As playoff drought lingers, Bills field most talented roster in years


Buffalo Bills

Last Season: 8-8

Third place, AFC East

Preseason power ranking:16

This is a more talented roster than arguably any other team the Bills have put together during their 16-year playoff drought. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is far from a finished product, but his Total QBR of 67.8 last season was seventh-best in the NFL, and his arrow is pointing up as long as top receiver Sammy Watkins stays healthy this season. For the past decade, if not longer, the popular discussion about the Bills has been how their lack of a capable quarterback will keep them from contending for a Super Bowl -- or even a playoff berth. Now they finally have a player under center who can push them into the postseason.

This has been simple in recent years -- their quarterback. Not so anymore. If the Bills fail to earn a playoff spot this season, blame is likely to fall on the defense. Marcell Dareus' suspension for the first quarter of the season, Shaq Lawson's shoulder recovery for possibly the first half of the season and Reggie Ragland season-ending ACL injury are blows to coach Rex Ryan's plan to rebound from a 19th-ranked showing last season. Ryan still has two of the NFL's best cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby and a top pass-rusher in Jerry Hughes, but any further injuries to the defense could be crippling.

Bills' percentage chance to win each game

Sept. 11 @ Baltimore: 40.2

Sept. 15 vs. N.Y. Jets: 60.8

Sept. 25 vs. Arizona: 54.5

Oct. 2 @ New England: 35.5

Oct. 9 @ Los Angeles: 42.5

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco: 74.0

Oct. 23 @ Miami: 46.9

Oct. 30 vs. New England: 44.5

Nov. 7 @ Seattle: 27.2

Nov. 20 @ Cincinnati: 39.5

Nov. 27 vs. Jacksonville: 65.1

Dec. 4 @ Oakland: 34.7

Dec. 11 vs. Pittsburgh: 48.4

Dec. 18 vs. Cleveland: 77.3

Dec. 24 vs. Miami: 66.3

Jan. 1 @ N.Y. Jets: 41.7

Mike Rodak's game-by-game predictions

No one is confident of anything in Buffalo. Taylor is a bit like Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater in that little was asked of him in 2015. His 20 touchdowns and six interceptions indicate the Bills could ask more. Will they? And if he goes down, it's unclear whether EJ Manuel has any tricks left. -- Dan Graziano

It's got to be Watkins. When the third-year receiver was sidelined in October with a calf injury, Taylor posted a dismal 16.6 Total QBR in a loss to the Giants and then was injured the next week in Tennessee trying to carry the offense and win the game as a runner. The Bills can't afford for that to happen again. When Watkins is healthy, pressure is off Taylor; it's usually as easy as throwing the ball in Watkins' direction and allowing the fourth overall pick from 2014 to use his athleticism and skill to finish the job.

Not to hammer home the point, but I'll stick with the theme and choose Watkins. He was ESPN's 16th-best fantasy wide receiver last season and 20th in PPR scoring, which aren't earth-shattering rankings. But in Week 10 and later, when he was finally healthy, Watkins was the fifth-ranked receiver and ranked sixth in PPR scoring. That drives home the point that a healthy Watkins could very easily be a star this season.

The Bills might be more stocked with talent than they've been in a decade, and their skill-position players might match up with most of the NFL's top teams. But teams that earn playoff spots and make noise in the postseason are usually more than just collections of talent; they are cohesive, disciplined groups with depth to persevere through injuries. The Bills lacked cohesion and discipline last season, while their depth was questionable. Excitement over Taylor, Watkins, running back LeSean McCoy and others will quickly fade if those issues from last season are duplicated. Both Ryan and general manager Doug Whaley have much to prove this fall.