There was no shortage of Buffalo fans hoping the Titans would have to forfeit their game against the Bills as a punishment for violations of the NFL’s protocol on COVID-19.
It was an understandable sentiment. People who favored a forfeit figured a win is a win, one more difficult hurdle cleared on the way to an AFC East title and a possible trip to the Super Bowl.
But I wanted them to play, for a simple reason: I like real games. There was a time, remember, when we weren’t sure there would even be any games this year. And boy, was this season worth the wait!
NFL games have been loads of fun so far, haven’t they? I’m not just talking about the Bills and Josh Allen, who have been wildly entertaining through the first month of the season. I’m talking about the entire league, which has been an offensive show.
Heading into Monday night, NFL teams were averaging 25.6 points a game, up more than 10% and on pace to shatter the league record of 23.4 points per team, set in 2013. Yards per game were on a record pace of 367.4, an increase of 20 yards over a year ago and 15 ahead of the record.
Over the first 75 games of the season, there were 48 contests in which one of the teams reached 30 points — and in 14 of them, both teams scored 30. That means individual teams scored at least 30 points in 41.3% (62) of the first 150 games.
For once, the unbeaten Bills are at the forefront of an offensive surge in the NFL. They've scored at least 30 in their last three games. They’re averaging a shade over 30 a game and are on pace to break the franchise record of 458 points set in 1991.
The experts would have us believe that the lack of a conventional offseason is the main reason for the offensive explosion. I’m no Belichick, but since when did defenses require more time to prepare for a season than offenses? Isn’t it offenses that generally need more time to polish their schemes and discover their timing?
Couldn't it simply be that young quarterbacks are coming on the scene and hitting their stride? Allen is a prime example. He has made remarkable progress in his third NFL season, and I suspect he’d still be on pace to break most of the team passing records if there hadn’t been a pandemic.
The Bills are up 47 points on their total four weeks into last season. The Bengals were up 10 points a game until running into the Ravens. That has more to do with Joe Burrow being uncommonly ready as a rookie than the lack of defensive preparation by his opponents.
If defenses are struggling, maybe it’s because offenses are better and evolving with more athletic, young quarterbacks. The Chiefs, Browns and Ravens are all averaging 30 points a game. I’ll give Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson most of the credit, not the lack of those vital OTAs and summer exhibitions.
It’s not all the kid QBs, either. Oft-criticized veterans like Derek Carr, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Tannehill are proving you can get better with age.
That brings us to Tennessee, which jumped on the offensive train after making Tannehill its starter a year ago. The Titans scored 254 points over the last eight games of the 2019 regular season. They have 80 points this year, so they’re averaging 30.4 points over their last 11 regular-season games.
So tonight’s game could be a nationally-televised meeting of high-powered offenses. What? A Bills-Titans shootout? The Bills have beaten them three times in a row, by such forgettable scores as 14-13 (2015), 13-12 (2018) and 14-7 (last year).
That’s a combined score of 41-32. I could see that being the final score tonight, with Allen having another huge passing day against a suspect Titans secondary while Tannehill and Derrick Henry make big plays against a suddenly vulnerable Buffalo defense.
Sorry, but I’d rather see this Bills team get an unplanned opportunity to impress the nation than rack up win No. 5 by forfeit. I'm impartial, and I’d rather see the show.
It’s also another chance for them to test themselves against a formidable AFC opponent. In consecutive games (assuming no further virus outbreaks), the Bills will play the AFC runner-up (Tennessee) and the Super Bowl champ (KC). Imagine the buzz around the nation if they win both.
One good thing about the Bills not playing Sunday was it gave us a close look at Chiefs-Raiders. My two takeaways from that game, a 40-32 Las Vegas win: The Chiefs look very beatable and the Bills’ win over the Raiders looks a lot better in retrospect.
Buffalo’s defense had its difficult moments in last week’s 30-23 victory in Vegas, but they held the Raiders seven points below their average and made five critical stops to end drives. They held Josh Jacobs to 48 rushing yards, by far his fewest of the season.
The Chiefs had few answers for Derek Carr, a reputed rag-arm who hit four pass plays of 40-plus yards and led a Raiders attack that piled up 490 yards of offense — including 143 yards rushing by the backs.
OK, so it was only one game. The Chiefs had won 13 straight games before Sunday’s loss. Mahomes is still the NFL’s best player, a brilliant passer and playmaker who won a league MVP and a Super Bowl MVP in his first two seasons as a starter.
But Mahomes isn’t perfect, and neither are the Chiefs. At times, they both looked ordinary against Vegas. If you have a quarterback who can engage Mahomes in a shootout — and Allen qualifies with these receivers — and a defense that comes up with timely stops, you can beat him.
The Chiefs have been the standard for a new, dynamic era of NFL offense since Mahomes became the starting QB. Other teams have followed suit, making this potentially the most high-scoring and fascinating period in league history.
For once, the Bills are right in the middle of the conversation. I’m not sure they’re in the Chiefs’ class yet, but the gap has narrowed. I almost made it through an entire column without mentioning that the Bills could have taken Mahomes in the draft.
Jerry Sullivan is a sports columnist with over 30 years experience in Western New York. Follow him on Twitter @ByJerrySullivan or respond via email at email@example.com.