Are the Bills out of the playoff race?

Some big news came down regarding the Bills on Tuesday: All-Pro DT Marcell Dareus will miss the first four games of the season after testing positive for marijuana. In addition to Dareus, first-round pick Shaq Lawson won't be back until Week 6 (shoulder surgery), starting MLB Reggie Ragland will miss the year with a torn ACL, and RB Karlos Williams is also suspended until Week 4. All in all, it's not looking good for the Bills at the start of the year. Which brings us to the question: Are they out of the playoff race before the season even begins?

Right off the bat, this might seem a bit extreme. After all, Buffalo still has a strong #1 wide receiver and bell cow runner (Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy), and a promising young quarterback (Tyrod Taylor). However, it's the defense that could sink them early on. They retain a strong secondary with Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby, but it might not matter with a weak run defense and lackluster pass rush. Five of their first six games are against teams with above-average running games (The Ravens and Justin Forsett, the Jets and Matt Forte, the Cardinals and David and Chris Johnson, the Rams and Todd Gurley, and the 49ers and Carlos Hyde). The sixth game? That's against none other than the Patriots--who, to put it lightly, don't often lose to Buffalo. If you want to look deeper, the Jets, Cardinals, Rams, and Pats all have top-10 defenses, which could seriously hurt the Bills' ability to score. With all these factors swirling, it wouldn't be surprising at all if Buffalo started 2-4 or worse.

The AFC East isn't exactly a tight division because of the Patriots' dominance, meaning that Buffalo will have to snag a wild card spot to make it into the playoffs. But unfortunately, their schedule doesn't let up. It's the tenth-toughest in the league, including dates with Arizona, Seattle, Cincinnati, Oakland, and Pittsburgh. By the time they're back to full strength (around Week 6), Buffalo could conceivably have to go 8-2 to even have a chance at a playoff spot. With those opponents? Not happening.

It's definitely a bold prediction, but with the latest suspension, the Bills might have seen their playoff hopes go up in smoke (pun intended). While it's still early and anything can happen in the NFL season, this is, without doubt, a big blow for a squad on the playoff bubble.

Dareus suspension via ESPN

Photos courtesy Fox Sports, Bleacher Report, 24/7 Sports

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