Preseason is a great time for optimists, its a time for hopes and dreams amongst all football fans. For fans of bad football teams, its the peak of the season, after now, its all downhill. As a result, I would like to take a moment to look at why it is that this Bills team will not only surpass last season's team, but may well be the best Bills team we've seen in a decade.
1.) No Trent Edwards/Full season of Ryan Fitz: We all know that last season, Trent played with the starters all preseason, then proceeded to play some of the worst football I've every seen from a starting QB. Trent played two games, both losses, before being benched. Granted there's no way Buffalo beats GB no matter what last year, but Buffalo would've won that first game against Miami with any competent QB.
2.) No Revolving Door at Right Tackle: Pears is the man at right tackle this year. No more Green/Wrotto/Howard/whoever we picked up off the street yesterday right tackle. Can you believe that last year we played 9 games with either Wrotto or Howard playing right tackle?? How we did that without killing our QB I don't know. What I do know is that Pears is better than Wrotto and Howard and Green. That doesn't mean he's even an average RT, but it does mean he's an upgrade over last year's revolving door.
3.) Upgrad at Center: The best games turned in by any O-lineman last year were both turned in by Wood after he took over the pivot. Regardless of how you feel about cutting Hangman, I think we can all agree that this change represents an upgrade.
4.) Out with Marcus, in with Marcel: Obviously our run D was worse than horrendous last year. To be as horrendous as we were, there had to be aweak link in our defensive line. We not only axed our weak link, but we replaced him with the top DE in the draft, who by the way can also play DT when we have four downlinemen.
5.) Lights out for who?: At the onset of last season, who was our starting OLB opposite of Kelsay? I couldn't remember either. Near as I can tell, it wasReggie Torbor. Over the course of the season we also saw Pierre Woods, Moats, and even a little Maybin at that position...and we were shocked we couldn't set the edge on run plays? Merriman is a huge upgrade over all those players. With a healty Merriman, we've gone from worst position on the Defense to the strongest position on the Defense.
6.) Williams for Corner: As near as I can tell, last year's 4th Corner was Reggie Corner. I never was a fan of Reggies, but A. Williams has impressed already. Who do you feel more comfortable with as your 4th CB. Better yet, Corner was our 3rd CB much of the season after we lost McGee to injury. Yikes! Our 3rd DB to start off this season if Florence, I'll take that.
7.) Chandler for...well...nobody? Last year we had Stupar and Nelson. Stupar was an overachiever in the preseason, but not a starting quality NFL TE. Nelso was suspended the first four games and sidelined with injuries most of the rest of the season. As a result, the TE position was mostly a blocking role, limiting the flexibility of our offense. Chandler was involved int he offense heavily (comparatively speaking) this preseason, and while he doesn't quite have the soft hands of David Neslon, he showed himself to be a adequate all-around TE. Throw in a 5th round draft pick and David Martin and we might have an almost average TE group.
8.) Barnett for Pauly P. While many viewed the departure of Pauly P as an instant downgrade, the pick-up of Barnett in my view neutralizes the loss of Pauly. Poz was really a 4-3 linebacker and didn't have the coverage capabilities needed in a 3-4. TE dismantled our defense last year and on many of their receptions it was Poz who was trailing behind trying to make the tackle. In many other instances it was:
9.) Whitner out and G. W. in: Whitner also was not great in coverage which contributed to our TE troubles. Furthermore, Whitner was not much of a playmaker in the turnover catagory, dropping the few opportunities that he did get. Clearly Whitner was a great tackler and excellent in run support, but my hope is that with our improved run D, the importance of the SS in run support will lessen significantly. G. W. has done great things in limited playing time in the past and at least one group of football guru's (was it pro-football outsiders?) thought this was an upgrade. As an optimist and a G. W. fan, I'm inclined to agree.
Now, even as an optimist one has to recognize legitimate downgrades when they occur. This roster has not seen much downgrad this year, but the one exception is the loss of Lee Evans. However, the magnitude of this downgrade is yet to be determined. Evans had 6 more catches, 200 more yards, and 1 TD more than the Buffalo 4th WR D. Nelson. Similarly he had 3 more catches and 170 more yards and 2 TDs more than Roscoe Parrish, who only played half the season! Perhaps this is because Fitz isn't great at throwing the long ball, perhaps this is because Evans and Fitz didn't have timing with Fitz getting few snaps with the starters prior to the 3rd game. Perhaps Evans contributed more to the Bills offense than the stats show. I think only time will show how significant of a downgrade this is.
Overall, we've reviewed 10 significant changes to the Bills starting line-up, 9 positives and 1 negative. That's a pretty solid ratio. Next, consider how close last year's team was to be respectable? Rewind to last year and we should've won the first game against Miami, we lost 3 OT games, and if Lindell doesn't miss and XPT in Chicago, that game likely goes into overtime as well. The Bills could easily have been 6-10 or even 8-8. My question to you is how much better are these upgrades going to make them? Last year we could look through the schedule and find unwinnable games, but our team still hung with the likes of Baltimore, Pittsburg, and KC.
My prediction is that this team finishes 10-6, a bold prediction but a firm one. Who on our schedule is so unbeatable? I predict losses to NE (away), NYJ (away), Philly (home), SD (away), and the Giants (away) + one loss that I'm failing to predict for a total of 6. Whether the Bills make the playoffs or not will depend on how the cards fall. No doubt this is a bold prediction, but I'd rather look to the brightside and be wrong than be a pessimist and be right. Go Bills!!