Despite the fact that the Bills finished last season 9-7 — their first winning record since 1999 — they made a couple of big moves in the offseason to shake things up with the team. First, they replaced head coach Doug Marrone with former Jets head coach Rex Ryan. They also made a trade with the Eagles to acquire RB LeSean McCoy to replace RB C.J. Spiller, who signed with the Saints in free agency. With Patriots QB Tom Brady potentially suspended for the first four games of the season, the division may be more winnable than it has been in about a decade, but do the Bills have enough talent to take advantage?
The Bills didn’t get great performances out of the quarterback position last season. QB Kyle Orton started 12 games, throwing for 3,018 yards and 18 touchdowns. QB EJ Manuel got the start in the other four games, averaging just 167.6 yards per game — 838 yards total — and throwing five touchdowns. WRs Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods each caught 65 balls; Watkins had 982 yards and six touchdowns while Woods had 699 yards and five scores. RB Fred Jackson led the running game in nine starts, running for 525 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a team-leading 66 receptions, with 501 receiving yards. It was the defense, which ranked fourth in the league, that helped keep the team in the game and get nine wins.
The quarterback situation is a bit of a mess in the preseason, with three guys competing for the starting job. Veteran QB Matt Cassel, who the Bills signed as a free agent, looks to have a leg-up on the competition. Manuel appears to be the other candidate to get the starting job, but QB Tyrod Taylor is also competing for it in camp. McCoy injured his hamstring during camp, but the Bills have said they’re “cautiously optimistic” he’ll be ready to go for Week 1, which would put Jackson into a backup role. Another free-agent signing the team made this offseason isWR Percy Harvin who, when healthy, can provide a spark for the offense.
The schedule doesn’t look to be too kind to the Bills for the first two games. They open the season with two home games, against the Colts and Patriots. New England may be without Brady, if his four-game suspension is held up, or reduced to no fewer than two games, in the courts. If Brady’s not playing, the game obviously becomes more winnable for Buffalo. The schedule eases up a bit after that, including a Week 7 game against the Jaguars in London. McCoy faces his former team when the Bills visit the Eagles in Week 14, and the season ends with back-to-back home games against the Cowboys and Jets in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively. The offense should be improved with McCoy, but who knows what the Bills will get out of their quarterbacks. It’ll be up to the defense to again make up for the offensive deficiencies, but will it be enough for the Bills to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999? I’m not sure it is. I think the Bills will win eight or nine games again this year, which probably won’t be good enough to make the playoffs.