Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Sessler examines the Buffalo Bills.
1) Sean McDermott
Some assignments are tougher than others. While it's simple to whistle Dixie about Green Bay's chances of a postseason berth, arguing for the Bills is a stretch. Let's be real about that out of the gate.
One aspect of the team I believe in: Sean McDermott.
The second-year head coach tugged Buffalo to the playoffs a year ago with a roster few believed in. Many of the pieces on defense remain, but McDermott will be challenged to pull off another postseason berth this season with one of the league's shakiest offensive lineups.
Making matters uglier, there's uncertainty about the status of veteran running back LeSean McCoy. The Bills must prepare for the possibility that he could be placed on the Reserve/Commissioner Exempt List until more information surrounding an alleged domestic violence incident comes to light. That would force Buffalo to start Chris Ivory, a hard-nosed runner who struggles to stay healthy. If McCoy is out of the picture, Buffalo looms as a potential landing spot for Adrian Peterson, but would he sign up?
There's also a sliding-doors reality where Josh Allen blows people away in camp and carries the team on his shoulders, but it's more likely the rookie passer doesn't see the field until much later in the year. Why throw him to the wolves with so little offensive talent around him?
What I do trust is McDermott's ability to maximize his players on defense. If the Bills plan to stun the world, they need everyone on this side of the ball to play lights out from wire to wire and hope the combination of AJ McCarron, Nathan Peterman and Allen can do enough to win low-scoring, white-knuckle slugfests.
The road ahead is rugged, but the Bills finally have a coaching staff and front office that can work together. There's a future here.
2) Power up front on defense
Jerry Hughes notched just four sacks last season, but played well against the run and managed to succeed versus a rash of double teams. He's part of a 4-3 front that added former Redskins pass rusher Trent Murphy and behemoth Star Lotulelei in hopes of upping last year's low-level 27 sacks. Terrence Fede and Owa Odighizuwa add depth, while 35-year-old Kyle Williams can still play. The key here is third-year pass rusher Shaq Lawson breaking out after two down campaigns. He's seen as potential trade bait by beat writers, but the best-case scenario would see the former first-rounder -- who shed weight this offseason -- finally live up to his pedigree.
3) Talent in the secondary
McDermott's specialty in Carolina was milking the most out of his corners and safeties. Those Panthers teams habitually brought in low-cost veterans to play the role, and McDermott made it sing.
The Bills will need takeaways to make up for their potentially anemic offense, something this secondary pulled off last season. Led by phenomenal rookie corner Tre'Davious White, Buffalo reeled in 18 picks, more than all but five other teams. Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer return as a productive safety duo, while veteran cornerback Vontae Davis is slated to start across from White -- a young star who believes the Bills can regularly cause havoc in 2018.
"We want to have 20 picks between us," White told The Athletic. "If each of us can get five, they're not going to be able to hold us back. If we get 20 picks on the back end, we've got those dogs up front and those linebackers, we can easily get 30 takeaways. If you get 30 takeaways in this league, you have a chance of winning a lot of games."
4) Winnable games inside a lukewarm AFC East
The picture-perfect Patriots remain, but Buffalo can steal games from the Dolphins and Jets. Miami houses an underrated roster, but Buffalo swept the Fins a year ago. The Jets are a team-in-the-making, with a solid quarterback room and a roster dotted with talent. With a rookie quarterback of their own in Sam Darnold, the hope in Florham Park -- Buffalo and Miami, too -- is that New England's two-decade run of terror is nearing its end.
There's a reason why most have written the Bills off, yet plenty of August predictions crumble due to ...
5) The unpredictable nature of professional sports
Yes, my Twitter feed will morph into a disastrous waterfall of seething insults and vitriol once @NFL tweets out a piece entitled "FIVE REASONS WHY THE BILLS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS." Someone had to take the bullet.
But if a kernel of hope hangs in the atmosphere, it's this: The clear majority of predictions made by sports fans and analysts go terribly wrong.
Logic and roster study suggest the Bills are a massive long shot, but what if Josh Allen hits the field as a massive-bodied, evolutionary Brett Favre? What if the defense smothers the enemy? What if seven other AFC teams are swept into another dimension by a three-mile wide mothership with bad intentions?
The Earth is a mystery. Nobody knows anything. Viva Buffalo!