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Mark Gaughan: No Von Miller changes expectations, but season is far from over

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NFL: Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills

Greg Rousseau, chasing Tennessee's Malik Willis in Week 2, will be a key to the Bills' defensive success without Von Miller.

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Yes, this changes expectations for this Buffalo Bills season.

No, the season is not over.

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There’s no sugar-coating it. Losing Von Miller means the Bills shouldn’t be considered Super Bowl favorites in the AFC, even though they currently hold the No. 1 seed in the conference.

Kansas City Chiefs fans have to feel better about their team’s chances today. Can the Bills beat the Chiefs if they meet again? Absolutely. Buffalo won at Kansas City without Miller in the regular season last year. But this tips the balance back toward the Chiefs.

Without Miller, can the Bills win three straight playoff games  if required  against elite passing teams like Miami, Cincinnati and Kansas City? I don’t like their chances if that winds up being their path to the Super Bowl.

The odds are the loss of Miller would catch up to the Buffalo defense somewhere on that path of elite opponents.

Yet, expectations don’t block and tackle. Odds don’t decide outcomes. This is why they play the games.

“The only way is forward,” Josh Allen said Wednesday. “Guys are going to step up, and collective leaders will come together and try to ... diminish his absence as much as possible.”

In Allen, the Bills still have the advantage at the most important position on the field over every team except Kansas City. And in that matchup, let’s call it a relative draw with Patrick Mahomes.

The Bills are 9-3. Even without Miller, you can still make the argument the team is slightly better than it was last year when it hit the playoffs.

In the playoffs last year, the Bills had Micah Hyde at safety but were playing with Dane Jackson and Levi Wallace at cornerback. Now they have Tre’Davious White back. That’s a big advantage.

The defensive line might still be a tick better than it was last year. The top three edge rushers last year were Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and Greg Rousseau. The top three now are Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa and Shaq Lawson. Rousseau is playing much better than last year. The interior of the defensive line is better than it was last year, thanks to DaQuan Jones and Jordan Phillips. The run defense is better this year. The pass rush optimistically is about the same. But I don't have much confidence in anyone besides Rousseau.

Obviously, Rousseau has to play well. The Bills’ coaches will need to get more creative. With Miller, they had the luxury of relying on the defensive line and sitting back in seven-man coverage umbrellas.

It will be on the coaches to manufacture more pressure. Have Matt Milano or Tremaine Edmunds join four-man rushes while dropping somebody back. Bring a defensive back a little more often.

Another thing the Bills have going for them is their resilience. This is a veteran team with good leadership that doesn’t rattle easily. The most recent example is the 12-day, forced march through a blizzard back and forth to Detroit twice and then to Foxborough, Mass.

Upon hearing the bad news on Miller Wednesday, the natural reaction of a segment of Bills Mafia was: This was our year. I let myself believe it. Why can’t we ever have nice things!

That’s not how the world-class athletes in the Bills’ locker room think.

“A bunch of resilient group of guys, man,” safety Jordan Poyer said. “It’s a bunch of guys who come to work every day and play for each other. There’s no egos. Nobody’s pointing fingers at each other when stuff goes wrong. We’ve been hit in the mouth enough to be able to bounce back.

“Last week the second drive of the game we give up a big screen for a touchdown,” he added, referring to New England’s 48-yard TD pass catch and run by Marcus Jones. “Nobody blinked, nobody was pointing fingers, nobody was playing the blame game. That’s not what this team is about. We get the corrections from the coaches, understand what we did wrong and move on from it. There’s a lot of football left. I think that’s a huge part of the game, to me, being able to move on from something bad that happens in the game or in a season.”

We’re going to find out soon enough about the playoff prospects. The physical New York Jets come to town Sunday. Then it’s Tyreek Hill and Miami’s aerial circus. Two weeks after that, the Miller-less defense goes to Cincinnati to face Joe Burrow and JaMarr Chase.

There aren’t a lot of examples of teams losing one of their top three players during the season and winning the Super Bowl. New England did it without Rob Gronkowski in 2016. The New York Giants did it with Jeff Hostetler replacing quarterback Phil Simms in 1990 (as we all know).

This Bills team now has the chance to add a great chapter to the franchise’s circle-the-wagons mystique.

“Adversity,” Poyer said. “How do you handle it? I think the teams that are able to handle adverse moments the right way, those are the teams you’re going to see in late January and February.”

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Bills/NFL writer

Gaughan's insight is featured in the "PlayAction" video series, providing analysis to get Bills fans ready for the next game. He is past president of the Pro Football Writers of America and served as a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector for 12 years.

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