The Buffalo Bills have a short week to prepare for this week’s opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Buffalo is currently 8.5-point favorites against Tampa Bay with the over/under set at 42.
What began as a couple of blips on the radar for the Bills this season, has manifested a troubling trend of subpar play within all three phases of the roster. The Bills look like anything but a playoff team, let alone a Super Bowl contender. Many will be quick to point out that there’s plenty of season left and ample time to course-correct their biggest issues, but it’s possible more than a couple concerns need to wait until their season comes to a close.
For those who believe in such things, Buffalo has the fortune of very quickly putting this game behind them thanks to the way their schedule shakes out. The Bills’ Week 8 opponent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be in Orchard Park, NY in a couple of days. Can head coach Sean McDermott do what’s necessary in guiding his team to a very necessary rebound near the midpoint of this season? Will the Bills avoid establishing another trend this season, that is a losing streak? After each loss to this point in 2023, Buffalo has bounced back to find victory in the next game.
Will Thursday Night Football prove fruitful for the Bills? The team needs to speak it into existence, if they hope to right their ship. The journey becomes far more difficult in the coming weeks. Thankfully, though, Buffalo plays three of its next five games at home ahead of a Week 13 bye. Their opponents aren’t going to lay down to help the Bills find a clear path to the win column.
Buffalo’s found difficult slogging the last month where, in its three previous games, the team finished 1-2 — and with a point differential of 59-63. To this point in the season, much of the concern has been levied at the offense, with most finding the defense to be highly resilient in the face of a massively detrimental season-ending Injured Reserve list. The truth is that from Week 5-7, the Bills fielded the NFL’s second-ranked defense and the 28th-ranked defense. That’s not to say there isn’t trouble in Allen Town, due mostly to the offense’s inability to get off on the right foot, leaving the defense to shoulder the load until late in games. Unfortunately, McDermott’s defense continues to come out of the gates slow to react to its opponents initial, and scripted, drives. When Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen aren’t operating within their personal matrix, the passing game has struggled at times. Last week, despite the loss, there were encouraging signs with meaningful contributions from multiple receivers.
Plenty have wondered, though, if what the Bills have is enough, at receiver. Gabe Davis has put together a solid season as WR2, but he was nearly invisible against the Patriots has stirred up a new cluster of Davis doubters. With the trade deadline fast approaching (October 31), will general manager Brandon Beane make a move to bring in new talent at wide receiver? With the team restructuring the contract of left tackle Dion Dawkins, creating around $3.9 million in 2023 cap space, it’s possible. But it’s also true that the Bills’ receiving corps seemed poorly utilized outside of Diggs (and occasionally Davis), and adding someone different might not be the solution.
Buffalo’s once mighty interior defensive line group is now within the throes of injury, including starting defensive tackles Da’Quan Jones (on Injured Reserve, having had surgery to repair a torn pectoral) and now Ed Oliver who’s dealing with a toe injury (which are notoriously painful and challenging to overcome).
Elsewhere along the defensive line, though edge rusher Von Miller has finally returned to the lineup, the three games he’s appeared in have shown he’s anything but back. Miller’s often looked slow and hesitant, and appeared to aggravate something in his knee last Sunday, and playing in just 10% of the team’s overall snaps on defense. As such, Miller once again popped up on the team’s injury report to start the week.
The Bills also lost tight end Dawson Knox for an indeterminate amount of time, with Knox in need of surgery to repair a wrist injury he sustained over in London playing against the Jaguars.
Tampa Bay no longer has Tom Brady as its quarterback, nor Rob Gronkowski its tight end. Replacing both has proven a challenge, as one might expect. The Buccaneers are currently 3-3 and in second place in the AFC South, ranking 26th in points for (103 total; 17.2 p/g), and sixth in points against (104 total; 17.3 p/g). A quick look at those numbers suggest a middling opponent that’s found its luck half the time. Quarterback Baker Mayfield, now little more than a journeyman, has found a bit of a rebirth with the Bucs. But Mayfield’s also begun to show signs similar to the player who wore his welcome out with the Cleveland Browns.
The Bucs lost 16-13 to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7, thanks largely to the incomparable kicker Younghoe Kuhn who’s never missed a kick of 50+ yards. With the loss last weekend, Tampa Bay has dropped two straight, spoiling what was among the greatest of stories during the first month-plus of NFL play.
Like the Bills, the Buccaneers have been unable to move the ball consistently on offense the last two games. There’s an inability to put the football in the hands of the team’s best players, and what was once second nature has proven arduous at times.
As Tampa Bay’s week of practice unfolded, a few prominent names were listed as “DNP” in practice — Baker Mayfield, wide receiver Chris Godwin, and DT Vita Vea chief among them.
Can the Buffalo Bills emerge 5-3, avoiding a two-game skid while trying to keep meaningful chase with the Miami Dolphins? Similar thoughts were asked last week amid the foregone conclusion that the Bills would leave Foxborough, MA at 5-2. Right now, Buffalo has the look of a team that could win on any given Sunday. Not one that should win each week.