A new coach. A new quarterback. Many new coordinators. A new management team in place. Talk about a rebuild. The Buffalo Bills did not hold back this offseason.
The questions are many at training camp. Who will start at quarterback this season? How will Coach Doug Marrone be received, both by fans and by players? Will the offensive line be depleted with the free agency hits? When will Jairus Byrd be back in the secondary? Many of these questions may remain up until opening day.
Over the next few weeks, I will break down the upcoming season for the Buffalo Bills. There is no way of knowing where this season might end up. If you listen to the national media, the Bills are barely in the NFL, simply along for the ride. If you listen to Bills fans, you sense a feeling of optimism. But can this team really become a playoff contender?
This preseason will be more interesting than most, as the Bills try to answer some of those pending questions. The biggest question may be whether EJ Manuel will step up and be the opening day quarterback, or will Kevin Kolb bring veteran stability under center? That question is very difficult to answer right now. Most Bills fans seem to believe that there is nothing to lose with Manuel being “the man” opening day. Without high expectations as a team, why not let the rookie grow as a starter, and suffer the growing pains immediately? Watching for answers will definitely make the preseason much more interesting.
Opening day will be here in just over a month, and the first quarter of the schedule could be viewed as very favorable to the Bills. Three out of four home games at the Ralph to kickoff the season will hopefully give the Bills an opportunity to start strong. In the glory days, an opening stretch like that would mean a 4-0 record. Unfortunately, that was a very long time ago.
September 8th is sold out, for very good reason. There is nothing like opening day in Orchard Park. The weather is perfect. The tailgates start early. The excitement is like none other. A clean slate for all NFL teams gives everyone hope that their team can play a meaningful game in January.
This year, the Bills open up against their nemesis, the New England Patriots. The Pats have been the class of the AFC East. The Bills and their fans do not have to wait long to see how they compare to the one of the best teams in the NFL. But this offseason was different for the Patriots. Multiple surgeries to Ron Gronkowski and the release of Aaron Hernandez have weakened the Patriots at tight end. Wes Walker, one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets, has signed with Denver and Brandon Lloyd has not been re-signed. The Patriots may be a different team week #1. Of course, they still have Tom Brady.
Week 2 brings the Carolina Panthers in for a visit. After suffering a sophomore slump, Cam Newton will be trying to regain his form as a top tier quarterback in the NFL. Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams will test Mike Pettine, the new defensive coordinator for the Bills. Obviously, Buffalo needs to improve their defense, and stopping the run has to be at the top of their list.
Week 3 takes the Bills to New Jersey to play the Jets. The Jets might have as many questions surrounding them as do the Bills. The matchup should favor the Bills, as Pettine is very familiar with Coach Ryan, and can hopefully devise a game plan to shut the Jets down.
Week 4 may be the toughest game of the season for the Bills. Buffalo returns to the Ralph to host the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. But this is not the same group that won the NFL championship last year. The retirement of Ray Lewis and the departure of Ed Reed to Houston leaves the Baltimore locker room with a huge leadership void. It will be interesting to see if the Buffalo Bills can play with the Super Bowl Champs.
For the first quarter of the season, the Bills have to stay at or above .500 to keep their focus and to hopefully keep excitement in the locker room. Winning two or even three games would be a shot in the arm for any club, but especially this young group with a new coach and a new team philosophy. The 12th man should be huge in these opening games, but will it be enough to give the Bills a winning record into October? We will all find out shortly.