The day before the start of the NFL season most closely resembles the feeling of New Year’s Eve to Bills Mafia. There’s an anticipation that has been building for weeks and giddy thoughts surfaced even before then. Plans are made well in advance about what you’ll be doing and with who and where. It’s a distraction at both home and work. Texts chime signaling delivered and received discussion with friends and family sharing in the excitement. It’s a celebration of a new beginning. Another chance for improving things. To finally leave the past year behind and any regrets start to fade. For it’s a blank canvas that has the potential to become anything in the coming year. Even Superbowl champions.
Expectations are high for the Buffalo Bills this season. They’re in a position that’s unfamiliar. They’re expected to be good. They’re expected to make the playoffs and win. That all starts tomorrow when they host the New York Jets at freshly named Bills Stadium. It’s not lost that a key part of that game won’t be suiting up for the Bills. No Mafia will be allowed to enter Bills Stadium under threat of arrest by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. So, the Bills season opener will be different this year but also the same. That New Year’s Eve dizziness along with lofty possibilities starts tomorrow.
ALL HANDS-ON DECK (ALMOST)
With the abbreviated training camp and no preseason games, the Bills come into week 1 with limited injuries. The only player ruled out is off season acquired cornerback Josh Norman. The 32-year-old defensive back was released by the Washington Football Team after four seasons into a five-year, $75 million contract. That season he started only 8 games and ended his time in DC with only 1 interception and 40 tackles for the year. There was a need for competition for the number two cornerback spot in Buffalo across from Pro Bowler Tre’Davious White. Thinking a change of scenery and scheme from man coverage to zone in Buffalo would bolster Norman’s production more in line with his Pro Bowl numbers in Carolina when coached by then Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, he was brought in by General Manager Brandon Beane and signed to a 1-year, $6 million contract, worth up to $8 million with incentives. Now ruled out Sunday with a lingering hamstring injury, Norman will sit and watch Levi Wallace take the field. Wallace who has been dealing with a hamstring injury of his own, is listed as a full participant in practice and expected to start. Entering his third year, Wallace held his own last season starting all 16 games and totaling 2 interceptions, 9 passes defended and 76 tackles.
The only other Bills player who is listed as questionable is defensive tackle Vernon Butler. Butler, a former Carolina Panthers first round pick, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason to a two-year $15 million contract, is also dealing with a hamstring injury. If he can’t go, look for Harrison Phillips to get plenty of playing time tomorrow. Phillips was lost last season in week 3 after suffering a torn ACL against the Bengals. ”Horrible Harry” was drafted by Buffalo in the third round of the 2018 draft with the expectation to take over for retiring Bills 6-time Pro Bowler and fan favorite Kyle Williams. There are high hopes for Phillips entering his third year and he gets the opportunity to showcase himself against the Jets.
This Bills team has definitely heard the low rumblings of the raised expectations from their Wildcard loss in the post season last year. It’s added pressure for a young and upcoming team to get out of the gates fast and early, winning against a team they are already penciled in as beating. Alternately, week 1 of the NFL season is always unpredictable and even great teams can fall flat and be humbled. I see the Bills tomorrow rising up and meeting the challenge of being a team that meets and even exceeds that raised bar. Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams always gets the most from his squad and this year’s Jets will be no different. Hard nosed and hard hitting, the Jets D will try to intimidate and bully the Bills in their own building. But losing disgruntled Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams to a trade with Seattle and fellow Pro Bowler CJ Mosley opting out of the season for reasons related to Covid-19, the Jets don’t have the talent to stop the Bills new look offense. The Bills new stable of offensive thoroughbreds will want to put the NFL on notice that they can put points on the board and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll now has the pieces in place and the more knowledgeable Josh Allen to utilize his playbook to its full capacity. Look for the Bills defensive unit to come out with pride and the confidence knowing they are one of the league’s best and wanting to be the unquestioned second to none at the end of the season.
My spotlight player prediction: Bills strong legged, rookie kicker Tyler Bass hits a 56-yard field goal with plenty of room to spare.
My final score prediction: Bills – 34 Jets – 16