JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2021 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Vic Carruci of WGRZ-TV in Buffalo, N.Y., about Sunday's 2021 Week 8 game between the Jaguars and Buffalo Bills at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
Question: The Bills are 5-2 and in first place in the AFC East. What's the state of the Bills entering Sunday's game?
Answer: Big picture: They absolutely like where they are, which is arguably at the top of the AFC – or as close as you can be. They lost to the Tennessee Titans [on October 18], but it was a game that came down to one play – a poorly-executed good decision to try to put the game away on the road. The Bills are right there – and if you look at the landscape of the AFC, they stand as tall as anyone. They have been fortunate health-wise. The offensive line has undergone some shuffling, but nothing that should be super-concerning the rest of the way because they tend to figure it out. They have all the pieces in place. They like the roster they have and they should.
Q: The Bills rank sixth in the NFL in total offense. Where are they offensively through seven games?
A: They score a lot of points; they just haven't functioned as explosively as we saw in 2020. [Quarterback] Josh Allen had a tear of 300-plus-yard games and a couple of touchdowns a game passing in 2020; he broke team records. He and [wide receiver] Stefon Diggs immediately became a dangerous duo last season. Now, you don't see Diggs dominating as he did last season; teams are absolutely making a greater effort to clamp down on him. So other people have been involved in the offense. [Wide receiver] Emmanuel Sanders' arrival [as an unrestricted free agent] has been a plus over what they had and [wide receiver] Cole Beasley has finally gotten involved. Josh has not been as in sync on a consistent basis from start to finish as he was last season. It has been fits and starts. There have been occasions where you say, "OK, that's the 2020 version of Josh" and there have been occasions where he has been ordinary. He has not been awful in any game, but he felt it and he was probably a little too harsh on himself because I think he was hearing the noise. When they turn it loose, they are their most dangerous. When they sort of pull their horns in and let their opponents dictate the tempo of the game, that's when they get in trouble. I don't see it as a major problem in any way. I see it being more than good enough. Given the quality of the talent on offense, there is no reason to think it won't reach a consistent level that can get them to where they want to go.
A: This season has been defined by their defense. It has been dominant from the very first game. From then on, they have been on this defensive tear. They have had one real hiccup defensively. [Running back] Derrick Henry of Tennessee, who has run over a lot of teams, ran over them. He didn't have a lot of carries, but he had enough to do damage. Then, [quarterback] Ryan Tannehill went nine for nine and the Bills never got a good feel for what was coming their way from Tennessee's offense. They went back to form quickly.
Q: It sounds like the season now is about staying healthy, finding their form and peaking for the playoffs.
A: They're one of these teams that should believe the division is theirs to lose. No one will come out and say this and it's always a dicey to think to assume you've won something long before you've won it, but the path for them is so clear to a division championship. Yes, you have to have a little bit of a wary eye on New England [at 4-4 through eight games] – are the Patriots getting some traction now with [rookie quarterback] Mac Jones? They don't see them (the Patriots) until December. That's a small caveat. I think what New England is playing for is the likelihood of a wild-card spot. Buffalo should have this division wrapped up not long after Thanksgiving the way the schedule is set up for them. They have to stay healthy, stay focused and keep the eye on the prize. I think in their minds they see themselves as the full-blown Super Bowl contender that a lot of folks thought they were before the season. In some instances, do they play like they already have it figured out and won? You could say that that might cloud some of what they have done, but not a lot. It's a solid 5-2. You can't say there's something wrong with them. They know what they need to sort out and the players usually figure it out on their own. The coaches are part of it, but the players figure out whatever shortcomings they might have in a game on their own.
Q: And playoff positioning now comes into focus…
A: Now, it's a matter – to me – of home field. What they are determined to do is avoid doing what they did last year – which is ending up on the road for the AFC Championship Game. They firmly believe if they can get a bye and get that home field that they can't be stopped to get to the Super Bowl.
Q: You've been at this a long time and seen a lot of great teams. Is this a team that can win the Super Bowl?
A: Yes. Because of the defense. I did not see that a year ago. Even when they were in position to get to the Super Bowl, I had my doubts because of the defense not playing at the level they're playing now. They were a really good defense in 2019. They took a dip last year. [General manager] Brandon Beane and the personnel staff left Arrowhead Stadium (following a loss to Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game) knowing exactly what they had to do to get to where they need to be. They attacked it that way in the [2021 NFL Draft by selecting defensive ends Greg Rosseau and Boogie Basham in Rounds 1 and 2, respectively]. The key was, "How do we get this pass rush where it needs to be?" They're good enough in more areas than not to overcome weaknesses. I see them as a complete enough team to win it all.