Bills had transition season we all expected

January 08, 2019 - 10:52 am
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It was all pretty much what we expected. Josh Allen played and was uneven. LeSean McCoy was ineffective, looking old. The defense was good. The offense lacked speed and talent, and the line took a step back. Nathan Peterman played himself off the roster.

None of these 2018 Buffalo Bills events was a surprise.

Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane last week put the wraps on 2018 with assurances that things are going according to plan. Beane, the general manager, said that the salary-cap mountain he inherited has been cleared. McDermott talked in the usual generalities about how building a winner takes time. When he was asked how many games the Bills should win in 2019, he laughed the question off.

If the head coach has no interest in that one, I'll step up.

2018 arrived with an overall agreement on expectations. The Bills' own expectations were modest, and they said as much once the season was over. Objective expectations for the Bills from the outside were no loftier; the Las Vegas win-loss total was right around six wins. Allen's exploits notwithstanding this season was a matter of "nothing to see here". The park's closed for renovations, opening again in 2019.

I think 2019 will be an overall different story. The Bills will have higher expectations -- and moreover, it really won't matter what theirs are. All that's left is to contend and win. Whether you got on board with the built-in excuses about the need to fix the cap and the "culture", none of that holds up going forward from now. Two years is about as long as pro sports ever gives anyone to prep a roster. Allen, in Year 2, isn't going to be "too young" in a league where young quarterbacks are shining. Time's up.

(Much already has been said about whether to accept the notion that the Bills needed that overhaul. No doubt the previous regime's practice of drunk spending was going to stop, because it had to stop. The league sets limits. But it absolutely should be included in every analysis about the Bills and this transition that the team McDermott and Beane set out to fix wasn't bad -- and no matter what they say about "culture" and the Bills' negligence in that area before they arrived, it all amounted to teams that there were far from a disaster. Put bluntly, Rex Ryan's two Bills teams were both better than these two McDermott teams. Bills' successsive point differentials by year, beginning with Doug Marrone's 2014 squad: +54, +20, +21, -57, -105.)

The thing is though, even with some returning bright spots and all their newfound cap room, I don't see Vegas giving the Bills a much different outlook next year than it did this year. No matter what package of players the Bills net in free agency and the draft, I doubt the impact of that will make much of a dent on the Vegas line. (I mean Le'Veon Bell is probably the biggest name out there for this and football can't even agree on whether he made the Steelers better at all.) If the Bills' preseason over-under were above 8 next year, I'd be really surprised. Maybe if Tom Brady retired it could be.

None of this is to say what will actually happen. Predictions for their season next year, unlike this year, will vary widely -- irrespective of what changes are made to the roster between now and kickoff.

This off-season won't provide us the action of last year's in certain ways, beginning with the quarterback intrigue leading into the draft. My career is in conversation, and last year's was fun and always fresh. Every workout and rumor was a new topic cycle. It was great.

With due respect to the very small percentage of football fans who can speak intelligently on other teams' free-agent receivers and linemen, this off-season will be dead air by comparison. We know the Bills will get to work on the offensive line and receiving corps. Much of the defense will stay in tact, but as before it won't mean a lot to me how they line up there because defense is so much more unpredictable year-to-year than offense. (By the way, it's a little odd that the Bills' defense ranked 18th in points allowed both in 2017 and 2018, yet in yards allowed were 26th in 2017 and 2nd in 2018. Yards per play is better: In 2017 the Bills were 17th and in 2018 they were 3rd.)

I'm eager to see what kind of preseason respect the Bills get. It might simply come down to Allen, and how the person offering the prediction sees him. If you see Allen as a rising star, then take the upgrades to the offensive personnel and McDermott's acumen coaching defense, you can talk Super Bowl here. Instead, if you see Allen as an erratic and immature player, you might choose to ignore the roster moves, downplay the defense and target this team for the basement.

Both kinds of predictions will be out there.

Either way, it'll be time to win.

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