The story of the first half of the 2020 season for the Buffalo Bills was pullback in their defensive performance. They dealt with an injury to starting LB Matt Milano and the absence of their best run stopper in Star Louluteli, in addition to a youth movement on the defensive line. After finishing the 2019 season ranked 7th in defensive DVOA. The Bills got healthier in the second half of the season and made a playoff push, entering the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the AFC, but finished the season ranked 12th in DVOA.
Three weeks into the 2021 season, the Bills rank in the top 10 of the league in all relevant defensive metrics:
- 2nd in defensive DVOA
- 2nd in pressures
- 3rd in yards per play allowed
- 7th in 3rd down defense
- 4th in red zone percentage
- 4th in passing yards allowed per game
- 7th in rushing yards allowed per game
With a secondary that features one of the strongest safety pairings in the league in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, an All Pro corner in Tre’davious White opposite Levi Wallace and a front 7 stocked with young talent pressuring opposing quarterbacks, the Bills’ defense has returned to its 2019 form to complement the high-powered offense led by Josh Allen.
Though they stumbled out of the gate in the home opener in the loss to the Steelers, the defense held Pittsburgh to 252 yards of total offense and 4-12 on 3rd down. In Week 2, they shut out the Dolphins in a 35-0 thrashing, and in Week 3, held Washington to 290 yards of total offense, 75 of which came in a garbage time scoring drive down by 30 and another 75 of which that came on a 75-yard reception to Antonio Gibson.
The Bills are 17-point favorites this week against the Texans, who are starting their 3rd string quarterback due to legal issues and injuries to Deshaun Watson and Tyrod Taylor respectively, but a playoff rematch looms large the following week on SNF against the Kansas City Chiefs, where the Bills will be catching 3.5 points.
After that, the Bills will enter a phase of the schedule where they’ll encounter a banged up Titans roster, followed by the Dolphins, Jaguars, Jets and Colts. They’ll also face the Patriots twice in four weeks in December, and finish the season against the Falcons and Jets.
The Bills are currently +400 to win the AFC. The Chiefs have major deficiencies on defense, the Ravens are dealing with significant injuries on defense, a one-dimensional offense and lack of depth in the running game, and the Chargers lack playoff experience in Herbert’s second season. The Bills’ proven potency on offense and early dominance on defense make them the AFC’s most balanced team through three weeks. If their defense continues to perform at its 2019 level, they should not only be in the running to win the division, but they’ll also be sitting in pole position to host several home playoff games and potentially secure a first round bye in January. Considering their schedule the next five weeks, which includes an opportunity to flex their muscles on the Chiefs, their odds to win the AFC should only decrease as the season continues to wear on.