The Buffalo Bills are coming off of their first winning season in 11 years after posting a 9-7 record in 2014. The team hasn't had 10 or more wins in one season since 1999, when the team finished 11-5. Coincidentally, that was the last time the Bills made the playoffs. We all remember that year, so I won't rehash the painful memories.
On paper, this Bills team is probably the most talented team that the Bills have had in the past decade, and many fans believe the team is ready for a serious playoff push.
The Bills sported a Top 5 defensive unit last year, and managed to retain a key member of its defensive line by re-signing pass rusher Jerry Hughes. Gone are starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes (currently a free agent), injured linebacker Kiko Alonso (traded to Philadelphia), and starting safety Da'Norris Searcy (signed with Tennessee). The Bills are looking to fill holes at linebacker with second-year pro Preston Brown, and fourth-year breakout candidate Nigel Bradham. Filling in for Searcy is up-and-coming safety Duke Williams.
The defense isn't expected to miss a beat, as head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman will be bringing in their much-heralded scheme to Buffalo. The outlook on offense, however, is a little fuzzier.
Buffalo's offense struggled last season, finishing No. 26 in total offense. The passing game was a disappointment, as second year quarterback E.J. Manuel was benched following a Week 4 loss to the Houston Texans. The running game wasn't up to snuff, finishing No. 25 in the NFL, as the offensive line struggled to create rushing lanes. Former Bills starting running back C.J. Spiller broke his collarbone in Week 7, causing him to miss most of the season, and was allowed to leave in free agency.
In looking to boost that anemic offense, the Bills signed veteran quarterback (and former Pro Bowl participant) Matt Cassel, quarterback Tyrod Taylor, former Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton, tight end Charles Clay, a former Rookie of the Year winner in wideout Percy Harvin, and traded for arguably the best running back in the league LeSean McCoy.
New offensive coordinator Greg Roman spent the last four seasons as the offensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers. While there, Roman's offense featured a rushing acting attack that ranked among the league's best in four straight seasons. He's been credited with resuscitating the career of former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, and developing current 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Known within NFL circles as one of the more creative offensive minds in the league, Roman could be a great addition to the Bills, and may be the difference between one or two extra wins this season.
As a whole, one can easily believe that the Bills are better and more experienced on all fronts. The fact that this team won nine games with Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett calling the offense, Kyle Orton at quarterback, and less talent at the skill positions, is an indicator of how good this team can really be under the right leadership.
Even with all the additions, expectations, and added hype, we are still talking about the Buffalo Bills. Whatever can go wrong, goes wrong. Call it a curse, call it a jinx, call it the NFL conspiring against the Bills, call it the football gods punishing us for the Doug Flutie benching. Whatever it is, it is enough to have the most optimistic fan doubting if the new changes will work here in Buffalo. No matter how good the team appears to be, no matter who the coach is, there is still that little glimmer of doubt, which prevents us from fully trusting this team. This Bills team could start the 2015 season 10-0, and many of us will have doubts that they can win one more game.
Still, the team is better on paper. With more talent on offense, the same defense intact, and an upgrade in coaching, there should be no doubt that this Bills team should be better, right? How much better? One game? Two games? Let's see.