishment, Brady will be suspended for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season. The latter is big news for the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and sure, even the New York Jets.

Without Brady, the Patriots will have to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers at home, travel to Buffalo, play the Jacksonville Jaguars at home and play the Dallas Cowboys on the road in Week 5 after their early season bye week.  It wouldn’t be far-fetched to see New England go 1-3 over this span of time. If New England struggles without Brady, the question must be asked.

Are the Bills the AFC East favorite in 2015? Unfortunately, you won’t get a definitive answer from me on this question. Let’s look at this from both sides objectively.

No, the Bills still aren’t AFC East favorites

The QB Situation isn't Ideal

This is a legitimate concern. Buffalo will be starting one of the following at quarterback this season: Matt Cassel, E.J. Manuel or Tyrod Taylor. Bills fans know what they’ll get with Cassel but there are plenty of questions about Manuel and Taylor as Manuel has only started in 14 career games and Taylor is a relative unknown. This trio is probably slightly better than the quarterback situation, but far behind Miami’s signal caller, Ryan Tannehill. Can Bills fans even confidently admit that this trio is better than Jimmy Garoppolo in New England? The objective answer is no. Even with Brady out for four games, the quarterback situation has a chance to hold the Bills back in 2015.

Buffalo’s Early Season Schedule is Still Brutal

The Bills open the season at home against the Indianapolis Colts and then host the Patriots in Week 2. In Week 3, Buffalo hits the road to play the Dolphins and then return to the Ralph to play the New York Giants.  If the Bills want to win the AFC East, they need to start strong while Brady is on the sidelines. The Colts have a franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck and the team has no shortage of offensive weapons. The outlook on the Patriots significantly changes in Week 2 and the Dolphins and Bills are on par in terms of overall talent. On paper, Buffalo has a better team than the Giants, but that may not mean anything once the game is played. Unfortunately, it’s not far-fetched for the Bills to start the year 1-3 or 2-2. Buffalo needs to put the Patriots in a hole early in the season if they hope to claim their first AFC East crown since 1995.

Brady's Only Out 4 Games

Brady is only missing four games. Garoppolo isn’t a slouch at quarterback either, so there’s no guarantee that New England starts the season in a hole. Once Brady returns, he’ll face off with the Colts, Jets, Dolphins, Washington Redskins and Giants. The quarterback will have revenge on his mind in his first game back and the Patriots will most likely be favored against the other four teams. Looking over the rest of New England’s schedule, the Patriots could still win 10 games in 2015. In addition to New England, the Dolphins are also fielding a terrific team that could make a run for the AFC East crown.

Yes, the Bills are AFC East favorites

This the Most Talented Bills Roster Since Buffalo’s 1999 Team

Coincidentally, 1999 was the last time the Bills were in the playoffs (Ugh!). The current Bills roster has questions at quarterback and along their offensive line, but the amount of talent on Buffalo’s roster cannot be questioned. Offensively, there are explosive playmakers like LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin. Don’t forget about the ageless wonder, Fred Jackson, Robert Woods or Charles Clay either. Defensively? The team is even better. That brings me to point No. 2.

Buffalo has the Best Defense in the AFC East

Some would argue that the Jets should be in the conversation. Their defense is much improved from last season, but not quite up to Buffalo’s overall talent. Miami just added Ndamukong Suh, but the entire unit is behind the Bills and Jets.

Simply put, the Bills are loaded on defense. The front seven includes the likes of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, all Pro Bowl players. Don’t forget about Jerry Hughes, a hybrid player who is coming off of back-to-back 10 sack seasons. At inside linebacker, the Bills will have Nigel Bradham and Preston Brown. This duo had a terrific 2014 season, although you wouldn’t know it around the league. Teams were mocking ILBs to the Bills early and often without actually looking at the starting talent.

Looking past the big names of the front seven, take a look at Buffalo’s secondary. I truly can’t remember a time that Buffalo’s cornerbacks were so deep in terms of depth. Stephon Gilmore, a true No. 1 cornerback. Corey Graham and Leodis McKelvin are other quality outside cornerbacks that the Bills can rotate opposite Gilmore. In the slot, Nickell Robey has been one of the best in the league in his two NFL seasons. Now, throw in second round pick Ronald Darby, Ross Cockrell and Ron Brooks. That’s seven NFL quality cornerbacks. At safety, Buffalo have Aaron Williams and Duke Williams. That’s a quality duo. The depth behind them is a bit questionable, but overall this defense is the “Beast of the East.”

The Rex Effect

Say what you want about Rex Ryan, but he is a major upgrade for the Bills at head coach. Jets fans, the ones who previously adored him, will tell you that he’s a terrible head coach. This is the same coach that led the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championships with questions at quarterback, a strong running game and terrific defense. The formula sounds pretty similar to Buffalo’s 2015 squad. Ryan is a master motivator and there’s no doubt that the Bills will match their head coach’s intensity on the field in 2015. Things didn’t end well for Ryan in New York, but the front office hung him out to dry in 2014. Go back and look at Ryan’s coaching in 2013 when he led the Jets to an 8-8 record. A .500 record isn’t generally impressive, but go look at New York’s roster. Going .500 was a miracle. Ryan can coach and he’s a significant upgrade from Doug Marrone.

You could say the same about Greg Roman at offensive coordinator. Roman helped resurrect Alex Smith’s career in San Francisco and he was able to help Colin Kaepernick find early career success. Roman will find a way to develop the offense to Buffalo’s strengths in 2015. He’ll put whichever quarterback wins the job into a favorable situation, while using LeSean McCoy as his workhorse running back. Roman is a big upgrade over Buffalo’s previous offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett.

 Bills fans, what do you think? Are the Bills now AFC East favorites following the news of Tom Brady’s four game suspension? Discuss your thoughts in our forum!

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