The Buffalo Bills finish their 2017 season with a crucial (or brutal) stretch of divisional games. Can they close out the season strong?
No NFL team this year has an end to their season quite like the Buffalo Bills. To expand on that, the final three weeks of the season include three divisional games, two of which are on the road.
Two of the three quarterbacks they’re facing are Tom Brady and Andrew Luck. Their opponents include two playoff teams, one of which won the Super Bowl after being down 28-3.
So if the Buffalo Bills want to make the playoffs in 2017, they’re going to have to survive a ridiculous finish that will test just how much they’re improved under head coach Sean McDermott.
Week Fourteen vs Indianapolis Colts
1 PM ET on December 10th at New Era Field (Broadcast on CBS)
Opponent 2016: 8-8 (3rd in AFC South)
Previous Results: 27-14 Bills (Week 1, 2015)
Significant Losses: P Pat McAfee, OLB Robert Mathis, RB Jordan Todman, TE Dwayne Allen, OT Joe Reitz, OLB Erik Walden, CB Charles James, LB D’Qwell Jackson, S Mike Adams
Significant Additions: S Malik Hooker, CB Quincy Wilson, RB Christine Michael, RB Marlon Mack, WR Kamar Aiken
Depending on who you ask, this is either a team either ready to implode or take a big bounce back. There are convincing arguments for both.
On the one hand, you have quarterback Andrew Luck, who remains one of the leagues best. Injuries are taking a toll on him, but he had a great year in 2016 while playing banged up. There’s no reason to think he can’t exceed that fully healthy.
However, Luck’s been propping up a team that’s far worse than two consecutive 8-8 finishes would lead you to believe. The truth is that former GM Ryan Grigson’s office was a mess, resulting in a faulty offensive line and a defense that couldn’t stop anybody. To put that in perspective: for the past two years, Blake Bortles has played some of his best games against the Colts. For Indy, that’s a problem.
Chuck Pagano’s coaching is also a problem too. For a defensive-minded coach, he sure can’t seem to get his side of the ball right. You could blame Grigson for this as well, but it’s the job of a head coach to do the best with what he’s given, and it’s not happening here.
To their (sort of) credit, the Colts are attempting a half-reboot this year. They’ve fired Grigson and replaced him with Chris Ballard, the former Director of Football Operations for the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s helped construct a roster of defensive stars there, and the hope is he can find some of those types of players in Indy now.
While Ballard’s hiring signifies hope for the future, it’s hard for me to see much for this team in 2017. They play in a significantly tougher division that used to account for 5-6 of their regular season wins. Their defense might improve, but it might be asking too much of rookie players Malik Hooker and Quincy Wilson to make it leagues and bounds better than 2016’s team.
With those facts in mind, I think the Buffalo Bills have a good shot of winning this game. It’s certainly the easiest of the four games we’re looking at. Yes, Luck is an elite franchise quarterback, but his last visit to Orchard Park was a complete disaster. He went 26-for-49 for 249 yards and two picks. Two garbage time touchdowns made his stats look better than they were too.
Coincidentally, that was also Tyrod Taylor’s first game as a Buffalo Bill, and he had a much better game, going 14-for-19 for 195 yards and a touchdown.
Two years later, both teams meet again, and this time I give the Bills a definite advantage. If the passing game doesn’t burn an exposed Colts secondary, then maybe a much-more motivated and healthy (compared to 2015) LeSean McCoy will run right through them.
Don’t discount Luck’s ability to throw the game away either; he’s struggled with turnovers the past few seasons. Wide receiver T. Y. Hilton is a stud, but I imagine Tre’Davious White is chomping at the bit to take him on. Take out Luck’s big deep threat, and you leave them hoping that old man Frank Gore can squeeze whatever yards are left out of those old legs.
While you can never count out the Colts offense, the Bills just plainly have a better roster and should win this one easily.