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The Buffalo Bills’ wins haven’t been against quality opponents

Were they what we thought they were?

Denver Broncos v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

When the Buffalo Bills were 5-2 most of Bills Nation rejoiced, certain that a playoff berth was only a matter of time. A trip to New Jersey was supposed to lift the team to 6-2 and with Drew Brees being a dome QB, 7-2 was a real possibility. But then the offense didn’t show up against New Orleans while the defense has been missing in action since the last week in October.

Whatever happened to the team that won five of the first seven games? General manager Brandon Beane has divested the team of Marcell Dareus, a former number 3 overall draft pick, but then Dareus never seemed to be a favorite of head coach Sean McDermott. Dareus’ percentage of snaps played was well below those of his tenures in the defenses under former head coaches Doug Marrone and Rex Ryan. The Bills brought wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin aboard but he has yet to make much of an impact. Was Buffalo’s early success largely illusory?

Four of those five wins came against what Bills fans perceived to be good or even great teams. The fifth came against the lowly Jets, the same team that throttled Buffalo in a 34-21 beat down that was nowhere near as close as the final score suggested. How have those other four teams fared in the weeks since the Bills beat them?

Buffalo beat Denver by 10 points. The Broncos had an elite defense and, even with a QB situation little better than Buffalo’s, looked to be a factor in the playoff race. It may be surprising for Bills fans to learn that Denver has won exactly 1 game since losing to Buffalo, a win over Oakland in which David Carr was injured. Beating an EJ Manuel-led team isn’t much of an accomplishment, yet Denver dug an even deeper hole for itself by losing to a terrible Giants team. They went on to lose four more games (Chargers, Chiefs, Eagles, Patriots) after that one to land at 3-6.

Verdict: Denver wasn’t as good as we thought the team was, making the win less impressive in hindsight.

After taking down Denver, the Bills traveled to Atlanta to face the NFC Championship-caliber Falcons. Several key wide receiver injuries later, the Falcons weren’t flying all that high. The Bills got the benefit of the doubt on a defensive TD to help put the game away. Since losing to Buffalo, Atlanta lost to Miami, got stomped by New England, squeaked by the Jets, lost to Carolina, and pounded a perplexing Dallas team. The Falcons don’t look anywhere near as good at 5-4 as the team did at 3-0.

Verdict: Atlanta wasn’t as good as we thought the team was, making the win less impressive in hindsight.

After losing to a terrible Bengals team, the Bills beat the Buccaneers in Buffalo. Quarterback Jamies Winston was coming off a shoulder injury but still put up good numbers against a Bills secondary that couldn’t seem to keep an eye on all five receiving options at once. Tampa Bay went on to lose to Carolina and New Orleans before putting away the Jets to snap a five-game skid. Five-game skid?

Verdict: Tampa Bay wasn’t as good as we thought the team was, making the win less impressive in hindsight.

Buffalo’s most recent win came against the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have, surprisingly, the 22nd-ranked offense. TV talking heads, such as Rodney Harrison, have begun to wonder aloud why David Carr is so highly thought of given the state of the Raiders. The team bounced back from the loss in Buffalo to squeak by the Dolphins and get nearly back to .500 on the season.

Verdict: Oakland was closer to the team that had been losing games earlier in the season than the team that had won a shootout with the Chiefs the week before the Bills game, making the win about the same as it looks in hindsight.

When viewed in hindsight, the wins the Bills team collected don’t tell us a great deal about the quality of Buffalo’s team as much as they tell us about the quality of the opponents. In short, the quality of the teams the Bills beat wasn’t what it seemed to be at the time. Denver and Atlanta both faced the Bills when they were unbeaten but have shown since then that they just aren’t that good in 2017. The Bills have 4 games remaining against teams that currently have more losses than wins (Chargers, Colts, Dolphins, Dolphins) and 3 games against actual good teams (Chiefs, Patriots, Patriots).

With only one non-division leading team (besides Buffalo) above water in the AFC, the Bills might be able to back into the playoffs at 9-7 this season. Of course, that would require the Bills to do what the team failed to do in spectacular fashion in New Jersey— consistently take care of business against weak teams. Any stumble will require the Bills do to something the team has yet to do under Sean McDermott: beat a good team.