It's the "new normal." These are uncharted waters. Uncertain times.
How long has it been since the Buffalo Bills have been expected to hit double-digit wins? A team that is favored to win the AFC East?
Answer — it's been a while. Maybe a couple of decades.
But after the NFL Draft and free agency, after the release of the schedule, with four prime time games, and two playoff appearances in the last three years, the Bills are poised for a big splash when the 2020 season begins. That's the consensus of many NFL pundits.
CBS Sports.com's Pete Prisco has been trumpeting the Bills for more than a year.
"I was one of the few guys who was on this team a year ago, "Prisco says. "I thought they would be a playoff team last year. Even if Tom Brady had come back to the Patriots, I thought the Bills would be the division winner this year. I love what they've done."
Prisco, an NFL writer for three decades, now senior writer for CBS Sports.com, sees double-digit wins for the Bills also. "I think they'll win eleven games," he said last week in an appearance on One Bills Live.
"I look at this roster ... and I gotta believe this is going to be a tough team to handle," says Mel Kiper, Jr., ESPN NFL Draft analyst. "This Bills team, on paper, looks like a 12-win team to me," he told One Bills Live. "The roster is strong."
Kiper thinks Bills quarterback Josh Allen holds the key this season. If Allen improves his deep-pass accuracy, Kiper believes he'll become one of the league's top passers. "I'm excited to see if Josh can take those steps that he made last year to this year," Kiper says. "If he does, then he'll be one of the best quarterbacks in the league."
And Prisco believes Buffalo's stout defense and expected improvement from Allen should be enough for the Bills to take off.
"When you look at that defense – they are two-deep across the board in that front-seven," Prisco says. "You can rotate those guys in and out and not get hurt much. Across the board, they have talent. And it all goes back to Josh Allen – can he take strides forward? I'm a big believer and I think he will."
Many NFL experts are looking for a changing of the guard in the AFC East. It's overdue. New England has won 11-consecutive division titles – 18-of the last twenty.
"When you look at the division, there is really no argument for anyone being better than the Bills going into the season," according to Gary Gramling, senior NFL editor at SI.com. "The Bills are legitimately the favorites in the division."
Tom Brady's departure from New England could be a game-changer. And according to Mike Clay, NFL analyst at ESPN, Buffalo has the look of the best team in the division.
"The Jets/Sam Darnold hasn't emerged yet, "Clay said in an appearance on One Bills Live. "Coaching is a concern there. (Darnold) is going to have to take a leap forward to get them over the top. The Jets are definitely a bottom-tier team."
"The Dolphins are better," he continued. "But remember, on paper they were really, really poor last season. That was a full-on rebuilding effort. It's going to take some time before they get to contender status."
"And then, of course, the Patriots, with maybe the biggest question mark in the NFL at the quarterback position. They have a guy who has maybe a handful of drop backs in regular season games, so we have no idea. They also have lost some of their key talent during the offseason. So, I do think right now, they are a bottom-tier team" Clay said.
So, NFL observers see a good draft for Buffalo, some quality additions in free agency, and expected development for Josh Allen as signs that the Bills are headed for something special. But they also identify an important, un-measurable intangible.
"The thing that impresses me about the Bills is their chemistry, "Kiper says. "It's not individuals on this team (Bills). They're all about the team being successful. They've got great leadership in that locker room. This is a team, when you watch them, they're as together a football team as I've seen in a while."
Prisco agrees. "I'm a big believer in Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott, "he says. "I think they're building this thing the right way."
It looks that way in May. But the season is still four months away. And leave it to Sean McDermott to tap the brakes a little bit.
"We're definitely further along than where we were when we got here and that's the part of the goal," he said last week. "I'm just finding different ways to make our team better."
It's clear the Bills are surrounded by high hopes and big expectations in the national media. But Sean McDermott's feet are firmly on the ground; his nose pressed to the grindstone.