For a guy who did everything possible to avoid playing for the team at the beginning of his career, Jim Kelly loves the Buffalo Bills as much as anyone. But he’s not being a homer – and he’s not alone — in picking the Bills to win the AFC East this season.
The time has arrived for the Buffalo Bills
Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly is understandably enthusiastic about his old team in the upcoming NFL season. The Buffalo Bills are coming off a 10-6 year, look to be stellar again on defense, and made a trade that could boost the offense to the next level.
The Bills may have finished two games behind New England in the AFC East in 2019, but Kelly picks Buffalo to finally wrangle the division title from the Tom Brady-less Patriots in 2020.
“If they don’t, then something’s wrong,” Kelly said on CBS Radio last week. “Tom Brady is not there to block you anymore, so that, to me, is huge. I think Tom, of course, is getting older, but he still can play.”
With Brady having left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there’s a case to be made that the Bills’ Josh Allen is the best quarterback in the division. His value went up a notch when Buffalo traded for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs before the NFL draft. That gives seventh-year wideout John Brown (72 catches last season) a formidable running mate.
The Bills, who haven’t won the division since 1995, also possess a reliable running game behind a sound offensive line that includes Allen putting his head down and plowing ahead when the situation calls for it.
NFL observers are banking on the New England Patriots to come back to the pack because of the loss of 20-year veteran Tom Brady, who quarterbacked the team to six Super Bowl championships. The position is currently a question mark for the Patriots, who finished 12-4 in the 2019 regular season.
While it’s easy to see the Patriots slipping to 10-6 or 9-7, don’t hand the division title to the Buffalo Bills just yet. NFL great Jim Kelly rightly pointed out in the radio interview that no Bill Belichick team should ever be dismissed as a contender.
“But right now, there’s no doubt that the Bills are probably favored to win the AFC East,” Kelly said. “And if they don’t, then they must have some serious injuries because they have all the ingredients it takes to move on in the playoffs.”
The problem for the Bills isn’t the Patriots as much as it is the rest of the division. Although the Bills finally have enough to break through against the Patriots head-to-head (they’re 0-6 vs. New England in the Sean McDermott era), they need to be looking in their rear-view mirror.
The Miami Dolphins already have the reliable Ryan Fitzpatrick, but they drafted their quarterback of the future (and maybe the present?) in Tua Tagovailoa, and also addressed needs on both sides of the ball with first-rounders Austin Jackson and Noah Igbinoghene. The New York Jets drafted protection (Mekhi Becton) and a new target (Denzel Mims) for their own capable QB, Sam Darnold.
The Buffalo Bills must do this
Even if the Buffalo Bills finally score a win over the New England Patriots, who’ve won the division 17 times since 2001 and went 86-22 in the AFC East when Tom Brady was the starter, they have to take care of business once again against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins, a combined 4-8 vs. the Bills since Sean McDermott took over as coach.
The Bills can’t surrender what have been reliable W’s in those series. But 2019 should have served as a warning. The Jets came within a fourth-quarter collapse in the opener of sweeping Buffalo last year. The Bills had to score 22 fourth-quarter points at home in October to beat a Miami team that was 0-5 at the time.
Both divisional foes figure to be better in 2020.
So, contrary to Jim Kelly’s optimism, the Bills risk falling short again in the AFC East if they cannot continue to take care of business in the four games on the schedule that have been too easy to look beyond in recent years.