For the second straight season, the Bills will open up with a game against the Jets, this time at the Ralph. Buffalo should have lost last season's opener in
the Meadowlands MetLife but CJ Mosley's 3rd quarter injury set the stage a 14-point 4th quarter Buffalo comeback, giving them a 17-16 win. Last year's opener, though, was before Josh Allen's Rubicon moment. That is, Allen evolved under center following the Bills' Week 4 16-10 loss in the rain to Tom Brady and the Pats. It is my belief - one entirely unsubstantiated by any other Bills analyst I have heard or read - that Allen watched gainfully as Brady dinked and dunked his way to a road win. Entering that game in Buffalo, Brady was second all-time in career passing touchdowns, but on this day, rather than peppering the LBs and secondary with quick releases and tossing scores, he instead provided his young opponent in Allen a master class in game management. Brady threw for 150 on 18/39, 0 TDs and 1 INT. And won. And from that game forward I saw a different Josh Allen on the field week in and week out, thus marking 9.29.19 as Josh's Crossing-the-Rubicon moment.
With all that in mind, however, the Bills' 2020 Week 1 opponent have a talented young quarterback in Sam Darnold. Since being chosen four spots ahead of Allen in the 2018 NFL Draft, Darnold has recorded less-than-spectacular stats (e.g. 81.1 QBR) but scores higher than Allen on the traditional eye test. That is, Darnold looks better in the pocket and delivers the ball more consistently from the pocket than Allen, and does so with fewer weapons. And so, Buffalo will only win their 2020-21 season opener against the Jets if Allen proves that he has matured more, and more quickly, than Sam Darnold has. And, for this hopeful writer, I hope to see Josh prove me right about his Rubicon moment. If I'm wrong, the Bills will lose.
Both Allen and Darnold will face Pro Bowl-caliber middle linebackers (Mosley for New York, Edmunds for Buffalo) while neither has much to fear from the opposing defensive line. But the Bills' secondary is perhaps the best in the AFC. Tre White statistically outshined last years DPoY (see chart below for comparison), former Buffalo CB Stephon Gilmore; Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde may not be household names (yet), but they represent the anchors of a fourth-ranked secondary according to PFF.
Buffalo returns their entire secondary from a season ago. They will matchup against a Jets receiving core that has gone from mediocre to sub-par. Gone are Demaryius Thomas and Robbie Anderson, and in are Breshad Perriman and 2nd round pick, rookie Denzel Mims. A thin receiving core will likely have significant difficulty creating separation for their young quarterback. What's more, New York's OL is predicted to rank 21st in the league by JetX. Across the line of scrimmage from a bottom-10 OL is a Buffalo defensive line that analysts expect to be slightly improved from its middle-of-the-pack 2019 performance. Unless Ed Oliver suddenly makes the leap from lost, undersized rookie to the dominant tackle that his collegiate days at Houston portended, the battle at the line is destined to be a wash.
Darnold faces the more difficult task than Allen. McDermott's defense is going to be very good. Allen's challenge comes less from Gang Green than from his maturation as a professional quarterback. If he takes a step backward, if he fumbles the ball instead of embracing the occasional sack, if he throws ill-advised balls into coverage, he'll blow the Bills' opener. If he takes what the defense gives him and manages the game with composure, the Bills will win. Then again, a third option could present itself. If Allen has developed the ability to throw with touch he may be able to take advantage of what has the potential to be a very dangerous set of receivers.
According to Next Gen Stats, "Stefon Diggs led the NFL in deep receptions (15), catch rate (57.7%), yards per target (24.0) and finished T-1st in touchdowns (5)" in 2019. For Allen, a QB much maligned for his early-career deep ball inaccuracy (24.1% in 2019), a go-up-and-get-it, Pro Bowl caliber receiver like Diggs could make a world of difference. Diggs will lineup opposite John Brown, a receiver with whom Allen developed a near instant chemistry in 2019, culminating in a career year for the 6th year receiver, one in which he hauled in 72 catches for 1,060 yards and a 28th-ranked YPC of 14.4. Brown has been a career field-stretcher. But in his first year in Buffalo, Smoke, as he is called, proved to be a dependable route-runner and stick-mover, ranking 17th in receiving first downs (53).
Though Smoke, as Brown is often called, was brought in from Baltimore to take the top of off a defense, very few of his 2019 receptions were hauled in on vertical routes. The most frequent Allen-to-Brown connection was made on 15-20 yard out routes, or similar sideline-oriented routes. This approach has the potential to pair ideally with Diggs' ability to attack downfield. When you factor in Dawson Knox's game-breaking ability, Cole Beasley shifting around between the LBs and safeties, and Allen has a truly dynamic set of weapons. If, of course, he can get the ball to them.
Or he can turn around and hand the ball to Devin Singletary who is going to rush for 1,200 yards this season.
Buffalo Bills 34 | New York Jets 20
Week 1: NY Jets, Sunday, Sept. 13 — 1 p.m. ET
Week 2: at Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Sept. 20 — 1 p.m. ET
Week 3: Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Sept. 27 — 1 p.m. ET
Week 4: at Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Oct. 4 — 4:25 p.m. ET
Week 5: at Tennessee, Sunday, Oct. 11 — 1 p.m. ET
Week 6: Kansas City Chiefs, Thursday, Oct. 15 — 8:20 p.m. ET
Week 7: at New York Jets, Sunday, Oct. 25 — 1 p.m. ET
Week 8: New England Patriots, Sunday, Nov. 1 — 1 p.m. ET
Week 9: Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Nov. 8 — 1 p.m. ET
Week 10: at Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Nov. 15 — 4:05 p.m. ET
Week 11: Bye Week
Week 12: Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Nov. 29 — 1 p.m. ET
Week 13: at San Francisco 49ers, Monday, Dec. 7 — 8:15 p.m. ET
Week 14: Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 13 — 8:20 p.m. ET
Week 15: at Denver Broncos, Saturday/Sunday, Dec. 19/20 — TBD
Week 16: at New England Patriots, Monday, Dec. 28 — 8:15 p.m. ET
Week 17: Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Jan. 3 — 1 p.m. ET