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NFL TV analysts bullish on Bills, see 'more wide open' AFC East

NEW YORK – Phil Simms and Bill Cowher were sorting out some of the games on the NFL's Sept. 8 season-opening slate to which they planned to give extra attention during that day's CBS "The NFL Today" studio show.

Almost simultaneously, they mentioned the Buffalo Bills' matchup against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. They then discussed which analyst would focus on which team.

Cowher quickly volunteered to handle the Bills. "I really like them," he said. Simms, the former quarterback for the New York Giants, understood why Cowher, the former Pittsburgh Steelers' coach, felt that way. He's equally bullish on the Bills' chances this season.

"I think Buffalo will have a winning record, I really do," Simms said Tuesday during CBS' annual NFL media day at the network's broadcast center. "I'm a believer in the coach, Sean McDermott, and the general manager, Brandon Beane. I think that's where it all starts. I've seen many talented teams, year after year, maybe the best talent in the NFL, not win because they didn't have the right coach.

"It's the second year up there with Brian Daboll at offensive coordinator; I think that'll be a big change. It's the second year for Josh Allen at quarterback. What they did in free agency, reshaping the offensive line; what they did in the draft, to get Ed Oliver, and then I think they got the best offensive lineman in the draft in the second round (in Cody Ford). That was awesome. So, just putting all that together and knowing how they played last year and how well coached they are, I think they're going to be trouble."

As with Simms, Cowher's optimism about the Bills begins with McDermott.

"I'm a big fan," Cowher said. "I love his defensive mentality, but I think he's got an offensive philosophy that he has in place. I think Josh Allen fits that. And I love what they did in addressing the offensive line.

"Stability (in the AFC East), obviously, is with the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. But who's next in line? Sean McDermott. He's built a defense, he understands what he wants offensively, he understands what it's like playing in Buffalo in December and building a team around that.

Other CBS studio and game analysts share a similar belief the Bills are going to be better than last year's 6-10 club.

Boomer Esiason, who also is part of "The NFL Today," sees plenty of reason for Bills fans to be more hopeful than they have in a long time. He mentioned that a 10-win season was within the realm of possibilities.

"We saw them win the offseason, if you will," the former quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals said. "They killed it in free agency, they had a good draft. We all believe Josh Allen is the real deal. ... And the defense is going to be really solid. They got the junkyard dog (Oliver). That kid is relentless and he probably thought he should have been drafted in the top three (instead of ninth overall), so he has got a chip on his shoulder.

"The Bills are one of the under-the-radar teams in the NFL that the national media is not talking about. But those of us who know Sean McDermott – I watched him and I watched Josh Allen last year – we believe that they can get off to a good start this year."

Rich Gannon, who will be the analyst alongside play-by-play man Kevin Harlan for CBS' coverage of the Bills' season-opener, anticipates a big jump in Allen's performance from his rookie season.

"He got a lot of valuable experience last year," Gannon said. "You usually see a lot of improvement from year one to year two. And I think they've got a better feel for who he is, what he does well, what are some of the areas where he can improve. I think he's got a better understanding of the offense. I've talked about him protecting himself a little bit more, not taking those unnecessary hits, not exposing himself to those. In order for them to be a playoff team, he's got to play 16 games this year. And if he can play 16 games, it tells you that he's healthy and the production's there."

Dan Fouts, the CBS game analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback for the Chargers, thinks the Bills' chances are enhanced because the AFC East offers greater opportunity for teams other than the New England Patriots to have a say in who finishes on top.

"The division is more competitive now," Fouts said. "It's more, if you will, wide open. New England, can they continue with all the changes that they've had? The Jets seem to be on the rise. Miami is a wild card, who knows? But Buffalo is a team capable of beating all of them. And, especially as the season goes on, they're going to get better and better because the young quarterback's going to get better and better."

The general sentiment among several of CBS' broadcasters was that declaring the Patriots winners of the division doesn't have the open-and-shut-case feel as it has for so long.

Gannon fully expects "change" in the AFC East.

"I just don't know how much longer the Patriots can continue to dominate that division," the former QB for the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders said. "I think it's going to be a fun division to follow."

"Can Buffalo beat (the Patriots) one out of two times? Sure they can," Simms said. "Their defense is good, they've got the secondary, they've got speed, they're well-coached, and it looks like they did a really good job with their offensive line. That's a lot of components to really like."

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