TORONTO - They may have been the only undefeated team in the AFC prior to Week 4 and as will happen with a team that has struggled for so long, the optimism was getting a little thick.
But had the Buffalo Bills really done enough to merit being three-point favourites on the road against anyone, the Cincinnati Bengals included?
Whether it was merely a market correction or an indication of what lies ahead, a
23-20 loss at least suggests the Bills were over-valued.
The next several weeks will tell us whether they are fortunate to be 3-1 or a team capable of improving to the point that they challenge for a playoff spot.
Here’s five reasons why a week ago the Bills may have been the most overrated team in the NFL (or at least in a race with the Eagles and Jets).
1. OPPORTUNITY LOST
For all of the accomplishment associated with dumping powerhouse New England, how much was squandered in a loss to the clearly beatable Bengals?
Answer: A lot.
The Bills aren’t good enough yet to just crank it up at will and can’t afford not to take advantage of a rare team in the league with inferior talent.
To get anywhere near being a playoff team, they can’t lose against teams like Cincinnati, especially after leading 17-3 at halftime.
“They were looking for a reason to quit but we just didn’t give them the punch,” Bills cornerback Drayton Florence said.
SAVING GRACE: A pair of games against divisional doormat Miami now become even more important as do dates with the Titans and Broncos, two of the lighter opponents remaining on the schedule.
2. DEFENCE RESTS
When the Bills defence picked off Tom Brady four times in Week 3 and converted those turnovers into 24 points, thing were looking good.
Add 14 more from two INTs in the first half against the Bengals and the perception that this was a legit defence continued.
In reality, they haven’t done much to slow down any of their opponents, save for Kansas City in Week 1.
As is commonplace in the NFL, it is also apparent opposing coaches have found the weak spots in the Bills dam.
On Sunday, it was apparent the Bengals were ready to attack DB Leodis McKelvin and they did so effectively, often with a rookie, A.J. Green.
In their past three games, the Bills have given up a minimum of 454 yards.
“It is concerning,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said on Monday.
“You’ve got to get off the field. You can’t give up the big play.”
Even more concerning is that next up is the Eagles and Michael Vick.
SAVING GRACE: Most of the team’s big off-season moves were to shore up this unit and while a work in progress, they are still much better than last season.
3. SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Often when previously downtrodden teams sprint out of the gate, there has to be some skepticism. This year it has been the Bills and Lions, with Detroit obviously looking more like the real deal. They may get there yet, but the Bills roster doesn’t have a proven superstar just yet. And as exciting as comeback wins against the Raiders and Patriots were, there were major flaws in each.
SAVING GRACE: The Bills get back to their underdog status this weekend against the Eagles, a role in which they are still more comfortable.
4. FITZ AND STARTS
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was certainly the go-to feature material last week. The fact that he was the last of 14 quarterbacks selected in his draft year and the fact that he came from Harvard were story lines too juicy to resist.
For the most part, Fitzpatrick has delivered on the field as well. His nine TD passes through three weeks (tempered by none in Week 4) showed that this offence has big-number potential.
On the other hand, as they did early in the New England game and through much of the Bengals loss,
“I think frustrated is the best way you could put it,” Fitzpatrick said on Monday. “(There was) a lot of stuff left out there on the field and a lot of missed opportunities.”
SAVING GRACE: Fitzpatrick doesn’t seem to get rattled, as he showed in both of those comeback wins.
5. OFFENCE OR OFFENSIVE?
Give the Fitzpatrick-led unit credit: Before they met their first physical defence of the season in Cincinnati, they could score at will. A creative, spread offence was dangerous and running back Fred Jackson was a force on the ground. The reality check came at Paul Brown Stadium when Jackson was held to just one yard rushing in the fourth quarter. The Bills were just 3-for-15 on third downs in the Bengals game, another concern.
SAVING GRACE: This team put up at least 34 points in its first three games and they’ve yet to use rookie running back C.J. Spiller to effectiveness.