The Bills are the NFL's biggest disappointment this season. Who's to blame?


Back in August, it was unfathomable that the Buffalo Bills could miss the playoffs. They were one of the few teams that was a reasonable Super Bowl pick.

As we get to December, it wouldn’t take a miracle for the Bills to make the playoffs. But it’s going to take a lot of work.

ESPN’s FPI gives the 6-6 Bills a 21% chance to make the playoffs. DVOA is even less optimistic. It has the Bills as a 13.5% shot to get into the postseason.

Unless the Bills overcome DVOA’s 86.5% chance that they miss the playoffs, this season will be a disaster in Buffalo. You don’t remain a Super Bowl contender forever and the Bills might be absolutely wasting a season.

How did this happen? Let’s take a look at what and who is to blame.

Josh Allen and the Bills are a surprising 6-6 this season. (Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports)

Josh Allen and the Bills are a surprising 6-6 this season. (Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports)

Sean McDermott

Many are speculating if McDermott will be on the hot seat if the Bills don’t make the playoffs. That shouldn’t be the case for a coach who is 68-41 since taking over the Buffalo job. But he hasn’t had a great season.

There’s some bad luck involved in losing a lot of close games, but key coaching decisions matter too. What if McDermott hadn’t strangely benched James Cook for more than a quarter after Cook’s first fumble of the season against the Broncos? What if McDermott hadn’t wasted a timeout to ice the kicker against Philadelphia, then not taken a knee with 20 seconds left and a timeout remaining in regulation? What about not flying to London until Thursday night before losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars there, or not adjusting to some key defensive injuries better? An immediately infamous 12 men on the field penalty for a missed field goal against the Broncos reflects on the coaches too.

McDermott probably doesn’t deserve the speculation that he should be fired. But he has made his share of mistakes.

The front office

Has general manager Brandon Beane done enough to build the roster around Josh Allen? Probably not.

On offense, the issue is that everything is on Allen’s shoulders too often … but that has been a problem for a few seasons and it hasn’t been fixed. The Bills were too passive in the draft as four receivers went with the 20th through 23rd overall picks. They drafted tight end Dalton Kincaid at No. 25. While Kincaid has been pretty good, the Bills have tried to deploy him as more of a third receiver than a tight end and someone like Jordan Addison would have been a much better fit.

The Bills don’t have a lot of salary-cap flexibility due to Allen’s contract (and the one big deal the Bills splurged on, outside linebacker Von Miller, has not had any impact this season), but that means they have to nail drafts. They haven’t. The Bills have drafted one Pro Bowler the last four drafts, and that was borderline Pro Bowl pick Dawson Knox, a 2019 pick. Their drafts haven’t been horrendous, with solid starters like Cook, offensive tackle Spencer Brown and linebacker Terrel Bernard coming out of the last three classes, but they have not drafted one true blue-chip player since Allen in 2018 (unless you consider 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver on that level). When you have lost six games by a combined 26 points, one star player could make a big difference.

Injuries

Every team has to deal with injuries, but Buffalo’s injuries hit the defense hard and in a short period.

That goes back to Von Miller, who needed time at the start of the season to return from a torn ACL, and has zero sacks and only two tackles in eight games. All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano, standout cornerback Tre’Davious White and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones all went on injured reserve in a short span. Others like cornerback Kaiir Elam, tight end Dawson Knox and running back Damien Harris have landed on IR. There’s not much the Bills can do about that.

Ken Dorsey

Dorsey was fired as the Bills’ offensive coordinator on Nov. 14, and the Bills have played two good offensive games since then (albeit one in a loss Sunday to the Eagles). Were the Bills too patient with him? Should they have made a better hire before last season after Brian Daboll left? It’s hard to blame Dorsey for the Bills’ season failing, but the Bills thought he was enough of a problem to fire him.

Bad luck

We don’t like to admit that luck plays a huge role in NFL seasons, but it does. There’s a clear argument to be made that the Bills are a top five team that might miss the playoffs because they can’t win a coin flip in close games. The Bills are No. 5 in DVOA, four spots ahead of the 10-1 Eagles. The Bills out-gained the Eagles 505-378 but lost, mostly due to mistakes like dropped passes and bad turnovers. Is that the sign of an undisciplined team or simply bad luck? Each of the Bills’ losses is by six points or less. In every one of those games there was a play or two that could have gone either way and changed the outcome, like Jake Elliott’s miraculous 59-yard field goal at the end of regulation for the Eagles. It’s OK to think the Bills have the talent of a 10-2 or 9-3 team but they’re .500 because they’re not getting any breaks.

Josh Allen

Allen was unbelievable on Sunday, and it wasn’t enough. An interception in regulation hurt. Missing Gabe Davis for a potential game-winning touchdown in overtime, on an apparent miscommunication, was a turning point. It’s not fair to ask Allen to be perfect, but the Bills need that to win. And that pressure has probably caused Allen to be the NFL’s most turnover-prone quarterback.

Since the start of last season, Allen has by far the most turnovers in the NFL at 35, according to Statmuse. Nobody else has more than 28. This season he leads the NFL with 13 interceptions. He has thrown at least one pick in 10 of 12 games and in some games his turnovers have been the most glaring reason for a loss, like the Week 1 loss to the Jets when he turned it over four times.

Allen is a great talent and without him the Bills wouldn’t be nearly as good as they are. But it’s also OK to say that his turnovers are a big reason the Bills are 6-6. Like most of the Bills season, Allen offers a lot of positives but the negatives have helped put the team in a big hole. And it’s going to be really hard for Buffalo to dig out of it.



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