NFL

NFL AM: Are The Buffalo Bills 2016’s Carolina Panthers?

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This is the time of year where fans and media pundits try to point to a breakout team that nobody sees coming.

Very few last year saw the Carolina Panthers posting the most regular season victories in the NFL and ultimately advancing to the Super Bowl.

When we were looking for that 2016 version, one team came to mind with some striking similarities.

Without any further ado, let me present your Buffalo Bills.

The most striking similarity to the Panthers is that the Bills have a playmaking, mobile quarterback in Tyrod Taylor who is about to have a breakout season.  Taylor battled injuries and injuries around him last season and still finished with a very good year, completing nearly 64 percent of his throws, for over 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Somehow his great season completely flown under the radar.

Buffalo wants to play head coach Rex Ryan’s “Ground and Pound” type of offense and Taylor is the perfect trigger man for that.  The team has a nice, right now healthy stable of running backs in LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams, and with Taylor they can run some zone read.

Although Taylor isn’t yet the league MVP like Cam Newton, the pieces in the Bills backfield are considerably better than the Panthers.

Buffalo has considerably better options on the outside, and if Sammy Watkins is healthy they have a game changer at the wide receiver position.  With Taylor’s ability to throw the deep ball, 2015’s flashes of brilliance was simply a small scratch of the surface of what these two are capable of together.

“I’m sold. I’m definitely sold,” Watkins said about Taylor in an ESPN interview. “He’s just grown as a leader on our team.”

Ryan’s Bills’ defense doesn’t line up in the traditional 4-3 alignment that the Panthers do, but they have some great talent on that side of the football.  Defensive tackles Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams anchor the defense from the inside, while Jerry Hughes should benefit from Ryan’s system rushing the passer.

If the team can get anything out of rookie Shaq Lawson who is battling a shoulder injury, this could go from one of the worst pass rushes in the league in 2015, to one of the best.

There has been considerable criticism about the selection.

“That’s part of the deal with Shaq,” Ryan told Sports Illustrated. “We drafted him for the long haul success, not for one season. They say me and Doug Whaley share the blame. You’re damn right we do. We’ll share the blame, that’s fine. Oh, by the way, there should be another end to (the story). Let’s see what kind of kind of player this kid is over the long haul. And we will stand by drafting this guy.”

Whaley weighed in on the pick.

“We never even thought we’d have Shaq Lawson on our team, so if we’re losing Shaq for five months, and then he’s going to be with us for his entire career, we’re willing to invest in that and lose the first five months to have that guy,” Whaley said.

The Bills don’t have a Luke Kuechly, but they do have the thrifty man’s version in tackling machine Preston Brown.  Add in rookie Reggie Ragland and the team should be solid again up the middle.

Stephon Gilmore might not have the gravitas of Josh Norman, but he is due for a breakout season and he could shore things up in the secondary.  If Norman was so important to the Panthers success, they wouldn’t have rescinded the franchise tag and let him walk in free agency.

 


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.