The Bills now have the 8th easiest schedule in the NFL as they hit the Bye Week at 5-1, so if they can remain reasonably healthy they’ll be in great position to play one or two games in Orchard Park this January.
The first 6 games were a gauntlet. Opening against the defending Super Bowl Champion Rams in LA, blistering the AFC’s top seed of last year and winning at Arrowhead in Kansas City with four of the six games on the road. Only the sweat box loss at Miami stopped the Bills from a 6-0 start to match the Philadelphia Eagles, and even with that loss most folks still consider the Bills the Super Bowl LVII favorite at State Farm Stadium in Glendale Arizona February 12th.
How much are those tickets? Don’t ask.
We’ve learned a lot about the 2022 Bills as we hit the bye. Josh Allen is actually getting better, and he’s now the clear front runner in the NFL’s MVP race, which was enhanced when the Bills held off the Patrick Mahomes Chiefs 24-20 at Arrowhead. Allen outplayed Mahomes and willed the Bills to that win. Still, Allen doesn’t have the ring or the MVP belonging to Mahomes, and the respect he’s due now won’t come until that happens, and there’s an excellent chance the two will meet again this January in Orchard Park.
We’ve also learned Von Miller is worth every penny of his 6-year, $120 million contract with the Bills, who to their credit enticed him to leave glitzy LA after he won his 2nd Super Bowl. Miller is a difference maker, and along with Allen made the decisive plays in the win over the Chiefs with 3 huge plays only somebody like Miller can make. The Bills are being smart allowing the 33-year old Miller extra rest during the week, and the KC game was the first time this season he played more than half the defensive snaps. The explosiveness and extra gear are still there, and his off field help with protégé Greg Rousseau and others has been noticeable.
It’s also noteworthy that the Bills 5-1 start came despite an unusual rash of injuries, especially on the defensive side. This is where the Bills depth on the team built by gm Brandon Beane became noticeable. Some rookies, like first round pick, CB Kaiir Elam and 6th round pick, CB Christian Benford along with 3rd round selection LB Terrel Bernard stepped right in and produced. Elam especially is interesting because he’s so demanding of himself. He’s come up with interceptions in each of the last two games, and his end zone pick of Mahomes early in the KC game was really big. Elam said he gave himself an F- after the Steelers game. A bit harsh?
Offensive injuries have also revealed some rookie talent. WR Khalil Shakir, a 5th round pick but considered a steal at that spot, is proving the hype is real after he didn’t even dress for the season opener. He’s clearly gaining Allen’s trust with his route running and ability to make disputed catches as well as RAC (run after catch) yards. Slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie had a tough outing against the Chiefs, and while it could be the lingering effects of a concussion, Shakir might be making a bid for more snaps and targets at McKenzie’s expense. Hey. A little competition doesn’t hurt anyway.
Having said that, I pay ZERO attention to the plethora of rumors and “sources” saying the Bills are actively pursuing OBJ or Christian McCaffrey. It’s not happening, and doesn’t need to happen.
With the Bills off this weekend, we still have some interesting games to keep tabs on, especially in the suddenly competitive AFC East.
The surprising Jets are no longer a patsy. They’re 4-2 after a solid win at Green Bay, yet they’re 1 ½ point underdogs at Denver. Sorry Broncos, but I think the Jets win this one outright because their D will not help struggling Russell Wilson get suddenly better. The Dolphins are home against the Steelers on Sunday night as 7 point favorites, which they’ll cover as QB Tua Tagovailoa returns from Concussion Protocol. Honestly this makes me nervous, as I can’t shake that shot of Tagovailoa’s protruding fingers right after the sack against the Bengals. He’s a wonderful guy according to everybody around him but his lack of size and proclivity for injuries give me serious doubts about whether or not he should just walk away. But, it’s obviously his decision.
Then we have the Patriots. With QB Mac Jones out, rookie Bailey Zappe threw for 309 yards and 2 TD’s in a 38-15 blowout win at Cleveland to even the Pats record at 3-3. Zappe looks pretty darn good and dare I say better than Jones. The Pats are 8 point favorites against the Bears at Foxboro, and the Pats will cover easily. Da Bears aren’t dat good.
The Bills next game is intriguing, with the Packers at Highmark Stadium October 30th in a Sunday Night Football game. Aaron Rogers has been struggling but it’s way too early to dismiss them as an easy W.
The Bills will be the healthiest they’ve been since the season opener now, and cornerback Tre White is almost back. The depth is there, except at quarterback.
Number 17 has to stay healthy, and he’s not gonna change his style now.
What an amazing time to be a Bills fan.
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