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  • Andrew McGuinness

Meet The Bills

Welcome to An Irishman on Football Pre-Season Series. Today, I'm kicking off the first in a series of blogs focusing on AFC and NFC teams as we move towards the new NFL season. First up is the Buffalo Bills from the AFC East Division. I’ll set the scene about the team, with historical context, and focus on how they’re shaping up for the 2020 season. A Blue Collar Team and Town Tim Russert, the legendary, late host of Meet the Press on NBC, was one of the great Buffalonians. When asked about significant features of his hometown, he noted that President McKinley was assassinated there, and that the chicken wings are among America’s finest. Then he conceded the only buffalo that actually roam in western New York are the Buffalo Bills. The Bills keep Buffalo on the map. They are the city's ticket to the big time. Buffalonians wear their hearts on a sleeve and that sleeve is on a Bills shirt, as Russert was proud to point out. Football is a way of life in Orchard Park, west New York, just 40 minutes drive from Niagara Falls and the Canadian border. And adding to their authenticity, the Bills are the only team that plays its home games in the state of New York, as the New York Jets and Giants are both based in New Jersey.


Recognition and Quicksand 1959 - 1986: When Ralph Wilson took over as owner of the team in 1959, some people called him a carpetbagger. That changed, Wilson said, after the Bills won a game. O.J. Simpson came to town in the 1970s and ran with the city on his back. The Bills were about to enter an era of national attention and heartbreak.


1987 - 1995…. The period between 1987-1995 was to prove one of the most bittersweet chapters in sports history. The Bills became a perennial Super Bowl contender in the late 1980s, with several major pieces coming together for the team. Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was paired with terrific head coach Marv Levy, while Bruce Smith led the formidable defense. The Bills made four Super Bowls and, devastatingly, lost each one. Jokes went around the Buffalo that the Bills stood for ‘Boy, I Love Losing Super Bowls.’


1987 - 1995…. The period between 1987-1995 was to prove one of the most bittersweet chapters in sports history. The Bills became a perennial Super Bowl contender in the late 1980s, with several major pieces coming together for the team. Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was paired with terrific head coach Marv Levy, while Bruce Smith led the formidable defense. The Bills made four Super Bowls and, devastatingly, lost each one. Jokes went around the Buffalo that the Bills stood for ‘Boy, I Love Losing Super Bowls.’


A New Era

At the heart of the Bills success since 2017 has been the close-knit relationship between head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane. They worked together in Carolina, and the patience in building a roster in Buffalo has been a hallmark of their relationship. As has doing it the right way. Since arriving at the Bills facility, McDermott has preached ‘Respect the Process’ as his change slogan, which the media interpreted as his pivot phrase to the questions around whether the organisation was in deep rebuilding mode when he took over. Shaping their own roster has meant building a culture dependent on players that make the right decisions off the field which in turn translates into success on it.


Brandon Beane has dismissed the oft-repeated notion that players don’t want to come to Buffalo to play for the Bills. Playoff participation has helped add missing star pieces to the roster, most notably the free agent signing of wide receiver Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings. Beane conceded that what cost the team last season was that they didn’t score enough points. That certainly was the case in the playoffs against the Houston Texans in January 2020. That was the impetus for signing Diggs and surrounding third-year quarterback Josh Allen with more talent. Now, let’s turn to the Bills roster. The Defense

In the 2019 season, Buffalo's defense ranked third in the NFL overall, 10th against the run, fourth against the pass and second in points allowed. They also had top 10 rankings in first downs allowed, (6th), third down defense (7th), total takeaways (9th) and sacks (10th). They are loaded with defensive talent to go deep in the play-offs. One look at their lineup reveals a successful Buffalo first round draft pick at every position: linebacker, Tremaine Edmunds; defensive tackle, Ed Oliver; edge rusher, Shaq Lawson; and cornerback Tre'davious White was named a first team All-Pro last season, a designation of the best player for his position, and the highest accolade that can be bestowed upon pro footballers. The challenge for Buffalo’s defense is to consistently beat the good teams with excellent quarterbacks, something they struggled to do last year. In the 2020 season, the Bills will face quarterbacks such as Patrick Mahomes II, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray and Cam Newton -- twice.

Sean McDermott has brought in players he trusts from his time as defensive coordinator with the Panthers. With an eye on Buffalo’s need to pressure quarterbacks, Mario Addison has come in from Carolina. A.J. Epenesa, a pass rusher out of Iowa, will also help. Veteran Josh Norman will add depth to a strong secondary, and is familiar with McDermott’s scheme. The Quarterback

Josh Allen is quarterback of the Buffalo Bills and is one of the most athletic and explosive young quarterbacks in the NFL. He has a strong, if wayward arm. If he can correct his accuracy challenges going into his third year in the league, then Buffalo are set fair. His wild lateral pass in the tight playoff lost to the Houston Texans demonstrated the rookie rawness in him. Allen’s impulsive moments are reminiscent of the great Croatian tennis player Goran Ivanisevic. He once mused that there were two characters in his head - Good Goran and Bad Goran. When he hit freely and played well, Good Goran was in charge. When the imposter surfaced, it was Bad Goran. I think we are going to see consistent stretches of Good Josh in the 2020 season. Buffalo is confident that Allen is going to be its franchise quarterback.


When his accuracy improves, then the play calling should allow him to be aggressive downfield. It hurt Josh Allen that he didn’t have a number one receiver to throw the ball to. He doesn't have that excuse with Diggs moving to Buffalo in free agency. Opposition defenses will have their hands full with Allen extending plays, escaping the pocket and making first downs with his legs.


Respect The Process The Buffalo Bills are in an AFC East Division that is in flux. Personnel turnover and change are rife. Tom Brady has left the New England Patriots, and if incoming quarterback Cam Newton is fit, they’re arguably a better team than last season.


The Miami Dolphins have acquired a promising rookie quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, and have a talented young coach in Brian Flores. They’ll need a season or two to gel together. The New York Jets are still the Jets, hamstrung by head coach Adam Gase and going nowhere fast, albeit with a good general manager in Joe Douglas waiting to stamp his print on the team. The path for the Bills is clear if they can see real improvement in Josh Allen and the defense is elite again. Take care of the Patriots, win the division and at least twelve games. With the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens setting a high bar in the AFC, nothing less will be acceptable.


Buffalo would be a popular team to host a playoff game. Such a loyal and passionate fan base deserves it. Bring out the Rolling Rock beer, famous chicken wings and crank up the west New York extremities in January. A short drive along a stretch of highway named after Tim Russert will take you there, providing the Bills can deliver.

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