Vic Carucci's Bills analysis: 5 reasons why they'll end the playoff drought this year - The Buffalo News

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Vic Carucci's Bills analysis: 5 reasons why they'll end the playoff drought this year

To snap their 17-year playoff drought, the Buffalo Bills need to win at least five of their remaining eight games.

That would get them to the 10-6 record that would likely be the minimum required for a postseason berth.

Here are five reasons why it will happen:

1. The schedule.

It isn't easy, but it's very manageable. Let's start with how their four remaining home games, the first of which is next Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, are positioned. After back-to-back trips to face the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, the Bills have three in a row at New Era Field against the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins.

Given that the Bills are 4-0 at home, it's reasonable to think they could go at least 3-1 at New Era the rest of the way. The Saints and Patriots figure to pose the greatest challenges, but the competition in the NFL is the closest it has been in a long time. The Bills also will have more time to rest before facing the Saints, who have a game Sunday.

Kansas City and Foxborough, Mass, are daunting NFL destinations, but the other two trips? Not so much. Of the 27,000 seats at StubHub Center, the Chargers' so-called "home," 25,000 of them could easily be filled with Bills fans. For that matter, a healthy number of Western New Yorkers are planning to spend New Year's Eve in South Florida.

2. The defense.

The Bills' defense can't possibly be as bad as it was in Thursday night's 34-21 loss against the New York Jets. The single biggest problem was atrocious tackling. In some cases, Bills defenders seemed to lose their basic desire to try to bring call-carriers to the ground.

That didn't show up in any of the team's previous seven games, so it's fair to say that it shouldn't repeat itself through most, if not all, of the final eight. This might not be the NFL's most talented defense, but effort is not something it lacks.

Perhaps the quick turnaround after the lopsided win against the Oakland Raiders contributed to the poor showing on both sides of the ball. That’s a lame excuse, especially with the Jets operating under the same conditions, but it does support the idea that this was an anomaly the Bills' coaching staff should be able to fix.

For the most part, the Bills have succeeded with a formula that includes being stout against the run (the Bills were third in the NFL in that category before Thursday night) and allowing opponents to move the ball through the air against mostly underneath coverage designed to minimize deep throws but tightening up in the red zone (where the Bills rank eighth in the league).

Luck also wasn't the only factor or even the primary one in the Bills' four-game streak with three or more takeaways before Thursday night. The coaches not only place tremendous emphasis on it, but they also do a superb job of coaching it. Cornerback Leonard Johnson came ever so close to keeping the streak alive against the Jets as he bobbled and eventually dropped what should have been an interception while falling backward. Seeing this Bills team, which leads the NFL in turnover ratio at plus-11, give the ball away three times is almost akin to spotting a unicorn.

3. Tyrod Taylor.

He's playing some of the best football of his career. He put together three solid performances, and that includes what he did against the Jets.

You can't put the brunt of the blame on Taylor for his inability to lead the Bills to a win Thursday night. He was sacked seven times and under siege the entire game.

The Jets' defensive line manhandled the Bills' offensive line. Coach Todd Bowles also came up with a brilliant scheme that featured more blitzing than the Bills had faced all season. A consistent five-man rush, executed to perfection, did plenty to minimize Taylor's effectiveness as a runner.

This won't be an every-game occurrence. Taylor has evolved as a pocket passer. He's doing a much better job of reading the entire secondary rather than rolling out and limiting his reads to one side of the field as he often did in the past.

4. Kelvin Benjamin's addition and Charles Clay's return.

Benjamin, who is expected to make his Buffalo debut against New Orleans, is the difference-making receiver the Bills had lacked ever since they traded Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams in August.

His mere presence should be enough to draw coverage away from Zay Jones and the rest of what is mostly a mediocre receiving corps, whose inability to gain separation contributed to the pressure on Taylor Thursday night.

In order for the Bills to take full advantage of Benjamin, Taylor must be willing to throw the contested, 50-50 balls that his new receiver excels at catching because of his size (6-foot-5), power and incredible catch radius. That means Taylor, whose best trait is avoiding interceptions, being willing to take many more risks than usual.

Clay, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury, has a good chance of being back in the lineup to face the Saints. And that would provide an additional boost to the Bills' passing attack. Clay was at the top of his game when he was injured, giving the Bills the best production they had seen from him since he joined them in free agency in 2015.

The Bills have no one else at tight end who comes close to matching Clay's talent.

5. LeSean McCoy.

There's plenty of speed and explosiveness left in those 29-year-old legs. The reason McCoy wasn't able to display them Thursday night was because the Jets often packed the box with eight defenders, who frequently were in the backfield as soon as he got the ball.

He remains a dynamic talent capable of taking over games, as he largely did against the Raiders. His receiving dimension is something that will usually create mismatches and help the Bills keep opposing defenses off-balance.

With Benjamin expected to give opponents greater cause to back away from the line, McCoy should be able to find more running room.

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