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Are the Buffalo Bills pretenders or contenders?

SB Nations’ reasoning falls on the shoulders of the quarterback

Oakland Raiders v Buffalo Bills Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Last week, SB Nation’s Geoff Schwartz listed the Buffalo Bills, along with the Miami Dolphins and the entire AFC South, as pretenders among the teams currently in playoff contention. Their entire argument falls on Tyrod Taylor and how much the rest of the team needs to do to succeed:

This will be a theme throughout this article, but it’s all about quarterback play. Last season, 11 of 12 playoff games were won by the better quarterback. Tyrod Taylor is playing well within the Bills’ offense, but they are near the bottom of the NFL in passing. In the playoffs, they will need a passing game to keep up with any of those three 6-2 teams.

The Bills’ staple of rushing the football is still there, but I don’t think that would be enough in the playoffs. The Bills’ defense can stop the run, but they are venerable against the pass without much of a pass rush. However, they are +14 in turnover margin, leading the NFL. That’s outstanding but it’s hard to always rely on forcing turnovers to win games

It should be noted this was written before the blowout loss in New Jersey. Before the letdown against the Jets, the offense has had a hard time finding the endzone coming off turnovers, but it was good enough to win most games. The Bills have forced 17 turnovers this season. Excluding kneel-downs, the Bills had a chance to get into the end zone on 12 of those drives. They only came away with one touchdown, but scored on 7 of those attempts according to Pro Football Reference. Those turnovers essentially were used to kick field goals and help keep opposing offenses off the field and it has worked. The defense has produced more touchdowns off turnovers than the offense has with returns from Matt Milano and Tre’Davious White bringing it to the house. The Bills win different than other conventional teams, but they have shown they can find ways to get it done.

If the playoffs started today, the Bills are in the wild card. They’ve gone 5-3 at the halfway point and a big part of that reason is their ability to create turnovers one way or another. So far, they have done what they needed to do to stay in playoff contention no matter how unconventional it is. Calling them pretenders is premature. If the Bills finish the last eight games on any type of hot streak or just another half with a 5-3 record, they'll end the drought.

The Bills are contenders because Tyrod can be efficient enough and the defense can create turnovers, even if they don’t always score touchdowns off of them.