Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
It’s Week 1!
The Buffalo Bills are back and, like they did in 2019, the team opens up the 2020 season with a divisional game against the New York Jets. In the 2019 season opener, Buffalo overcame four turnovers to complete a come-from-behind, 17-16 victory. A couple of missed kicks from Kaare Vedvik helped, as well.
The 2020 season is one filled with great expectations for Buffalo, who can make an early statement by coming out and dominating a divisional foe at home. While there won’t be any fans in Bills Stadium, couches all across Western New York are sure to be occupied by Bills Mafia members on Sunday afternoon. I recommend avoiding the coffee table, though.
When the game kicks off, here are the players we expect to have a huge impact on the outcome.
QB Josh Allen
The most important player on the team is the one with the most to prove. He showed great improvement last season, jumping from one of the league’s worst passers as a rookie to someone who could argue for inclusion at the low end of the league’s middle tier. If the Bills are going to do more than scuffle to a nine- or ten-win season on the back of a great defense, however, Allen needs to become at least a league-average passer in his third season. If Allen can come out and win games with his arm, then Buffalo has the roster to contend with anyone in the league, including presumptive Super Bowl favorites like the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens. Allen had four turnovers in last season’s opener, and by the fifth game of the year, it appeared that he put those turnover woes behind him. He’ll need to continue that positive trend while continuing to work on his accuracy and his fumbling issues in order to move the Bills into the league’s elite. Our first shot to see his progress is Sunday.
Speaking of fumbling issues, whispers of ball security problems surrounding Buffalo’s presumptive top running back have grown into loud murmurs over the last week or so. With a dynamic rookie in Zack Moss right behind him on the depth chart, Singletary has plenty to prove in the early going. Head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll have shown a preference for a backfield-by-committee approach, so I’m not convinced that Singletary is going to see 20-25 touches per game anyway. If he fumbles early, Moss could have a huge opportunity in his first professional game. Singletary is a dynamic runner in space who only makes this offense better, so he must protect the football.
WR Stefon Diggs
I’ve been excited to see him put on the red, white, and blue since Buffalo announced that they’d acquired him back in March. Diggs adds an element to Buffalo’s offense that wasn’t there last year, as he is a bonafide number one in what is sure to be one of the league’s most dynamic “11” personnel groupings. Even if Diggs catches two passes for seven yards, chances are good that his presence has opened opportunities for John Brown or Cole Beasley to work on the Jets’ lesser defensive backs in other parts of the field. Diggs is primed to have a big year and help this offense rise to a level it hasn’t seen in a generation.
It’s not often that a backup one-tech defensive tackle can be viewed as one of the most important players on a defense, but in McDermott and defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Leslie Frazier’s scheme, that spot is tremendously important. Phillips looked to be working his way into more playing time during the early part of last season, but a torn ACL suffered in Week 3 derailed those plans. Now, with veteran Star Lotulelei opting out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns, it’s essential that Phillips demonstrates the ability to come in and shut down the run. Buffalo’s starting defensive tackle duo of Ed Oliver and Vernon Butler showcases two players best lined up as “three-tech” tackles, and while Butler is the massive man manning the one-tech spot, Phillips is sure to see a healthy snap share. He needs to be sharp.
CB Josh Norman
How is the veteran’s hamstring? Will he play well enough to fend off third-year pro Levi Wallace? Will there be a rotation at right cornerback similar to what the team employed at right tackle last year with Cody Ford and Ty Nsekhe? Was Norman’s poor play in Washington due to the scheme or his own age-based deterioration? Against a pretty poor Jets receiving corps, Buffalo’s pass defense should be able to have their way. In last season’s opener, quarterback Sam Darnold found veteran slot receiver Jamison Crowder for 14 completions, but only 99 yards. Shutting down the outside receivers and making Darnold dink-and-dunk again should lead to a Bills victory on Sunday. Norman missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, and Wallace would be next man up.