Projected Record: 5-11
AFC East Rank: 4th
Last year, the Bills made the biggest addition of the offseason by signing former All-Pro Mario Williams. However, Mario Williams had the worst season of his career and it looks like the $50 million will be wasted. This season, the Bills did not make any major signings. The biggest offseason move this season was drafting EJ Manuel with their first round pick. Although many believed that the Bills reached when they drafted EJ Manuel, he has performed well in the preseason before he injured himself in the second preseason game. The Bills will be forced to start undrafted free agent Jeff Tuel because of the injuries to Manuel and Kevin Kolb. Tuel, out of Washington State, will be the first undrafted rookie to ever start the opening game of the season.
In the second round, the Bills drafted Robert Woods and Kiko Alonso. Woods will provide a good option for the Bills and the young quarterbacks that will be starting this year. Woods will be a solid number two receiver behind Stevie Johnson. The Bills also picked up Da’Rick Rogers who was an undrafted free agent. Rogers was predicted by many to be drafted in the middle rounds, but slipped through the cracks and was signed by the Bills. Rogers has a lot of talent and speed. The two talented wide receivers and EJ Manuel should improve the 25th ranked passing offense last season. Unlike other young quarterbacks, Manuel will have a great running game to rely on when he is struggling. Last season, the Bills were ranked 6th in rushing yards per game because of the emergence of CJ Spiller. Manuel will also be able to check down to Spiller because he is a dynamic offensive player who can catch and run. The Bills drafted Kiko Alonso in an attempt to improve the 31st ranked rushing defense. Also the addition of former first round pick Manny Lawson will help the rush defense. The pass defense is one of the best in the league, 10th last season. The Bills have stars like Jarius Byrd, Aaron Williams, and Leodis McKelvin. The Bills lost Stephon Gilmore for a few weeks with a wrist injury, which will hurt their defense.
Unlike the other teams in the division, the Bills do not have a stretch in their schedule that is impossible to handle. The Bills open the season against the reigning AFC East winners, New England Patriots. Unlike previous seasons, the Patriots seem more vulnerable than ever because of the offensive weapons they lost during the offseason. However, the Bills will be starting Jeff Tuel to open the season so they do not have a chance against the Patriots. The Bills will lose every game that Tuel will start this season. The faster that Manuel can return the quicker they will win a game. If Manuel can return week two against the Panthers, they will be the favorites in the game. They will be able exploit the Panthers’ young and porous defense with Manuel’s dual threat ability and their great running attack. The Bills will have a tricky next four games agains the @Jets, Ravens, @Browns, and Bengals. The Bills will probably lose the first three games because it is difficult to win road games in the NFL, especially for a team led by a rookie quarterback. However, I expect the Bills to upset the Bengals at home and record their second win of the season. The Bills next five games before their bye will be difficult as well. They play @Dolphins, @Saints, Chiefs, @Steelers, and Jets. The Bills will probably go 1-4 during this stretch with their lone win against the Dolphins on the road or the Jets at home.
After the Bye week, the Bills will face the easiest part of their schedule. Besides the Falcons and Patriots, the other three games are winnable. The Bills will probably win the games against the Jaguars and the Dolphins, which would give them five wins for the season. Maybe if Manuel develops quickly, the Bills may be able to pull out 1 or 2 more wins. The Bills are a young team with a lot of potential and skill, but need the experience and repetitions to improve.
On offense, the key player for the Bills will be CJ Spiller. After exploding onto the scene last season, Spiller looks to duplicate his efforts. Spiller is an electrifying player who can make big plays happen every time he touches the ball. Last season, Spiller combined for 1750 yards from scrimmage and 8 touchdowns. Spiller averaged 6.0 yards per rush and 10.7 yards per catch. Spiller will be incredibly important because he will help Manuel grow into his role as a passer. Most of the teams will be keying on Spiller, which will help Manuel’s ability to use the play action pass. CJ also has the ability to catch passes when all of the receivers are covered. Spiller must play well if Manuel will succeed and the Bills will exceed expectations.
On defense, Mario Williams must return to his All-Pro form if the Bills are going to take the next step on defense. Super Mario needs to tally more than 10.5 sacks next season if he wants to justify his $100 million contract. From 2007-2009, Mario averaged 12 sacks per game and 55 tackles per season. When Mario pressures the quarterback, the quarterbacks throw errant passes and the talented secondary is able to turn those passes into turnovers. Mario can also help their lackluster rush defense since he is a solid tackler and knows how to blow up plays in the back field.
All pics and stats from espn.com