EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — So how will this season play out for the Bills?
Buffalo is coming off a disappointing 6-10 campaign and third-place finish in the AFC East.
However, general manager Brandon Beane went into immediate upgrade mode and, as a result, via free agency (16 players), the draft (six) and trade (one), 23 of his acquisitions made the current 53-man roster and three others — two free agents and a draftee — are on injured reserve.
With over 40 percent of the roster turned over, most Bills fans are looking forward to a major turnaround.
Trouble is, the division title has become the bailiwick of the New England Patriots who have claimed 16 of 18 AFC East titles since 2001.
Thus, the Bills, Dolphins (7-9 last season) and Jets (4-12) have been left to play for the American Football Conference’s two wild-card playoff berths.
This year, Miami fired coach Adam Gase and he was immediately hired by the Jets who dumped Todd Bowles, while the rebuilding Dolphins brought in first-time head coach Brian Flores, who has spent the last seven months maintaining his team isn’t tanking the 2019 season.
The AFC East did get one major break for this campaign.
Due to the vagaries of the schedule, the division, collectively, has the NFL’s easiest slate.
The Patriots and Jets are in a five-way tie for the second easiest 2019 schedule, their opponents having only a .473 winning percentage last season, while the Bills are 24th (.480) and the Dolphins 18th (.500). Washington has the softest slate based on 2018’s records.
WHEN ASKED about his expectations for the Bills this season, Beane assessed, “We want to show growth in a lot of areas.
“Last year our defense probably carried our team ... we weren’t good enough on offense or special teams. A lot of the moves that we’ve made this offseason, whether it was draft or free agency, was to improve and try, if our defense was here (gesturing with his hands), and those two were here, try to close the gap.”
But he admitted, “Wins and losses, we know, are what Sean (McDermott, head coach) and I get judged on but sometimes there’s adverse situations that happen in the year.
“It would never do me justice to give you, ‘I expect this number of wins.’ But, we want to be more competitive. We want our offense to win some more games and not have to put too much on the defense. We want to be a balanced team. We want our special teams to improve and control (and) win the field position game.”
Beane added, “There’s a lot of factors ... how’s our red-zone defense, how’s our red-zone efficiency on offense, where are our turnovers, is our team winning the turnover battle?
“Those things that, generally, Monday morning you can point to as this is why you won the game or this is why you lost the game. If you win enough of those I think the win total will be where you want it at the end of the season.”
SO SINCE Beane won’t offer a prediction — understandably so — that’s left to we mediatypes.
You’ll find prognostications ranging between 6-10 and 10-6 and a playoff berth.
From my perspective, let’s start with the division.
Since 2001, the Bills are 4-32 against New England and there are asterisks on two of Buffalo’s wins. Its victory in 2014 was a meaningless regular-season finale when the Patriots rested most of their starters and the 2016 triumph came with quarterback Tom Brady sitting out the final game of his “Deflategate” suspension.
In 14 of those seasons, the Bills have lost both games to the Pats and there’s no reason to think that will change this season.
Meanwhile, the last time Buffalo swept the Jets and Dolphins the same year was 2015. Since then the Bills have lost as few as one of those four games and as many as three.
Thus, let’s give Buffalo a 3-3 record against the AFC East.
In the other 10 games, road trips to Dallas, Pittsburgh and a home meeting with Philadelphia project as losses.
Similarly, home meetings with Cincinnati, Washington and Denver can be viewed as wins.
In short, the games at Cleveland (sorry Browns fans, we still have to see it), Tennessee and the Giants and a home meeting with Baltimore will decide the season.
Given the forgiving schedule, let’s call it 8-8.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com)