Looking back over last year's NFL statistics, I was a little surprised to find that the Bills' defense was sixth in the league against the pass (total yards allowed) last season. Then I remembered a couple of key factors that contributed to that ranking: 1) They were 29th against the run; 2) They faced a lot of inferior quarterbacks.
Last year, the Bills played two games against quarterbacks who finished among the Top 10 in rating: Tom Brady in the second Pats game and Derek Carr of the Raiders. The cast of opposing QBs in 2016 included the likes of Case Keenum, Matt Moore, Jacoby Brissett, Ryan Fitzpatrick (twice), Robert Griffin III and, yes, Colin Kaepernick.
So it was only the shabby quality of opposing quarterback play that allowed the Bills to win seven games in Rex Ryan's final season as the head coach. It will be considerably more difficult for Sean McDermott's defense in his first year at the helm, starting with this Sunday's road game against his former employer, Carolina, and Cam Newton.
The lineup of opposing quarterbacks is as daunting as I can remember in a Bills season. It includes five games against teams with QBs rated among the top seven active (Tom Brady twice, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan). They also face Derek Carr (10th active), Andy Dalton (11th) and Andrew Luck (13th). Newton is 16th.
It's pretty scary to think Newton is that low on the list of active QB ratings. Two years ago, he was league MVP and led a Carolina offense that led the league with 500 points. Newton regressed last season, but he's still a lot more dangerous than, say, Josh McCown. He's the only player in NFL history who leads a franchise in passing and rushing TDs.
Ryan is the reigning league MVP. Brady is the best QB ever and the third-highest rated quarterback of all time. Brees, who passed for 5,208 yards last season, has five of the top eight yardage seasons in history. Carr was fifth in the league's MVP voting last season. Rivers has passed for 4,000 yards in eight of the last nine seasons and is the No. 8 rated passer in history.
I could torture Bills fans further. Alex Smith engineered the greatest offensive show ever against the Belichick Patriots in last Thursday's opener. Fans can only hope that Andrew Luck doesn't return to full health from his shoulder injury and that Jay Cutler continues to be a turnover machine as the Dolphins quarterback.
Anyway, it's gallery of greats throwing for the opposition this season. I'm guessing there will be some rough moments for McDermott's defense in the first year of the rebuilding process.