Sullivan: The Pessimists Guide to the 2020 Bills

Jerry Sullivan

Several years ago, when Buddy Nix was general manager, I picked the Bills to pull an upset one week in the newspaper's NFL predictions. Nix saw me at the team facility the next day and asked me never to pick them. It was bound to jinx them.

He was joking, sort of. People grew accustomed to my grim, skeptical outlook during the playoff drought. So whenever things were looking up for the Bills, fans preferred that I keep any optimistic notions to myself.

Of course, I did pick them to win 10 games a year ago. That turned out OK. And I’m on the record that they should be the favorite to win the AFC East next season, now that Tom Brady is gone from New England and the Pats are due to fall off.

But when I see people picking them to go 12-4, my dubious side kicks in again. Twelve wins for any NFL team nowadays is a monumental achievement. The Bills could be better and struggle to win 10 games again.

A lot of things went their way a year ago. The schedule will be tougher. The opposing quarterbacks will be much better. Last season, only three of their 16 opponents had starting QBs who finished in the top half of the league in quarterback rating.

So while I’m picking them to win the division, there’s a lot of possible stumbles on this schedule. Seasoned Bills watchers have been conditioned to see calamity around every turn. Here’s my Pessimist's Guide to the 2020 Bills.

I’m not picking the games, just reasons fans might worry. The biggest worry, of course, is that the NFL might not play games at all, or hold them without fans in the stands:

Week 1, vs. Jets

The opener is always tough, especially when you’re trying to live up to high expectations. The Jets finished 6-2, and they’re better this year. They added four pieces to a bad offensive line (similar to the Bills last season) and drafted massive offensive tackle Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick. I still think Sam Darnold will be a star.

Week 2, at Dolphins

Early-season games in Florida are always tough. Remember they got blown out in Week 2 in the first Super Bowl year? Miami is a sleeper. It bolstered the defense with Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson. The biggest nightmare for Buffalo fans is that rookie Tua Tagovailova will outplay Josh Allen in his first home game.

Week 3, vs. Rams

They’re not the same team that made the Super Bowl two years ago, but they’re still scary. I could see Robert Woods having a big day in his return to Buffalo. Woods is one of five NFL wideouts with 85 catches and 1,100 yards each of the last two years (the others are Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones).

Week 4, at Raiders

Lots to worry about. It’s the second home game for Vegas, a west coast trip for the Bills. The run defense will be tested by Josh Jacobs, who rushed for 1,150 yards and was second in the league in yards after contact as a rookie. Jon Gruden also added a top free agent class, led by starting-caliber linebackers Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski.

Week 5, at Titans

Tennessee beat the Pats and Ravens en route to the AFC title game. They’re no fluke. This will be a second straight test for the run defense. Derrick Henry led the league in carries and yards and was a playoff monster. The defense is solid, led by one of the NFL’s best secondaries. Josh Allen has struggled to put up points against them twice.

Week 6, vs. Chiefs

A Thursday nighter, the first of four primetime night games, against the Super Bowl champs. How can you pick against Patrick Mahomes in this spot? It’ll be a chance for the Bills defense to prove that it’s elite, and for Allen to show the nation he can win a shootout against an elite passer. This time, it’s Sammy Watkins’ return to Buffalo.

Week 7, at Jets

Fireman Ed, the team’s super fan, returned last season after a six-year break. That’s worrisome. Even more of a concern is the Jets’ defense, which was dominating the Bills in last year’s opener until C.J. Mosley went out with an injury. Allen needs to outplay Darnold in these spots if he wants to rule the division. I still have my doubts.

Week 8, vs. Patriots

OK, there’s no Brady, but it’s still the Pats. It’s hard to push away all the ghastly memories — the McKelvin fumble, the Bledsoe bootleg, Jauron fumbling with the challenge flag, Brady lighting up Rex Ryan’s defense for a record 466 yards passing here five years ago. Just imagine, the Bills favored in this game. How can you not worry?

Week 9, vs. Seahawks

The last time Seattle came to Buffalo, the game was in Toronto. The Seahawks scored 50 points that day in Russell Wilson’s rookie season. He’s been winning ever since. Wilson is 86-41-1 as a starter in the regular season, and second in all-time passer rating. One way or another, Wilson and Pete Carroll keep on winning games. So yes, you worry.

Week 10, at Cardinals

Kyler Murray could be this year's Lamar Jackson. He has DeAndre Hopkins to go with Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. The defense is shaky, so this could be one of those days when Allen needs to keep pace in a high-scoring affair. If Stefon Diggs belongs in the discussion with Hopkins and other top wideouts, he needs to show it.

Week 11, bye week

You can still fret. Do they have injuries? Are they in danger of having any of their remaining primetime games flexed? They’re scheduled for Sunday or Monday night three of last four weeks. Lot of pressure to live up to this year.

Week 12, vs. Chargers

Tyrod Taylor is slated to be the starting quarterback, ahead of rookie Justin Herbert. But will he quickly lose the job, as he did to Baker Mayfield in ’18? If not, this could be a troubling setup: Tyrod’s return, and possible revenge. The defense has to do better than it did in 2017-18, when LA torched it for 82 points in a span of six quarters.

Week 13, at 49ers

A Monday nighter. Bills have lost seven straight on Monday night, dating back to 1999. San Francisco is very good and will be very motivated all year after blowing a late lead in the Super Bowl. This is the first of a daunting three-game run of top defenses for Allen and the offense. It might tell us just how far he’s come in Year 3 as an NFL starter.

Week 14, vs. Steelers

For the second year in a row, they get the Sunday night showcase against Pittsburgh, only this time if figures to be Ben Roethlisberger at QB, not Duck Hodges. The Steelers’ defense was fifth in yards, third in average against the rush and first in sacks last year. Did I mention that Allen would be facing a critical stretch as the franchise guy?

Week 15, at Broncos

Denver’s D was good a year ago, but it could jump to elite with the additions of tackle Jurrell Casey and cornerback A.J. Bouye, plus the return from injury of linebacker Bradley Chubb. John Elway also signed Melvin Gordon to team with Phil Lindsey at running back. This could come down to Allen outplaying second-year QB Drew Lock.

Week 16, at Patriots

Yet another primetime game, on the Monday night after Christmas. Bill Belichick is always dangerous in December, and he always has something ready for Buffalo quarterbacks. The Bills have never beaten Brady in Foxborough in a game that mattered. Wait, Brady isn’t there anymore! But the customary worry will linger just the same.

Week 17, vs. Dolphins

If the 12-4 crowd is right, this could be a week to rest players before the playoffs. But under the new 14-team playoff format, with only one team per conference getting a first-round bye, this one could be important. A true nightmare for Bills fans would be Ryan Fitzpatrick coming off the bench to beat his former team with anything on the line.

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 scoreboard@gnnewspaper.com.

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