By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Let’s face it – we’re all going to miss LeSean McCoy a bit as the Buffalo Bills enter the 2019 season.
We had the pleasure of watching McCoy for four seasons after he came over from the Philadelphia Eagles. I’m willing to say that McCoy might have been the second-most exciting running back in Bills history. Only O.J. Simpson produced more anticipation when he got his hands on the ball. I’m not calling McCoy the second-back back in Bills’ history, since Thurman Thomas is at worst a close second behind Simpson (and maybe No. 1 when all aspects of the game are considered). McCoy ran for more than 3,800 yards during those four years here. At times, he really couldn’t be tackled in a phone booth.
The veteran slumped to 514 yards last season, and it was hard to justify a multi-million contract for a running back at the age of 31. If you have looked around the league these days, not too many runners earn big bucks any more. It’s better to spread that money around in terms of cap space. McCoy probably has some gas left in the tank, and he might be a useful tool for the Kansas City Chiefs as they try to reach their first Super Bowl since 1970 – almost 50 years ago.
Back in Buffalo, McCoy’s departure means the transformation of the team’s offense is relatively complete. Devin Singletary, Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon all will be around. At wide receiver, Cole Beasley and John Brown have joined Zay Jones. And the offensive line is almost completely new; the apparently healthy and expensive Mitch Morse leads the way there.
And that leaves Josh Allen, the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback entering the new season. Allen was thrown into a difficult situation after the Nathan Peterman Experiment blew up in record time. Allen didn’t sink when thrown into the pool, compiling a 5-6 record and showing a big arm and plenty of athletic ability. Allen also has shown enthusiasm for embracing the starter’s job on and off the field, which has bought him plenty of good will with the fans. Outside opinions around the league are still divided on whether he’s ready to take a step forward this year, mirroring the reaction when the Bills drafted him in the first place. Let’s define improvement as more touchdown passes than interceptions; the numbers leaned the wrong way last season.
On defense, the Bills were second in the league last season in yards allowed, and first in pass yardage allowed by a wide margin. Admittedly, teams didn’t throw the ball much against Buffalo, relatively speaking. But that’s probably because the secondary was, and is, perhaps the Bills’ strongest position.
The biggest change to the front seven is the departure of the retired Kyle Williams and the arrival of top draft choice Ed Oliver. That should be a relatively seamless transition. Otherwise, it would be nice if linebacker Tremaine Edmunds took a nice jump forward, picking up where he left off in the second half of last season.
On special teams, Stephen Hauschka is coming off his worse season of a fine career, so it’s reasonable to expect him to bounce back. The identity of the team’s punter in four weeks looks like something of a mystery now, but it’s probably not a crucial issue.
The coaching staff has been around for a while, more or less, and they have gotten the team to play hard. The front office has gotten the Bills out of Salary Cap Jail, so there’s room to take some good-sized moves in the coming years if such an opportunity arrives. There are few complaints about those two areas right now.
Add it up, and there’s no reason why the Bills shouldn’t be at least competitive this season and reasonably likely to top last season’s 6-10 record. We should know much about their chances in that area in the next few weeks. Buffalo couldn’t ask for a better situation at the start of the season. The Bills play the Jets, Giants and Bengals in the first three games. Those teams all had losing records last season, so a 3-0 start would be a great confidence booster for all concerned. Go 0-3 or 1-2, and 2019 might have a different look to it.
There’s been some playoff talk around town, and predictions of nine or 10 wins in the four months to come. That seems high for a team that at this writing doesn’t look like it has a ton of “stars” on it. But with the Dolphins rebuilding and the Jets always a threat to disappoint, three or four division wins against those teams could easily lead to a .500 season.
I’ll take 7-9 for the upcoming season. And remember for the few times in my life, I got the record exactly correct a year ago. I’m either on a roll, or due for a horrible miscalculation. We’ll see which one it is in four months.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)