The Buffalo Bills will be challenged in 2016 with one of the league’s toughest schedules. With a difficult slate of games, comes some of the NFL’s top talent. In 2015, the Bills faced the likes of JJ Watt, Andrew Luck and Odell Beckham Jr. Here’s my list of the Top 10 players the Bills will face this season.
10. Marshall Yanda, RG Baltimore Ravens
Sure, it may seem weird to see a guard make this list, but Yanda certainly deserves it. Yanda, in his 10th NFL season, is a dynamite pass-blocking guard. He’s both physically and technically sound and is a big reason why the Ravens have yielded the least sacks in the NFL the past two seasons. In the run game, he’s just as good. Bills defensive linemen and inside linebackers will have a difficult time getting off blocks against Yanda.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, QB Pittsburgh Steelers
Roethlisberger is one three quarterbacks to make this list and his uncanny, keep-the-play-alive capability is a major reason why. It’s so tough to prepare for a guy like Big Ben because he has so much success after the play breaks down. Sometimes that hurts him, though, as did throw 16 interceptions in just 12 games last year. Still, Roethlisberger is the straw that stirs the drink for a Steelers offense that also boasts arguably the league’s top wide receiver in Antonio Brown (who you’ll see later) and one of the league’s best running backs in Le’veon Bell.
8. Russell Wilson, QB Seattle Seahawks
Wilson has shaken his “Game Manager” title and has become an elite, franchise quarterback for the Seahawks. Last season he threw 34 touchdown passes, to only eight interceptions, and did so while playing behind a bad offensive line that saw him get sacked 45 times. He also led the league in quarterback rating. The big question in 2016 for Seattle revolves around its running game. With the retirement of Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks may have to put the ball in the air much more frequently than the past three years, thus making Wilson’s role even bigger.
7. Patrick Peterson, CB Arizona Cardinals
The Bills’ Week Three matchup with the Cardinals should feature one the season’s best one-on-one matchups when Peterson matches up with Buffalo’s top wideout Sammy Watkins. While there's always a debate over who truly is the NFL’s top cornerback, Peterson is regarded by many around the league as the best. At 6-foot-1, 219 pounds, Peterson has the physical traits to match up with the league’s finest wideouts in man coverage. He also has tremendous speed and can change a game in the punt return game, too.
6. Earl Thomas, S Seattle Seahawks
A huge part of Tyrod Taylor’s success last season was his deep ball touch. Seattle’s Earl Thomas is the league’s best at taking that away. Thomas is a true sideline-to-sideline center fielder at safety. His instincts and knowledge in the secondary make it very difficult to exploit him deep. He’s amassed 50 pass breakups and 21 interceptions in his six-year career.
5. Antonio Brown, WR Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown has not only become arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, he’s becoming one of the league’s best players, regardless of position. Despite his quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missing fives games last year, Brown still caught 136 passes for 1,834 and 10 touchdowns. Brown is terrific route runner and does magical things when he gets the ball in his hands. He’ll undoubtedly be tough an assignment for the Bills secondary.
4. Rob Gronkowski, TE New England Patriots
There’s really no way to stop Gronkowski. His size, strength and speed give opposing defenses fits. He’s had a lot of success against the Bills, catching 46 passes for 693 yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games.
3. Tom Brady, QB New England Patriots
Same old story here. Brady will turn 38 in August and has shown no signs of slowing down as he threw for 4,770 yard and 36 touchdowns in 2015. No player has victimized the Bills over their 16-year playoff drought more than Brady.
2. Aaron Donald, DT St. Louis Rams
Donald enters just his third season as one of the few cornerstones for the rebuilding Rams. He has become the best interior defensive lineman in the league in large part because of his quickness off the ball. He was Pro Football Focus’ top player in 2015, meaning he even ranked ahead of 2015 Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt. Donald ended the season with 11 sacks, 79 total pressures and 51 defensive stops. The Bills interior offensive line will have its hands full come Week Five.
1. Khalil Mack, DE/OLB Oakland Raiders
Who would have thought an overlooked, diamond-in-the-rough prospect from the University at Buffalo would become one of the NFL’s top defensive players? Mack made history last season as he became the first player to ever be named All-Pro at two positions. Playing both defensive end and outside linebacker, Mack’s 15.0 stats were second to only Watt. He is a relentless edge rusher that makes a tremendous impact at rushing the passer, but an even bigger impact at setting the edge in the run game.
Best of the rest:
Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars; Richard Sherman, CB Seattle Seahawks; A.J Green, WR Cincinnati Bengals; Tyrann Mathieu, CB, Arizona Cardinals; Brandon Marshall, WR New York Jets; Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets; Joe Thomas, LT Cleveland Browns; Carson Palmer, QB Arizona Cardinals; Geno Atkins, DT Cincinnati Bengals; Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami Dolphins; Michael Bennett, DE, Seattle Seahawks; Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals; Jamie Collins, LB, New England Patriots; and Le’Veon Bell, RB Pittsburgh Steelers