It's been widely discussed through the course of this most unusual of offseasons. With Tom Brady no longer playing football in the AFC East, NFL prognosticators are trying to predict the team that fills the void as the class of the division. Many see the Buffalo Bills poised to seize their first division title in a quarter century, but what are the reasons NFL analysts have made such an assertion?
We lay out the most compelling evidence as to why Sean McDermott's team is in a very good position to make a run to the top of the AFC East.
Top 5 defense
For the past two seasons the Bills have had a top five defensive unit in the league. In 2018, they ranked second. Last year they ranked third, with top 10 rankings in run defense (10th), pass defense (4th), third down defense (7th), sack percentage (10th), interception rate (10th) and points allowed (2nd).
Though there was some player turnover along the defensive line with free agent departures and additions, most believe Buffalo's defensive line is deeper. That combined with a back seven that is largely unchanged leaves the Bills in the enviable position of having great player continuity in a scheme they've now played for the past three seasons.
Despite this being a unique offseason, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier sees that player and scheme familiarity as an advantage.
"The majority of our defensive players are coming back. So you feel like you're a little bit ahead of the curve as we come out of this virtual period," Frazier said. "It'll be a matter of how you organize and take advantage of every single data point we have, because we've got so much ground to cover on the field. I think we've done a great job with the offseason program under the current circumstance, but we need to get on the field. But there's no question, the fact that we've been together for the last three years, is a plus for us as we go forward."
Buffalo's division opponents have undergone a greater degree of change on the defensive side of the ball with free agent additions. Miami and New England will each have at least four new starters on defense this season.
But coach McDermott cautions that continuity alone is not a guarantee for success.
"Games aren't going to be won just because of continuity," he said. "We've got to make sure that we take that continuity and build on it, and that's what we've got to do as we come back together. I think the way our players have handled it and staff have the offseason, as you guys have heard me say before finding a way. Our players have found a way, it appears at least. So when we come back, we've got some continuity yes, but we've got a lot of work to do though to get ourselves ready to go, and anybody who says otherwise is only kidding themselves at this point."
The Bills defense may not rank as high this season knowing they'll be facing some prolific offenses on their schedule this season, but there is confidence that coach Frazier's group will continue to be a defense capable of holding opponents in check and below their normal scoring average.
Offense has the weapons
The Bills took a big step forward in their ability to make more plays in the passing game in 2019 thanks largely to the additions of John Brown and Cole Beasley to the receiving corps. But Buffalo's total offense still ranked just 24th and their points per game ranked 23rd.
With the addition of elite receiver Stefon Diggs and the anticipated emergence of Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox in their second NFL seasons, Josh Allen is suddenly surrounded by a host of playmaking weapons.
Add in a draft class that many believe will contribute offensively sooner rather than later with players like Zack Moss and Gabe Davis and there is depth to the playmaking production on the roster.
"Some of the rookies have really asserted themselves, more so than normal," said McDermott of their participation in offseason virtual sessions. "It's been a really good rookie class to this point on the Zoom meetings."
Of the offenses in the division, Buffalo seems best positioned to take a sizable step forward.
Josh Allen realizes a lot of the offense's production will rely on his decision making and execution, but he sees becoming a top 10 offense as an attainable goal.
"We've got to score more points," said Allen. "If we can score 24 or 25 and keep that as our average and knowing that our defense is going to take care of business, like they have in the last couple years, not letting teams come back because I forced a turnover. So not letting them get the ball on our half of the field and giving them points and playing complementary football. I've got personal goals set out for myself and I keep seeing a stat, when I complete over 60 percent of my passes we haven't lost. So that's the goal every game to have at least 60 percent completion percentage."
A division that's rebuilding
Buffalo's roster construction the past three years has them as deep and talented as they've been during Sean McDermott's tenure as head coach. The timing of that construction also appears to have them ahead of the division curve.
Brian Flores' is only entering year two of his rebuild of the Dolphins, as they try to improve a defense that ranked last in the league in points allowed and an offense that ranked last in rushing and 27th in scoring.
Adam Gase has to piece together a reconstructed offensive line that has had no time together on a practice field for a unit that finished last in total offense, 31st in rushing and 31st in scoring.
And though the Patriots have added Cam Newton to help fill the void at quarterback, how his talents will blend with New England's offensive scheme with no reps on the field before training camp may take time. Yes, New England has been the class of the division and returns a majority of starters from their top ranked defense, but they do have to replace three of their four starters at linebacker from a season ago.
It has many outside observers believing Buffalo has the most complete roster to change the conversation about the division's top team.
"I think they'll win 11 games this year," said CBS Sports NFL analyst Pete Prisco. "When you look at that division, the Dolphins are in rebuilding mode. They're moving in the right direction. The Jets have a lot of holes on their roster and Sam Darnold hasn't played as well as Josh Allen. And in New England is Jarrett Stidham the answer? Cam Newton? To be determined. I think the Bills are the best team in the division right now and I think they're going to be a really tough, feisty defensive team. If Josh Allen can throw the ball a little bit better, which I think he can, I think they're going to be really good."
Camp Countdown, presented by Connors & Ferris, will examine some of the more pressing questions facing the team on the field, and players who could make a difference as the team makes its final preparations for the 2020 regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We'll examine these issues one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully seek some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 29th and the opener on Sept. 13th.