Buffalo Bills training camp starts exactly one month from today.
The offseason programs have come and gone, and this offseason has provided Bills fans with plenty to talk about. A young team has had more time together to develop, while adding exhilarating talent to both sides of the ball.
So what does this offseason tell me about what’s to come for the Bills? Let me check the tea leaves and give you 10 bold predictions about the 2014-15 Buffalo Bills.
Erik Pears won’t make the team
Alright, I served up a soft one to start things out. Pears seems to be sitting firmly on the roster bubble according to just about everybody. If Buffalo decides to move on from the 31-year-old right tackle then it’ll save nearly $3 million in cap space.
Pears has shown to be a capable right tackle despite missing a large chunk of the 2012 season and coming to Buffalo without much fanfare. However, the team just took Cyrus Kouandjio in the second round and could very well have him step in immediately.
Kouandjio has some work to do before he’s a legitimate starting right tackle in the league. He likely will never challenge for a spot as a franchise left tackle as Buffalo already has one in Cordy Glenn. Kouandjio fits perfectly into the mold of an NFL right tackle.
Robert Woods will lead the team in receiving
If you watched the Bills last season when EJ Manuel and Robert Woods were healthy then you likely noticed the chemistry they seemed to have. Since Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams, two big offseason acquisitions, have never played with Manuel then he could rely on Woods early.
If he is able to pile up the yards early then he could end up having his first 1,000 yard season. Woods seems headed for the slot which has become a top target for most offenses. Manuel will need to work on getting the ball out quickly and Woods’ speed out of the slot will give him quick-release options consistently.
Look for Williams to be more of a red zone target while Watkins moves all around the offense and gets more of the screens and sweeps throughout the year.
Buffalo will finish number one in rushing yards
This one will be a group effort. I don’t see any one guy finishing with more than 1,200 rushing yards.
They have a stable of running backs that, if healthy, may be unmatched throughout the league. Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and Bryce Brown should be able to muster up some great performances this season. On top of that, EJ Manuel isn’t incapable of picking up some yards on the ground himself.
They’ll need some help from the offensive line. That brings me to…
Cyril Richardson will finish the season as a starting guard
OTAs and minicamp reps have shown that the team looks at two of Chris Hairston, Chris Williams and Kraig Urbik as their starting guards. However, a look at the history of those three leads me to believe Richardson has a shot to breakthrough.
Hairston has dealt with injuries throughout his career. If he gets a lot of snaps it may not be long before another injury. Urbik saw his play drop severely last season and will be on a short leash. Williams was a questionable signing, at best, who has rated as one of the worst starting guards in the league.
Richardson, just a fifth-round pick, could be in a position to step in if injuries and inconsistency return for those in front of him.
Stefan Charles will ease minds on Marcell Dareus’ issues
Dareus is likely wishing for a speedy end to what has been a troubling offseason. He has played like a Pro Bowler in Buffalo, but Head Coach Doug Marrone doesn’t seem willing to deal with ignorance off the field.
So who will be the beneficiary of any Dareus punishment? Stefan Charles, a 300-pound Canadian defensive tackle. He has seen limited time so far, and advanced statistics lovers want to see more. He has worked his way from an afterthought to a near lock for the 53-man roster. He should shock some fans this year. Plus, it can’t hurt to take some attention and pressure off Dareus right now.
San Diego will be the best game of the season
The Chargers will come to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time since 2008, and I believe it’s going to be the most entertaining game of the season.
Philip Rivers always entertains on and off the field, while Buffalo has set up a pretty entertaining group of players on their offense. Both teams have defensive groups that are capable of making big plays. Look for this to be a high-scoring game in which teams make plays on both sides of the ball.
EJ Manuel will land on many “Pro Bowl snub” lists
There is no reason for Manuel not to succeed with the weapons Doug Whaley has amassed on offense. While I have been very vocal about my doubts in Manuel’s abilities, I think the team has set him up in a situation where he can’t fail.
Between Watkins, Woods, Williams, Chandler and two solid pass-catchers in the backfield, EJ should be able to rack up yards and touchdowns if he can be somewhat accurate and healthy.
However, as most things go with Buffalo and the national media/fans, it’ll take a little while for him to get real recognition. He’ll see a statline that falls just short of the NFL’s best.
Multiple Bills will get strong award consideration
Let me preface this by saying that Doug Marrone will absolutely win coach of the year if this team makes the playoffs. Not because the talent isn’t there, but because this franchise hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999 and not many expect them to break that trend.
Outside of just Marrone, Sammy Watkins has the talent to garner rookie of the year looks. Kiko Alonso may not get legitimate consideration for defensive player of the year, but I could see him getting an honorable mention. He really is that good, and he’ll keep getting better.
The team will finish either 6-10 or 10-6
…and it will all depend on the play/health of EJ Manuel.
When the schedule comes out everybody jumps to an immediate conclusion one way or the other. My first reaction was quite negative, but the moves since has really changed that.
There are a lot of teams on the schedule that could really go either way. I don’t see this team looking at 8-8. Manuel has a year under his belt and should be prepared to establish himself either way. Good or bad, I think we’ll see some consistency.
I’ll go with the optimistic side and say that EJ Manuel has too many weapons to fail. If he’s healthy this team will break the drought. Maybe that’s the eternal Buffalo optimist in me, or maybe Doug and Doug have earned the optimism.