The Buffalo Bills have been overshadowed in the AFC East by the dominance of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots since the beginning of the new millennium. Despite this, the Bills have managed playoff berths in two of the three past seasons under coach Sean McDermott. With the Patriots trending downward, and the Bills only getting better from last year’s playoff team, is 2020 the year this Bills team reigns supreme in the AFC East for the first time since 1995? I dive into why the wrong team may be favored to win the AFC East in this Buffalo Bills 2020 season betting preview.
Offseason additions and losses
Bills get a much-needed superstar
Josh Allen has proven that he has all the skills necessary to be a productive quarterback in the NFL, and the Bills have been wise to invest in talent around him to further his development and showcase his skillset. The most significant investment the Bills made this offseason was the unloading of multiple draft picks to bring in wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
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Diggs should be hungry to assume the clear WR1 role in Buffalo as he is joined by veterans John Brown and Cole Beasley in what is suddenly a very talented receiving core. While Diggs may be most famous for the “Minnesota Miracle,” he is also a highly productive and consistent receiver. He has not had less than 700 yards in his five years in the league, including back to back 1,000+ yard seasons in 2018-2019. Considering he managed this production with under 100 targets in 2019, expect Diggs to flourish in his new role as the focal point of the Bills offense.
The draft brings in new talent
The Bills also got better at the running back position, selecting running back Zack Moss in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. The Utah prospect was highly productive in college and an overlooked prospect, according to PFNs Andrew DiCecco. He should be an improved version of the 2019 Frank Gore, the only true loss for the Bills on offense, and be a great compliment to Devin Singletary, whose emergence has him garnering the most excitement in the Bills backfield.
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Already great Bills defense gets even better
Bills boast the deepest defensive line in the league
The Bills picked up some high-level talent in both free agency and the draft this offseason. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa was an absolute steal at pick 54. He wreaked havoc during his time at Iowa, and he has the technical ability to step right in on day one and continue his dominance on the defensive line at the professional level.
Epenesa is not the only newcomer along the defensive line by any means. The Bills made the defensive line a priority in free agency, signing veterans Mario Addison, Quinton Jefferson, and Vernon Butler. At age 32, some believe Addison to be over the hump. Yet, his 39 sacks since 2016, including 9.5 in 2019, show that he still has that motor, and he will be a great addition on the line.
At the defensive tackle position, Vernon Butler also comes over from the Panthers as a former first-round pick. Bulter had a solid 2019 season earning six sacks and three forced fumbles while in his first few years in the league. Quinton Jefferson is a former Seahawk who also should be a vital part of the rotation.
Despite losing the likes of Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips, I expect the Bills’ defensive line to be even better than they were in 2020. They are incredibly talented and deep at defensive end with Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, Mario Addison, and Epenesa, and at defensive tackle with Ed Oliver, Star Lotulelei, Jefferson, and Butler.
Bills add a starter at linebacker in free agency
The Bills also got improved at the linebacker position with the signings of A.J. Klein and Tyler Matakevich. Klein has been a consistent starter for the Saints and should step in once again and take that role because he can defend both the run and the pass for the Bills at outside linebacker.
Matakevich should provide quality depth at middle linebacker behind Tremaine Edmunds. While the starting trio of Klien, Edmunds, and Matt Milano may not have the star power of other units on this defense, I believe them to be grossly underrated and expect them to be a top-10 linebacker unit in 2020.
How does Josh Norman fit into this secondary?
Speaking of star power, the Bills welcome in one of the more polarizing players in the NFL in cornerback Josh Norman. While Norman’s fame has faded a bit as his team the Washington Redskins has failed to be relevant, and he’s limited his trash-talking, I believe he remains an excellent corner who, in the right scheme, can be an elite corner. He will be eager to prove that as he lines up opposite fellow star corner Tre’Davious White, who earned All-Pro honors in 2019.
Because the Bills were able to retain the underrated safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, I would rank this secondary as a whole a top-three unit in the NFL, if not the standalone best secondary in the NFL. With an improvement in the pass rush also expected, this Bills team should be an extremely tough team to throw the ball against. Ultimately, my most significant reason for optimism in this Buffalo Bills 2020 season betting preview is this defensive unit.
Path to the playoffs
Strength of Schedule
While the Bills were able to navigate their way into the playoffs in 2019, they may have a more difficult time in 2020 simply based on their strength of schedule. When you go back and look at the 2019 strength of schedule, they rank 26th in opponents’ strength of schedule based on opponent win/loss percentage.
The best indicator of strength of schedule for an upcoming season is the forecasted 2020 season win total, and this metric used by Sharp Football rates the Bills as the 14th hardest in the NFL. This highlights just how tough the Bills’ non-divisional schedule is because having the luxury of playing the Jets and Dolphins twice should make their schedule ranking significantly higher.
However, when you factor in opponents like the Chiefs, Seahawks, Titans, Steelers, and Chargers, it is easy to see why this schedule ranked so difficult.
The Bills currently have a win total of 9.5 on most sportsbooks, and this is undoubtedly achievable given this team’s talent on both sides of the ball and their astute coaching staff. That being said, getting 10 wins is difficult, especially with the non-divisional schedule I highlighted. Instead, I am looking to exploit how down I am on the rest of the AFC East division for my Bills 2020 season-long bet and get plus money while I do it.
AFC East drought over in 2020?
Sportsbooks odds suggest that the AFC East will be a two-horse race in 2020, considering the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins sit at +750 and +850 respectively to win the AFC East on FanDuel. It is hard to fault them for not having faith in either team to compete in 2020 as both appear to be in the midst of a rebuild. Despite all the aforementioned reasons for optimism for this Bills team, they sit at +125 to win the division. Instead, it is the Patriots who are once again favored to win the AFC East at +115.
I think recency bias is factoring in here a bit, as the Patriots have far less talent than the Bills, particularly at wide receiver and the defensive front. Yes, Belichick is a fantastic coach, and it will be interesting to see how his coaching style works with Cam Newton, but McDermott is a tremendous coach in his own right. He and his staff have consistently won games over the past three years for the Bills with far less talent.
Allen has gotten significantly better each year since he has come into the NFL, and I don’t see any reason why 2020 would be any different. His progression, coupled with the increased talent at wide receiver in Diggs and progression of Singletary at running back, should make this Bills offense very scary for opposing defenses.
I believe this upcoming season has created a perfect storm scenario for the Buffalo Bills to not only contend but win the AFC East in 2020. Furthermore, the recency bias created by New England’s dominance of the AFC East has given us added value on the Bills AFC East line. Add in the eight New England players that have chosen to opt-out of the 2020 season, and I believe we have created the perfect storm for value. I will finish this 2020 Buffalo Bills season betting preview by happily taking the most talented team in the division to win at +125 for 2 units.
Bills win the AFC East +125 2u (FanDuel)