The Buffalo Bills finished 9-7 last season, securing their first winning season since 2004 and building hopes for this coming season for a playoff birth/AFC East title under new head coach Rex Ryan. But Bills fans need to slow down the hype train.
I’m not saying they won’t equal or surpass their win total from last year and sneak into the playoffs. It’s certainly possible and within reach, just like it is for a number of teams within the NFL’s middle tier. But the vibes from fans on Twitter and various fansites suggest that it’s a sure thing.
It’s not though, and here’s why Bills fans should temper their enthusiasm.
Expectations for Buffalo Bills Too High
The Team Overachieved Last Year
While they had a winning record and a point differential of +55 (12th in the league), they got more than a few breaks along the way.
For example, in their Week 15 surprise victory against the Green Bay Packers, Bacarri Rambo came off the bench to intercept Aaron Rodgers twice on consecutive drives and Marcus Thigpen returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. Having a backup safety intercept the league’s best quarterback and returning a punt for a touchdown just aren’t bankable ways to win a game. The Bills were not (and are not) more talented than the Packers, just luckier this particular game.
Another example of the Bills luck came two weeks later in Week 17. After the Bills suffered a humiliating loss to the Oakland Raiders (which knocked them out of playoff contention), the Patriots rested their starters for the playoffs while Doug Marrone’s team went all out to save his job. It was a close battle between the Patriot backups and the Bills starter, but Marrone’s team gritted it out.
Those two wins made the difference for Buffalo last year from just another losing season to a winning season that promises hope for the next year. However, these lucked-into victories can’t be counted on next year as luck is variant from year to year (except for Cleveland, who has perennial bad luck). Since their luck was exceptionally good last year, it’s likely to go down this year. It’s simple probability: they overachieved last year so they must return to normal (or below) this year.
Worse Quarterback Play
As much as Kyle Orton has been derided in his career for his inconsistency (famously being benched for Tim Tebow twice), he provided adequate quarterback play last year, enough to lead the Bills to wins more often than not. He threw 18 touchdowns with only 10 interceptions last year, which was not bad for a guy coming out of retirement and being thrust into the starting lineup after four games.
It’s doubtful the duo of Matt Cassel and E.J. Manuel can equal Orton’s success. Cassel has somehow parlayed one successful season with the New England Patriots into several starting gigs and contracts. It seems people don’t remember that he never started a game in college, is 31 years old, has little-to-no upside, and led the Kansas City Chiefs (with Brady Quinn) to a 2-14 season.
And, as far as E.J. Manuel goes, you know those project quarterbacks that are available late in the draft, have potential but little skills, and rarely amount to anything? That’s what E.J. Manuel is, except he was misdrafted in the first round. He’s shown few signs that he can even be a backup quarterback in the NFL, leading to reports (that were later refuted) of him being released. Regardless of whether he gets released or not, the fact that these reports are believable should tell you all that you need to know about his level of play.
Without a quarterback of Orton’s (low) level of play, all the upgrades the Bills made at the skills positions won’t matter. The quarterback position in Buffalo has a chance to, sadly, completely derail the Bills’ season.
Lack of Motivation
Ralph Wilson died in March last year, and the team was quickly sold to Terry and Kim Pegula in September. Not only did the death provide a spark to the team, as they adorned jerseys with his name, the front office and head coach had to go all out to win each game to save their jobs. That motivation doesn’t exist as much this year.
Lack of Improvement in the Draft
As part of general manager Doug Whaley’s effort to go all in last year to save his job, he traded up five spots by surrendering last year’s first-round pick and this year’s first and fourth round selections.
Excluding the Seattle Seahawks, every other team got what they deemed as the 32 best young players in the draft. The Buffalo Bills did not, and therefore, did not improve from the draft as much as other teams did. They’re at a disadvantage when it comes to stocking the supply closet with young talent. If the draft is the NFL’s lifeblood, they just lost a major artery.
All these factors I’ve listed suggest that Buffalo won’t make the playoffs this coming season. It’s not to say they won’t, but things have to break a certain stars-aligning way for this to happen.
Now, I know this goes against the mindset of the rabid fans who probably make up the majority of my readership for this article (and who I probably shouldn’t alienate). But just like how these super fans think Rex Ryan has the world’s manliest name and don’t know his middle name is “Ashley“, they likely only see a 9-7 team that improved at the head coaching position and the skill positions. Subsequently, they project an improvement in the record without considering the aforementioned factors at play.
It doesn’t always work like that though, as the Bills and their fans will find out this coming season.