Every NFL season brings with it outliers who far exceed expectations or disappoint miserably. With the futures odds set for the 2021-22 NFL season, we examine that broad range of possibilities for the Buffalo Bills.
When Last We Met
The Buffalo Bills took a massive step up in 2020, improving from their 10-6 record in 2019 to finish tied with the second-most wins in the NFL with 13. Buffalo obliterated their projected 8.5 wins on the NFL betting lines and quickly became a popular pick when betting online.
Now, the online sportsbook has saddled the Bills a slightly bigger win total at 10.5, which the public have already started betting down for good reason. Only Kansas City and Baltimore can consider themselves better or equal to Buffalo in the AFC.
The Bills fell short of a championship in 2020 but still made it to the conference finals, where Kansas City owned them. Still, with an improving Josh Allen at quarterback, an upgraded defense and more experience, Buffalo should come back stronger this 2021.
To Miss the Playoffs (+325)
While the Bills are likely to win fewer than 13 games this season, missing the postseason altogether is another story entirely. It would be almost as shocking as Kansas City missing the playoffs considering these NFL playoff odds.
The Bills play in one of the weakest divisions in the AFC East and none of their division rivals are in the same tier even with their improvements. However, Buffalo has a tough schedule (the strength of schedule is skewed by three teams). The Bills are also fallible and showed plenty of exploitable traits in the playoffs.
For one, the Bills’ defense merely ranked in the middle of the pack in the regular season and then gave up an average of 417 yards in the playoffs. We can blame the lack of a pass rush here as Buffalo merely ranked 22nd in QB hurries and 19th in pressures.
Buffalo looked to address this in the offseason by using its first two picks to take pass rushers in Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr. But the Bills barely upgraded the secondary, waiting until the sixth round to add players while not signing anyone notable.
Allen also showed glimpses of “Bad Josh Allen” in the playoffs. He’s been efficient for Buffalo for the most part. But if he has a string of ineffective games while the defense stagnates, the Bills may just find themselves losing games even against teams they’re supposed to beat. This is a recipe for an underwhelming 9-8 season that will not cut it.
To Make the Playoffs (-450)
The betting line at -450 implies an 81.8 percent chance the Bills return to the playoffs. That’s a bit steep, but nearly half of the Bills’ opponents in 2021 had losing records in 2020. Expect Buffalo to be a favorite in at least 11 games as well per NFL predictions.
The Bills covered in 12 of their 19 games last season — the second-best mark in the NFL — and they only lost two games in which they were favored. However, the Bills stayed relatively healthy and performed better than expected. So a little regression and “bad luck” is to be expected.
A few Bills players may get lost to injury and some may decline in their performance. With that said, Buffalo should still be able to beat at least half of its opponents and finishing with around 10 wins should be good enough to grab a wild card.
To Win the AFC East (-150)
We live in a different time now when the Bills are not only expected to make the playoffs but also win the division. This isn’t just a testament to the Bills’ abilities but the weakness of the division. To be fair, the AFC East has been a subpar division since Tom Brady and the New England Patriots ruled it for over 15 seasons.
But even with improvements from their divisional rivals, the Bills are expected to come out on top three out of five times (60 percent) per the NFL division odds. That means that two in every five of those times the Dolphins (+300), Patriots (+350), or even the Jets (+2000) win the division.
Miami finished with a 10-6 record in 2020 but half of those wins were from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is now gone to the Washington Football Team. The Dolphins have a legitimate defense and plenty of playmakers on offense. But Tua Tagovailoa is a shaky quarterback and Miami making a concerted effort for Deshaun Watson is not flattering.
The Patriots are in a similar spot as they went heavy on upgrades in the offseason and should be better on both sides of the ball. But again, there is a massive disparity between Allen and whoever starts at quarterback for them.
And last and definitely the least, the Jets are still in rebuilding mode. Even if Zach Wilson turns out to be the next Aaron Rodgers, this is still mostly the same team that finished dead-last on offense and bottom-six on defense.
Bills became the first team to sweep the Patriots in the regular season since 2000, Bill Belichick’s first season with the team. Before Monday night, the Patriots were the only NFL team not to be swept by a divisional foe since division realignment in 2002.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 29, 2020
The Bills swept the division 6-0 last season but that is highly unlikely to happen. Expect them to lose a game or two, likely to Miami and New England. With that said, the Bills have the best quarterback in the division. And sometimes that’s all you need.
To Win the AFC (+550)
The consensus may be that Buffalo is the second-best team in the AFC. The NFL’s conference odds indicate that. But at +550 compared to Kansas City’s +225, the Bills are a distant runner-up. That was evident as two of their four losses last season came against the Chiefs.
Allen may have posted comparable numbers to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes last season. He tallied 46 total touchdowns (37 passing) with a 69.1 percent completion rate and a 107.2 passer rating. But he fell awfully short in the two games against the Chiefs while Mahomes put on a clinic against Buffalo.
In their two games, Allen threw four touchdowns to two interceptions, completed 56 percent of his passes, and averaged 5.45 yards per attempt, while Mahomes threw five touchdowns with no picks, completed 78.1 percent of his passes and averaged 8.60 yards per attempt.
Patrick Mahomes vs the Bills:
325 YDS (playoff career-high)
He is the first QB in NFL history with multiple 300/3 playoff games before turning 26. pic.twitter.com/eynUhP73Ba
— StatMuse (@statmuse) January 25, 2021
Those stats also point out the disparity in each team’s defenses. The Chiefs allowed the 10th-fewest points on defense and ranked 12th in pressures while Buffalo’s was 16th and 19th, respectively. And Kansas City upgraded its offensive line, which was a big factor in its Super Bowl loss.
If Buffalo can’t beat Kansas City, they’ll have to hope another team like the Titans or Browns because the Ravens and any other contender will likely fall flat.
But even matched up against Cleveland, Tennessee and Baltimore, Buffalo will have theirits work cut out for them. The Bills beat the Ravens but not without a fight and with Lamar Jackson getting hurt halfway into the game.
Buffalo also lost to Baltimore and Cleveland in 2019 and is 1-1 against the Titans in their last two meetings. Should the Bills meet Tennessee in the playoffs, they could be lined as the favorites but not by much.
The Browns have one of the most potent offenses and the defense is arguably even better than Buffalo’s. Baltimore’s defense is also formidable while Tennessee made significant improvements to its passing game on both sides of the ball.
The Bills didn’t play their A game in the last playoffs but still made it as far as the conference finals. Both Allen and the defense need to play even better and more consistently as they will need to be near flawless if they hope to make a run to the Super Bowl.
To Win the Super Bowl (+1200)
Beating the Chiefs would be almost like winning the Super Bowl. That would be half the battle. But the other half would be taking on one of the elite teams from the NFC. That could mean facing Brady and the defending champion Buccaneers.
Longtime Bills fans probably still wake up at night all sweaty thinking about Brady facing their team, but if the Bills do get to the Super Bowl, it would mean that the team reached a new level. But it’s the Super Bowl, and nerves could play a big factor, especially for the young Bills.
Still, the Super Bowl odds indicate that winning the Lombardi Trophy is realistic for Buffalo. The Bills are in a five-way tie with Green Bay, Baltimore, San Francisco and the Rams at +1200. Only Tampa Bay (+500) and Kansas City (+375) have shorter odds.
Maybe Buffalo does not even have to face Brady and the Buccaneers. They may face Rodgers and the Packers or the Rams or 49ers. Either one of these teams could be favored over them.
Rodgers proved he’s still one of the three best quarterbacks in the NFL and could just outshine Allen even if the rest of his Packers are not up to par with Buffalo. The Rams and 49ers, on the other hand, have stout lines on both sides of the ball and have recently tasted trips to the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles upgraded at quarterback with Matthew Stafford while the 49ers, when healthy, are a top-four team in the NFL. Say what you will about Jimmy Garoppolo, but he knows Kyle Shanahan’s system and was good enough to lead the Niners to the Super Bowl vs the Chiefs.
Allen and the Bills have beaten San Francisco and Los Angeles but not the Packers. They are also 0-3 against Brady when he played with the Patriots. These aren’t great signs, but Buffalo should have improved since its meetings with these teams.
As far as Super Bowl betting prices go, Buffalo is a tad bit overrated here as they are an unproven commodity relative to the Rams, 49ers, and Packers. Buffalo still has to prove they are “for real” and can perform when there will be fans in the stands. Allen was able to dice up teams thanks to having low crowd noises, but can he do that under more hostile conditions?
However, the Bills do have an advantage over most of these other contenders.
Buffalo has more continuity than the Rams, a better defense than the Packers and a better quarterback than the 49ers. The Bills are also younger than the Buccaneers and have a better secondary than the Chiefs even if Mahomes has proven otherwise.
But as Brady and past Super Bowl winners have proven, it’s not just about how each team looks on paper, but how well they rise to the occasion. There is plenty of hope in the young Bills, who are just scratching their potential. If they put it all together, they can beat any team.