R & B on the march

Rich Fyle column

From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:

With a rather lean history of success in nearly a quartercentury following a run of four straight Super Bowl appearances, the Buffalo Bills want to break into the NFL playoff party this season.

They made a cameo appearance two seasons ago with a 9-7 record after a what-seemed-like-an-eternity, 17-year drought, but the postseason fever and hype lasted just a few days at best.

After a slide-back 6-10 record in a non-playoff 2018 under then-second-year head coach Sean McDermott, the Bills now feature a revamped roster with 22 free agents designed to improve the team’s overall depth with quality and quantity.

The new signees, including offensive linemen, wide receivers and running backs, were brought in to help the development of QB Josh Allen, whom the Bills hope elevates his passing game.

Allen led the Bills in rushing with 631 yards for a 7.1-per-carry average and eight touchdowns last year. His completion percentage was only 52.8, mainly attributed to dropped catches and a below-average line, forcing the then-rookie into scrambling forays.

He threw for 2,074 yards with 10 TDs and 12 interceptions last season. His yardage and TD stats should improve with the addition of slot man Cole Beasley and ex-Raven John Brown added to the fold.

The Bills have a pair of aging running backs in Sean McCoy and Frank Gore, but rookie Devin Singletary has excelled in the preseason. The O-line probably will have four new starters, definitely an upgrade.

McDermott’s defense has a chance to be a top-5 unit like it was under coordinator Jim Schwartz in 2014.

First-round draft choice Ed Oliver out of the University of Houston should step up and anchor the line, while edge rusher Jerry Hughes led the team with seven sacks last year.

Jordan Poyer, who paced the Bills with four interceptions in 2018, teams with Micah Hyde to form one of the premier safety duos in the league. They were both instrumental in forcing takeaways in the Bills’ playoff drive of 2017.

The Bills will turn around a minus-105 point differential from last year, thanks to a much easier schedule in 2019.

The only 2018 playoff teams on the Bills’ schedule are the Patriots (twice), Ravens, Eagles and Cowboys, though the Titans and Steelers just missed, and the Browns are vastly improved.

Prediction: Buffalo won’t win its first AFC East Division title since 1995, but the Bills will challenge for a playoff berth, probably falling just short with a 9-7 record.

Times sports copy editor Richard Fyle can be reached at rfyle@wdt.net

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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