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Football Outsiders offers its 2018 Buffalo Bills prediction

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Hint: the outlet doesn’t expect the Bills to return to the playoffs.

Everybody knows the Buffalo Bills snapped their 17-year playoff drought in the 2017 season, finishing with a 9-7 record and securing the No. 6 seed in the AFC before falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 10-3 in the Wild Card round.

Not content to rest on their laurels, head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane continued to overhaul the Bills roster in the offseason.

First, Buffalo dealt incumbent starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor to the Cleveland Browns, and former starting left tackle Cordy Glenn to the Cincinnati Bengals.

With the draft capital amassed through trades over the last two years, Buffalo moved up twice in the first round to select a quarterback — Wyoming’s Josh Allen at No. 7 — and a quarterback of the defense — Virginia Tech middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds—at No. 16.

Veterans Star Lotulelei and Trent Murphy signed to improve Buffalo’s defensive line, while the secondary should once again be a strength, led by Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and Vontae Davis.

A strong rookie class is expected to contribute immediately this year, with as many as four to five rookies either starting from day one or playing a significant role on the Bills.

Change is everywhere at One Bills Drive.

In the final installment of our interviews with Football Outsiders about the 2018 Buffalo Bills, we asked the organization to assess what has to happen for the Bills to return to the playoffs in 2018.

“So, the Bills have the lowest win projection of any team in Football Outsiders Almanac 2018. Keep that in mind as I go over what has to happen,” Rivers McCown said. “The defense can’t regress. Defenses that have bad run defense DVOA (as the Bills did last season) tend to be much more likely to regress, and the projections account for that. Subjectively, I think Sean McDermott is a good enough defensive coach that I’m less worried about this than the projection system is. But it’s something to be aware of.”

Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy will once again be the focal point of the offense, with strong showings expected from the unheralded Marcus Murphy and veteran Chris Ivory in the running game.

Former first-round pick Corey Coleman and slot receiver Jeremy Kerley were brought in to provide a spark at wide receiver, along with (hopefully) bounce-back seasons from Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones.

The offensive line will be a work in progress, with Ryan Groy taking over for Eric Wood, Dion Dawkins for Cordy Glenn, and Vladimir Ducasse (or promising rookie Wyatt Teller) for Richie Incognito.

Free agents Russell Bodine and Marshall Newhouse were signed to provide stability along the line, though the results have been mixed through two preseason games.

How well Buffalo runs the ball and controls the clock will go far in determining how successful the Bills are.

“The running game also can’t regress. Tyrod Taylor was a big source of positive yardage on the ground, and LeSean McCoy is now 30. The Bills do not have Richie Incognito, Eric Wood, or Cordy Glenn. Our projection systems value offensive line continuity,” McCown said. “Clued in Bengals fans can tell you exactly how bad Russell Bodine is, and Vlad Ducasse is a reclamation project. There’s a good chance this is one of the worst five offensive lines in the league. McCoy is going to need a superstar season. The passing game can’t completely (fall off). Taylor wasn’t a star, but he could do the easy throws. AJ McCarron can’t do that, and while Nathan Peterman has many good things said about him in preseason and camp, he hasn’t proven that he can do that in an NFL game. As you might be able to glean from the Allen answer, I absolutely believe he will be a disaster if called upon this year.”

With all the doom and gloom from national media members around the Bills in 2018, where does Football Outsiders feel the Bills will finish?

“If the Bills can avoid all those things, they do play in a down AFC and going 9-7 might be enough,” McCown said. “If they can’t, well, hopefully there will be some offensive cornerstones in this next draft class.”

The Football Outsiders Almanac is available now.