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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2023 Opponent Preview: Buffalo Bills, Week 8

Buffalo, which had the NFL's best point differential in 2022 and is coming off a fourth straight season with double-digit wins, could see their offense continue to evolve around superstar QB Josh Allen


As the NFL enters its fallow period between the end the teams' offseason programs and the start of training camp, we are taking a closer look at each of the opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face during the 2023 regular season. From how those teams fared last year to what they've done with the roster since to some as-yet-unanswered questions, we want to get a better feel for what the Buccaneers will be up against this fall. Today we look at yet another AFC team with an elite quarterback and serious Super Bowl aspirations.

2022 Results

The Bills were considered prime Super Bowl contenders entering the 2022 season and looked very much the part for most of the season. Buffalo finished 13-3 for their fourth consecutive season in double-digit wins and won the NFC East for the third year in a row. They ended up as the AFC's second seed, a half-game back of the Chiefs, playing one fewer game because their Week 17 Monday Night Football contest against Cincinnati was cancelled after the near death of safety Damar Hamlin.

Pro Bowl quarterback Josh Allen came out of the gates red-hot, looking like the favorite for league MVP honors during a 6-1 start before an elbow injury slightly affected his accuracy, mostly on shorter throws. Allen still finished with 4,283 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes, a 96.6 passer rating, 762 rushing yards and seven more scores on the ground, and he ended up third in the MVP voting behind Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts.

The Bills briefly stumbled with two consecutive defeats in early November, including a 33-30 decision against Minnesota that required a miraculous comeback by the Vikings. Buffalo would not lose again over the next eight weeks, and all three of their losses came by three points or fewer. A thrilling 32-29 victory over the Dolphins in Week 15, in which Allen threw touchdown passes to four different targets, was instrumental in wrapping up the division.

The Bills and Dolphins met again to open the playoffs and the result was practically identical, with a key fourth-down stop at midfield with just over two minutes to play preserving a 34-31 victory for the home team at Highmark Stadium. However, Buffalo fell short of its ultimate goal again, dropping a 27-10 decision to the Bengals at home in the Divisional Round. After that loss, several prominent Bills spoke about the emotional toll of Hamlin's experience, in which he had to be revived after his heart stopped; Hamlin's story ultimately had a happy ending and he was back on the field with his team this spring.

Wideout Stefon Diggs posted another massive season, catching 108 passes for 1,429 yards and 11 touchdowns on his way to a third straight Pro Bowl. No other Bills player reached the 50-catch mark, but tight end Dawson Knox also got a Pro Bowl invite after hauling in 48 passes for 517 yards and six scores. Overall, Buffalo's offense finished second to the Mahomes-led Chiefs in both yards (397.6) and points (28.4) per game.

The Bills also fielded the league's second-stingiest defense in terms of points per game (17.9), with that unit finishing sixth in yards allowed per outing (319.1). That all added up to the NFL's best per-game point differential, at +10.6. Edge rusher Von Miller, the team's prize free agency addition from the 2022 offseason tied Gregory Rousseau for the team lead with 8.0 sacks despite missing the last five games and the playoffs due to a knee injury. Safety Jordan Poyer and linebacker Matt Milano made the Pro Bowl after combining for seven of the Bills' 17 interceptions. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds led the team with 102 tackles and also broke up seven passes.

2023 Arrivals

Buffalo didn't make any single splash in free agency as big as their Miller acquisition in 2022, but they did use it to fix a trouble spot on the offensive line, add some defensive depth, get a possible starter for the backfield and grab some peripheral weapons for Allen and the offense.

One of the team's first acquisitions was former Cowboys lineman Connor McGovern, who figures to step directly into the starting left guard spot after Rodger Saffold was allowed to walk in free agency. There should be competition at the right guard spot, too, with Ryan Bates trying to hold off second-round draft pick O'Cyrus Torrence, who was widely expected to go in the first round in April.

The Bills added both McGovern and Deonte Harty on the second day of free agency, and Harty could vie for the kick return jobs while also adding speed to a somewhat thin receiving corps. Harty essentially replaces Isaiah McKenzie, who was released in March. Former Patriots running back Damien Harris, signed about a week into the new league season, will likely battle James Cook for the starting spot in the backfield after the departure of Devin Singletary in free agency.

Several weeks into free agency, Buffalo landed former Seahawk Poona Ford to add depth to their defensive front. And most recently the Bills spiced up their pass rush with another former Ram, with Leonard Floyd reuniting with Miller along the front line. Floyd had 9.0 sacks for the Rams last season.

Buffalo also made a number of value signings, mostly giving out one-year deals to the likes of safety Taylor Rapp and guard David Edwards – two more former Rams – as well as wide receiver Trent Sheffield, running back Latavius Murray and cornerback Cameron Dantzler. Former Houston Texans quarterback Kyle Allen replaces Case Keenum as the new primary backup to Josh Allen.

Buffalo used its first-round draft pick, number 25 overall, on Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid, which will likely lead to Buffalo using more two-TE sets combining Kincaid and Knox. In the third round, the Bills landed Tulane linebacker Dorian Williams, who could battle Tyrel Dodson (three starts in 2022) and 2022 third-rounder Terrel Bernard for the other starting spot next to Milano. The team also added a little more depth to the pass-catching group with Florida wideout Justin Shorter in the fifth round.

2023 Departures

As noted, the Bills waived McKenzie in March and made no effort to re-sign Saffold; McKenzie quickly landed with the Colts but Saffold has not yet signed with another team.

Buffalo only suffered two noteworthy losses in free agency, with Edmunds going to Chicago and Singletary headed to Houston. Edmunds, who got a lucrative four-year deal from the Bears, led the team in tackles in 2022 and made the Pro Bowl in 2019 and 2020. Singletary was the Bills leading rusher last season with 819 yards and five scores on 177 carries, though Allen and Cook also exceeded 500 yards each.

Guard Greg Van Roten, who started four games for the Bills in 2022 and has 54 career starts, got a one-year deal in Las Vegas. Keenum and Kyle Allen essentially switched places, with the former joining Singletary in Houston.

Other Noteworthy Developments

Damar Hamlin's return to the practice field during the Bills' offseason program was one of the most welcome pieces of news across the entire NFL. On January 2, Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest after making a tackle due to commotio cordis and had to be resuscitated on the field before being rushed to the hospital as he remained in critical condition. He returned home nine days later but still needed quite a bit of rehabilitation, and at first it was not certain whether he would be able to continue his playing career. However, Hamlin got full clearance from multiple specialists in April and he returned to practice as a full participant on June 6.

While his injury was much more common and less life-threatening, Von Miller has had to deal with the rehab process this offseason, too, thanks to a torn ACL suffered in late November. It is not yet certain that Miller will be ready to play by the start of the regular season, but General Manager Brandon Beane stressed that the team did not sign Leonard Floyd as a replacement for Miller.

The Bills lost a defensive starter to free agency in Tremaine Edmunds but were able to re-sign safety Jordan Poyer, a critical piece of their defense. Buffalo won all 12 games that Poyer both started and finished in 2022. The Bills were also able to retain defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and edge rusher Shaq Lawson, both on one-year deals. More recently, the team gave defensive tackle Ed Oliver a new four-year contract extension. Earlier in the offseason, the Bills created a good amount of cap space by restructuring contracts for Josh Allen, Matt Milano and punter Sam Martin.

The Erie County Legislature approved the Bills new stadium agreement in early May, with plans for construction to begin immediately. The team is scheduled to begin play in its new home, which will feature natural grass, in the 2026 season.

Pressing Questions

Will there be a significant evolution of the Bills' offense in 2023?

Obviously, Buffalo's offense was quite good in 2022; as noted above, the Bills finished second in the league behind in Kansas City in both yards gained and points scored. Josh Allen continued to play at an extremely high level. Still, there are signs that the offense will look different in 2022, perhaps in an effort to convince Allen that he doesn't have to play hero ball on every down for the team to win.

Most notably, the Bills signed tight end Dawson Knox to a four-year $52 million contract extension last September and then used their top draft asset on another tight end, Dalton Kincaid, in April. Clearly, the Bills didn't pay Knox or draft Kincaid so high in order to keep one of them on the bench. This indicates that Buffalo's offense, which utilized "12" personnel on a league-low 8% of its snaps last season, is going to use it quite a bit more in 2023. Knox, an outstanding pass-catcher, could spend a lot of time as, essentially, a jumbo option in the slot.

The Bills may also attempt to take some of the offensive load off of Allen by establishing a more powerful rushing attack. Shortly before signing Damien Harris, Beane indicated that the team was looking for a heavier back, with a skillset that complements the smaller James Cook. In particular, Harris could get a lot of action around the goal line so that the Bills don't have to rely on Allen pounding it into the end zone himself.

Can the Bills generate more pressure up front on defense?

Despite spending four first or second-round draft picks on edge rushers and interior defensive linemen from 2019-21, Buffalo's pass rush produced middling results in 2022. The Bills' sacks-per-pass-play rate of 7.02% was just 18th best in the NFL.

Of course, those numbers did suffer from Miller's season-ending injury, and as noted early, Miller's exact return date to the playing field is still unknown. Still, a team that invested high picks in Ed Oliver, Gregory Rousseau, Boogie Basham and A.J. Epenesa and then added Leonard Floyd and Poona Ford this offseason is going to expect to have one of the league's deepest and most productive pass-rush rotations. Buffalo has championship aspirations, of course, and to get over the top after four ultimately failed playoff runs they will likely have to beat such standout AFC quarterbacks as Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson and Trevor Lawrence. The ability to get consistent pressure on those elite passers could be the key.

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