Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills during their bye:
1. Trying to poke holes in their 4-1 record is a waste of time.
Say what you will about those ugly victories against the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans, and that gift of a win handed to the New England Patriots. None of it matters.
No one apologizes for success in the NFL, because it is hard to achieve and because no one forgives failure.
Regardless of how the Bills got here, they're well-positioned to launch to the sort of heights the franchise hasn't seen in a long time. In 2017, they surprised even the least objective observers, including themselves, by stumbling into the playoffs with the help of another team's miraculous triumph. This year, the Bills are good enough – especially on defense – to reach the postseason on their own, especially with a schedule that appears to provide plenty of opportunity to put double digits in the win column.
2. This defense could go down as not only the best the Bills have ever had, but also finish with one of the all-time great seasons in NFL history.
Something special is happening on that side of the ball. The front seven isn't merely playing well. It is physically overwhelming opponents and showing remarkable depth.
That's where controlling the tone and tempo over a game usually starts.
Tackle Jordan Phillips has emerged in a way that would seem to put him on track to go from 2018 waiver-wire pickup to the Pro Bowl. Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson, Ed Oliver, Trent Murphy, Darryl Johnson, Lorenzo Alexander, Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano have all taken turns making their presence felt. The secondary has done a superb job of minimizing big plays, with safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer performing as well as ever, and cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Levi Wallace maintaining consistently tight coverage.
Leslie Frazier is doing some of his best work preparing game plans and calling signals since becoming the Bills' defensive coordinator in 2017. With all but one starter back from last year and several players who have been with him since '17, he and coach Sean McDermott can capitalize on the tremendous grasp of the system that comes with continuity.
3. Josh Allen seems to realize that it’s not a sin to put good game management ahead of great playmaking.
That showed up in a big way in last Sunday's 14-7 victory at Tennessee. Allen mainly made good decisions with his throws, recognizing that heaving the ball out of bounds or at the feet of a receiver running a short route can sometimes be just as valuable as connecting for a long completion. He also was mostly judicious about when and where to run.
Allen was right to describe it to reporters after the game as the best of his 16 career NFL starts, even with the horrible interception he threw and his continued habit of finishing runs head-first rather than with a slide. It didn't come across as so much lip service. Allen's teammates, particularly on defense, only needed their eyes to recognize the quarterback's appreciation for the less-is-more approach. They believe he grasps the Bills' typical winning formula, which is to smother opposing offenses, and the importance of not impeding it with offensive miscues.
4. Maybe those Duke Williams fans had it right all along.
I'll admit it. I wasn't buying all the social-media and talk-show chatter that the Bills needed to find a spot on their roster for the 6-foot-3, 225-pound receiver who looked every bit as impressive in the preseason as he did while starring in the CFL. Nor was I in line with the criticism storm set off by the Bills' making Williams one of their final cuts and then adding him to their practice squad. My standard response: 31 other teams chose not to claim him after he was waived.
Williams' ability to maximize his considerable size and power were all that fans tired of the mediocrity of last year's pass-catching corps needed to see. Besides liking him better than incumbents Zay Jones and Robert Foster, they saw Williams, at the very least, as an equal to newcomers John Brown and Cole Beasley.
It was only one game, but I'm leaning toward buying it now. Williams gave a remarkable showing against the Titans, his first game after the Bills activated him, and that led to Jones being traded to the Oakland Raiders. Williams figures to become a consistently effective target in the red zone.
5. Feeling good about the strong start is warranted, but counting those soft spots left on the schedule as wins would be a mistake.
Starting Oct. 20, the Bills will be more challenged than ever to maintain focus and concentration. The Miami Dolphins, easily the NFL's worst team, will be at New Era Field. The Bills know it's a game they have no business losing. But if they treat the game that way, it might very well be one that bites them.
There are other such opponents – Washington, Denver, and rematches with the Dolphins and Jets – and each will cause the pressure of expected victory to escalate. However, by playing up to the level of their talent, the Bills should find their way to enough wins to grab at least grab a wild-card berth ... if not legitimately challenge for the AFC East title.