Why They'll Win the Super Bowl
Rex Ryan, baby!
As it turns out, the Buffalo Bills lacked a good head coach all these years. Ryan takes over for Doug Marrone, who abruptly departed his post, and he is walking into a much better situation than the one he left.
Buffalo's roster was already primed for greatness before New York even fired Ryan. That defense was one of the best in the league in 2014, and Ryan's arrival signals a leap into the elite for that unit.
The Bills did a nice job bolstering the offense, too, trading for electrifying running back LeSean McCoy and signing tight end Charles Clay, a huge upgrade at the position.
Buffalo Bills: Who emerges from the three-way quarterback battle? If
proves an effective game manager, Rex Ryan has the defense plus run game formula that equaled two AFC title game trips with the Jets.
No. 1 – Buffalo Bills
Leading the NFL in sacks a season ago, Buffalo's defense is primed for another stellar year. Buoyed by a stout defensive line – Jerry Hughes, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams – Rex Ryan will be able to come up with creative blitz packages to have opponents playing on their heels. This is an AFC Championship-caliber unit that will need to perform at a high level if the Bills hope to make their first postseason appearance since 1999.
2) Marcell Dareus, NT, Buffalo Bills
The rise of the Bills' defense can be directly attributed to Dareus' emergence as one of the most dominant interior defenders in the NFL. The 6-3, 331-pounder has grown into an explosive pass rusher with a spectacular array of power-rush moves, but he's also an astounding presence against the run, thanks to his relentless spirit and mastery of leverage. Dareus completely manhandles offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage with superb hand-to-hand combat skills, displaying an explosive "butt-and-jerk" maneuver and a powerful arm-over move that allows him to shed and disengage quickly at the point. Most impressively, the former No. 3 overall pick shows outstanding balance, body control and agility while chasing runners down from the back side. Given Dareus' spectacular flashes on tape and substantial statistical output, the Buffalo star deserves this lofty standing on a list of interior defensive playmakers.
FOX Sports, Brad Gagnon – Ranking the NFL's top 10 pass rushers](http://www.foxsports.com/nfl/story/ranking-the-nfl-s-top-10-pass-rushers-070915?=mid=284512&rid=284512.12317.1402&cmpid=emc:fscom:nfl_bills)
3. Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills— He's on top of his game with a ton of support in Buffalo, where the first-team All-Pro is coming off a career year. And considering he has 38 sacks the last three seasons, that's saying a lot.
4. Mario Williams-Jerry Hughes, Buffalo Bills
In 2012, Bills' management recruited Williams in free agency and didn't let him leave the building until he signed a six-year, $96-million contract. He's lived up to his end of the bargain with 38 sacks in three seasons. Hughes ended up being a steal for Buffalo. A former disappointing first-round pick for the Indianapolis Colts, Hughes was traded to Buffalo for linebacker Kelvin Sheppard in April 2013. After three years, seven starts and five sacks in Indianapolis, Hughes emerged as a star with the Buffalo Bills. He's had 10 sacks in each of his first two seasons in Buffalo and was rewarded with a five-year, $45-million contract this off-season. It's no wonder the Bills led the league in sacks.
Stephon Gilmore, CB
In three seasons in the NFL, Gilmore has only managed six interceptions -- not a huge number for a top-10 pick at cornerback. However, he's upped his number of picks each year, from one in 2012 to three in 2014. In Rex Ryan's high-pressure defense, there's no reason Gilmore can't eclipse four interceptions this season.
He's yet to make a name for himself since being drafted out of South Carolina the way guys like Desmond Trufant, Janoris Jenkins and Xavier Rhodes have since coming into the league, but there's still time. He's young and extremely talented, and a new-look defense should benefit the former Gamecock.
In the second half of 2014, Gilmore was rated the 11th-best cornerback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. That's solid for a corner in a defense that lost a playmaking safety in Jairus Byrd and had little help at the opposite corner spot. The addition of rookie Ronald Darby should help shore up the secondary in Buffalo, as well, which is just another reason why Gilmore will have a big year. He'll have ample opportunities to make plays on the ball with plenty of pressure coming from pass rushers, which will increase his interception numbers.
NFL.com, Chris Wesseling – Making the Leap, No. 4: Bills WR
If not for the injuries and sub-NFL ball placement from Buffalo's quarterbacks, Watkins would have blown past 1,000 yards as a rookie.
A healthy Watkins can be expected to topple that mark in 2015.
On a run-oriented team with designs on playoff contention, the key will be accomplishing that feat without disappearing for weeks at a time -- as he did last season with nine games of 35 yards or fewer.
The question isn't whether Watkins will produce. It's whether he will emerge as one of the best at his position, ultimately proving worthy of the exorbitant price the Bills paid to trade up for him.
Fred Jackson just keeps chugging along. The Bills drafted Marshawn Lynch in the first round. They traded him. They drafted C.J. Spiller in the first round. He battled injuries before leaving in free agency. And all along, Jackson's been a workhorse for Buffalo, seemingly ageless and dependable. The 34-year-old vet will ostensibly head into the 2015 season as LeSean McCoy's primary backup, and will likely continue to be a mainstay in the passing game. Jackson caught a career-high 66 passes last season, averaging a gain of 8.9 yards after each catch while forcing 19 missed tackles, third among running backs (per Pro Football Focus' tracking).
LeSean McCoy, Bills
Why is LeSean McCoy your favorite player?
- "Simply because he's a touchdown away every time he touches the ball. He's just very explosive. He's very elusive. He does everything wrong with the fundamentals of carrying the football but is not a big fumbler and he's just a big play away every time he touches the ball." – Greg Jennings, Dolphins
- "He always makes the first person miss." – Latavius Murray, Raiders