Buffalo entered its much-needed break from the rigorous NFL schedule with a renewed sense of confidence. The Bills capped off their first half of the 2018 season with a massive 41-10 win over the Jets, improving their in-division record to 1-1.
The Bills now sit at home on their Week 11 bye, motivated by their recent rout, with the league’s easiest second-half schedule staring them in the face. A miraculous late-season turnaround is entirely possible, and there are certainly a few storylines that you should follow along the way.
Here are the five most interesting Bills to follow after the bye week.
1 - Quarterback Josh Allen
When the Bills return from their bye in a Week 12 clash with the Jaguars, it may be Josh Allen who leads the team onto the New Era Field turf.
Allen, who has missed the last four games with an elbow sprain, was a limited participant in practice in the week leading up to the bye. Head coach Sean McDermott has already confirmed that the rookie will retake the starting quarterback job once he is cleared, with said clearance potentially coming as early as Week 12.
While Allen’s elite arm strength and mind-boggling athleticism will certainly be fun to watch after the bye, whether or not the 22-year-old has developed mentally will be the question at the forefront of his return.
The former Wyoming Cowboy showed signs of promise through his first six games, completing 54 percent of his passes for 832 yards. Allen, however, has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of two-to-five.
The rookie’s injury allowed him to take a step back and watch the professional game from afar. Throughout his time on the sideline, Allen had the opportunity to learn from quarterbacks like Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley, veterans who have crafted careers for themselves based off their intelligence and ability to adapt to any offensive system.
Allen’s physical gifts will allow him to make a few highlight-reel worthy plays in the second half of the season, but apparent progression is likely what the team will be looking for most.
2 - Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie
A playmaker on the offensive side of the ball is something that the Bills have been searching for throughout the entirety of the 2018 season.
They may have found their guy in wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie.
Buffalo claimed McKenzie off waivers just six days before he suited up for the team in Week 10. The former Denver Bronco shined in the offensive explosion, totaling 46 offensive yards on just four touches. Jet sweeps to McKenzie worked like a charm for Buffalo in the blowout win, as 33 of the shifty wideout’s yards came off handoffs.
McKenzie also made an impact on special teams, picking up 74 yards as a returner. A consistent playmaker on special teams was something that the Bills lacked throughout the first half of the 2018 season, and McKenzie provided that necessary spark in Week 10. The 23-year-old averaged 10.5 yards per punt return in the win.
How the Bills utilize McKenzie on offense will be something to monitor moving forward. The speedy wideout has proven that he’s a threat with the ball in his hands. Perhaps getting the former Georgia Bulldog more touches will be a focus for Buffalo when it returns from its bye.
3 - Defensive end Shaq Lawson
Consistency is something that Buffalo fans have wanted to see from Shaq Lawson for some time. The former Clemson Tiger had shown flashes of brilliance throughout his first two seasons in the NFL, but stringing those glimpses together was something that the defensive end struggled with.
Midway through his third professional season, Lawson is finally starting to showcase the skill that prompted Buffalo to select him in the first round of the 2016 draft. Starting in place of the injured Trent Murphy, Lawson has shined in recent weeks, recording a career-high seven tackles in Buffalo’s Week 9 matchup with the Bears before tallying a sack in Week 10.
Through eight games this season, Lawson has totaled 20 tackles and 2.0 sacks. He’s even showcased some versatility that Buffalo fans weren’t aware of, periodically lining up inside as a three-technique throughout the season.
Lawson has gained Sean McDermott’s trust as the year has progressed. Thus, he’s been given more opportunities to make an impact, opportunities that he has taken advantage of. Whether or not the 24-year-old will be able to hold onto his reps after the bye, and specifically after Murphy returns from injury, will be something to watch.
4 - Guard Wyatt Teller
After spending the first half of his rookie season on the sideline, offensive lineman Wyatt Teller was eager for a chance to prove that he belongs in the NFL.
Once he finally received that opportunity, he seized it and didn’t look back.
After being inactive for eight consecutive weeks, the former Virginia Tech Hokie made his NFL debut in Week 9, playing on 17 snaps in Buffalo’s 41-9 loss to the Bears. Teller saw a dramatic increase in playing time the next week, getting the start at left guard and playing on 100 percent of the Bills’ offensive snaps in their Week 10 win in New York.
Teller largely played well in his first career start, excelling as a pass blocker on an offensive line that allowed just one sack. Pro Football Focus gave the rookie a 71.3 pass blocking grade in Week 10.
Even after his strong outing, Teller is eager to improve.
“Even with the great win we had, you can still find imperfections in your game, mistakes,” Teller said. “Plays you want back. I had more plays I want back then I wish. That’s the mindset, constant improvement and getting better. The sky’s the limit. Obviously, a goal is to keep on starting.”
Teller’s role on the offensive line will be something to keep an eye on after the bye. If the rookie is able to string together a few solid performances, he will perhaps establish himself as a foundational player in Buffalo, someone that the team can pencil in on their offensive line for the foreseeable future.
5 - Running back LeSean McCoy
An increase in confidence combined with a renewed sense of energy can often result in success.
Going by this formula would suggest that LeSean McCoy is in for a big second half of the 2018 campaign.
The running back constructed his best outing of the 2018 season in Buffalo’s Week 10 win, rushing for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. McCoy, who entered the game with just 267 rushing yards on the season, left MetLife Stadium with a sense of relief, stating that the “big monkey is off [his] back.”
A much-needed spike in confidence will perhaps allow a rejuvenated McCoy to return to his old form once after the bye. The bye week has helped McCoy recover in the past, as throughout his nine-year career, the running back has averaged 81.9 rushing yards in games immediately off bye weeks. Should he match this total in the Bills’ Week 12 contest with the Jaguars, it would be his third-best outing of the season.