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What they're saying: NFL midseason superlatives for the Bills


Buffalo Bills: B

The Bills lost No. 1 wideout Sammy Watkins and their offensive coordinator within the first few weeks of the season, but they rebounded from both to put together an impressive string of wins. It put them back in the playoff picture, but back-to-back losses have hurt their chances. Given the circumstances, they've been better than expected.

SURPRISE Lorenzo AlexanderThe Bills LB, a 33-year-old journeyman, has 9 sacks in eight games after never having more than 2.5 in a season. Huh? Alexander has even drawn praise from Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who said the veteran was "one of the best players we've seen all year."

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Defensive Player of the Year

Marcas Grant: Zach Brown, LB, Buffalo Bills. Wherever the ball is, that's where you'll find Brown, who's been the ringleader of a very impressive linebacker corps in Buffalo.

Adam Rank: Brown. He just doesn't get enough credit for what he does on the field. This Bills team is pretty legit, the loss to the Pats notwithstanding.

Outside linebackers: Von Miller, Denver Broncos (12 votes); Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills (seven votes)

Our first All-Pro outside linebacker is a four-time Pro Bowler who entered 2016 with 60 sacks in five NFL seasons, and he's the most obvious unanimous choice in this exercise. Our second is a 10-year veteran who had started just 16 games in nine NFL seasons prior to joining the Bills in 2016. 

The first guy makes $19 million a year. The second signed a one-year contract in April worth the veteran minimum of $885,000. 

Miller is the least surprising name on this list. Alexander is by far the most surprising. 

But all that matters is no two players have taken down quarterbacks this season as often as Miller and Alexander. 

Alexander has a league-leading nine sacks, while Miller ranks second with 8.5. 

Per Pro Football Focus, Miller leads all edge-rushers with 31 quarterback hurries and is better at defending the run, which is why all 12 of us voted for him as our top outside linebacker. But Alexander is one of just three players with at least seven sacks and at least three forced fumbles, and he's the only player in football with more than five sacks and at least 25 tackles. 

Can the 33-year-old former journeyman sustain this? If he does, he may become one of the most improbable All-Pros in NFL history.

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Buffalo Bills: Can QB Tyrod Taylor deliver when it matters most?

The Bills are 4–4 at the halfway point, which is to be expected considering some of the injury issues, especially at the skill positions. Buffalo has seen RB LeSean McCoy and its top four receivers miss time at some point. But if the Bills get healthy, they have enough talent. Moreover, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has done well enough that the Bills can move the ball in various ways. And, largely, the Bills have done a much better job at understanding and executing Rex Ryan's defensive scheme this year. So they'll make plays defensively and get off the field.

In the end, it comes down to QB Tyrod Taylor. At times he's played like an MVP with some of the injuries around him. At other times he struggles to execute the offense. And Taylor has never been in a position where every game looms large and the playoffs are in the balance. Will he rise to the occasion?

Linebacker – Lorenzo Alexander

The 33-year-old former special teams ace has been a revelation this year, leading the league with nine sacks at midseason (the Bills' Week 8 loss to the Patriots was his first game without at least half a sack to his credit). In Week 5 against the Rams, he had a three-sack day.

  1. Zach Brown, LB, Buffalo Bills

Zach Brown is another player that hasn't been bad in his career to date, but this season, has broken out into something else entirely. He has seen by far his highest percentage of defensive snaps played, up to 88.7 percent of Buffalo's snaps from a career-high of 70.8 before this season, and he is grading well in every facet of the game PFF measures. Brown has already posted a career-high in defensive stops, and will soon exceed his career high in tackles. He has three sacks and seven total pressures from his work on the blitz, and has made some solid stops in coverage.

  1. Lorenzo Alexander, OLB, Buffalo Bills

Another Buffalo Bill to break out, Lorenzo Alexander may be the most unlikely sack-leader after half the season as one could have imagined. Alexander has been an offensive lineman, a tight end, a defensive tackle, a stand-up inside linebacker, and special teamer in his NFL career. He already has more total pressures than he's had in any single season of his career, and has doubled his career-high in defensive stops after just half a season. His play may not quite match the gaudy sack totals—sacks comprise an unusually-high 40 percent of his total QB pressures—but he has been lightyears better than any previous season we have seen from him, and been a genuine impact player for the Bills.

3. Brandon Tate, Buffalo Bills

After being released by the Bengals following training camp, Tate has caught on in Buffalo, giving the Bills the same solid play as a returner he's been known to give both Cincinnati and New England in years past. After a career-low 6.5 yards per punt return last year, Tate has rebounded to 10.8 per return this year, producing returns of 13, 18, 21, 30 and 31 in the first seven games. He's also added a 45-yard kickoff return to the mix en route to a 23.0 average on kickoff returns.

2) Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills pass rusher: Who ever heard of a breakout season for a 33-year-old pass rusher? The NFL's sack leader is one QB takedown away from becoming the oldest player ever to notch his first career 10-sack season. Alexander is on pace for 20 sacks and 80 tackles, a statistical feat matched only by Vikings Hall of Famer Chris Doleman in 1989. He's the first player since Jared Allen in 2011 to start the season with a seven-game sack streak. Per NFL Research, only six other teams have a duo with more than Alexander's 9.0 sacks.

Don't mistake Alexander as a one-dimensional pass rusher benefiting from coach Rex Ryan's scheme. After totaling five tackles -- including two for loss -- in Week 7, he now has more tackles than any of the top 20 sack leaders this season. In addition to the defensive prowess, he's also the rare four-down star, still excelling on special teams. Not bad for an undrafted player who entered the league as a 300-pound defensive tackle and spent time at offensive guard and tight end early in his peripatetic career.

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