Bills' hot start prompts talk of playoffs, not rebuild

Here's a look at the first half of the season for the Buffalo Bills and a preview of what to expect the second half:

First-half snapshot: Although his team took a step back with a loss last Thursday night, first-year coach Sean McDermott has the Bills riding higher than most predicted to start the season. An offseason housecleaning of the coaching staff and front office, along with several trades that shipped talented players out of Buffalo, contributed to a sense the Bills were in rebuilding mode and would use this season to evaluate players more than to make a playoff run. McDermott has been able to accomplish both. He has cleaned up problems with discipline and focus around the locker room after the failed Rex Ryan era, while building team chemistry that has opened the eyes of veterans who have experienced years of losing, and in some cases, discord within the organization. Grade: Above average.

Midseason MVP: Safety Micah Hyde. This is a difficult call because LeSean McCoy, who was the Bills' clear-cut MVP entering the season, has been held to a career-low 3.7 yards per carry behind an inconsistent offensive line. It is also hard to label Tyrod Taylor the MVP because he ranks 18th in Total QBR and the Bills are averaging 187 passing yards per game, 30th in the NFL. The Bills have won with defense, making Hyde a better fit for this award. He was named the AFC's defensive player of the month in October after leading the NFL in interceptions that month, with four. Rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White has also been a top performer for the defense but his down games -- losses to Cincinnati and the Jets -- keep him from being midseason MVP.

Best moment: A 34-14 win against the Raiders on Oct. 29. The victory improved the Bills' record to 5-2, their best start since the 2011 season. It also saw the Bills' league-leading turnover margin increase to plus-14, the best start for a team through eight games since the Cincinnati Bengals, at plus-16, in 2005. The Bills forced four turnovers in the game, including a fumble returned 40 yards for a score by rookie fifth-round pick Matt Milano. The linebacker's touchdown exemplified what McDermott has tried to build in Buffalo: When a starter -- in this case Ramon Humber -- goes down with an injury, the next player must be ready. The Bills' defense does not have one shining star but is playing well as a group.

Worst moment: A 34-21 loss to the Jets last Thursday. The final score makes the game seem closer than it was, as the Bills trailed 34-7 with less than five minutes remaining. It was a total team loss: the offensive line allowed seven sacks and managed only 63 rushing yards, three players lost fumbles, the defense allowed 194 rushing yards and the team was penalized 11 times for 99 yards. The loss eroded some of the progress McDermott had made in cleaning up turnovers and penalties, and overall contributed to a sense that Buffalo was not ready for a national stage. They were embarrassed in their only prime-time game of the year.

Second-half outlook: The Bills have matched their best start, 5-3, over their 17-year playoff drought. They also began 5-3 in 2002, 2008, 2011, and 2014. Only the 2014 team finished with a winning record (9-7). If the Bills are to reverse that trend, they must continue to regain momentum in the running game (McCoy ran for 151 yards in Week 8, his second most with the Bills, but was held to 25 yards in Week 9), force turnovers and find ways to make plays in the passing game when trailing or locked in a tight game. The Bills are not built to blow teams out, but they have played sound enough football to compete with the New England Patriots in two key divisional games this December. If current trends hold, those games could decide the AFC East.