Realistic Best and Worst Case Scenarios for Doug Marrone's First Year with Bills

John RozumCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2013

Realistic Best and Worst Case Scenarios for Doug Marrone's First Year with Bills

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    Doug Marrone is reportedly the new head coach of the Buffalo Bills.

    According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com:

    Filed to ESPN: Doug Marrone has agreed to leave Syracuse and become the next head coach of the Buffalo Bills.

    —Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 6, 2013

    It's a solid move by the Bills, because Marrone has some NFL experience, and Buffalo needs a fresh start.

    Not to mention, Marrone's Syracuse team fielded a balanced offense on its way to an 8-5 record, which included impressive wins over Louisville and West Virginia.

    Include a four-game winning streak to close out the 2012 campaign and that momentum is capable of transitioning to pro football. Buffalo also provides more talent than its indicated record.

    Therefore, let's dive in and check out the best and worst of what's possible for the Bills with Marrone leading the way in 2013.

Best Case: Bills Finish 10-6

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    The NFL released the list of 2013 opponents for all teams last week, and the Bills have much promise to look for.

    After losing four games by seven points or fewer in 2012, Buffalo is obviously closer to a playoff berth than at first glance.

    Outside the AFC East, the Bills square off against the entire NFC South and AFC North, as well as the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars. Count K.C. and the Jags as wins, because each has too many areas to fix before emerging as a legit AFC threat.

    The Bills also face winnable games against the Browns, Steelers, Panthers, Buccaneers and Saints. Cleveland lacks an offense and Pittsburgh is vulnerable to the run and struggles to force turnovers.

    And although the NFC South presents explosive offenses, none of the teams in that division is dominant defensively. As a result, Buffalo is capable of keeping pace with Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Orleans.

    Provided Mario Williams and the defense improve against the run, Buffalo will see an immediate turnaround.

Worst Case: Bills Finish 6-10

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    For as much potential as Buffalo possesses, eight consecutive losing seasons is the current reality.

    After all, despite the close losses, Buffalo's 2012 season was chock full of disappointing losses, beginning with an early season blowout loss to the Jets. Losses to the Tennessee Titans in Week 7 and Miami Dolphins in Week 16, highlighted Buffalo's need for more consistent play.

    And such inconsistency could bite them next year. Although the Browns, Steelers and most of the NFC South are winnable contests, those teams are just as capable of defeating the Bills.

    Cleveland brings a lot of young talent on each side of the ball; Pittsburgh always has a chance with Ben Roethlisberger under center, and the NFC South can outscore anyone.

    In games within the AFC East, Buffalo must find a way to finish.

    The Week 4 loss to the New England Patriots was proof that the Bills can come out of the gates strong. Failing to fend off New England in the second half simply epitomized Buffalo's inconsistency and frustrations.

    On the bright side, C.J. Spiller's production could increase with Doug Marrone's balanced attack, which is the key to the Bills becoming postseason contenders.

Best Case: C.J. Spiller Compiles 2,000 Total Yards

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    For as impressive as C.J. Spiller's overall production was in 2012, his impact per carry puts him on another level.

    He was fed just 207 carries and averaged six yards per attempt.

    Considering the inconsistency of the passing game, Spiller's dominance on the ground speaks volumes. As a receiver, Spiller caught 43 passes and averaged 10.7 yards per reception.

    Finishing with 1,703 total yards in 2012, Spiller earned more touches for 2013, which will provide him the opportunity to reach 2,000 total yards. Doug Marrone is a coach better suited to focus the offense around Spiller; Chan Gailey, by comparison, relied too heavily on the passing game to take full advantage of Spiller's talents.

    Marrone had the Syracuse Orange averaging 476 total yards and 30 points per game in 2012. At the same time, the Orange ranked No. 29 in passing and No. 40 in rushing. Football at all levels, including the NFL, has become more pass oriented, but a more balanced approach should provide the Bills a competitive advantage.

    That is what Buffalo needs, because balance will feed Spiller more and help set up the pass. In short, he's the Bills' best offensive weapon and easily the best back in the AFC East.

Worst Case: C.J. Spiller Compiles Fewer Than 1,500 Total Yards

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    C.J. Spiller racking up under 1,500 total yards isn't really a terrible worst-case scenario.

    We know he'll average at least five yards per carry, because his overall athleticism will constantly make defenders miss in the open field, and the AFC East can be suspect against the ground game.

    Spiller not producing as much, though, could be the result of any combination of factors.

    One is the defense generating more turnovers, which gives the offense a shorter field. Factor in his rushing threat and opponents will stack the box to isolate Spiller and force Buffalo to throw.

    The defense must also prove it can stop the run and give up fewer passing touchdowns (25 in 2012). Opponents, therefore, will try to throw on Buffalo and push the pace, and any pass-happy contest will take away some carries.

    Additionally, Fred Jackson can be expected to take away some touches from Spiller.

    So, much of Spiller's impact will come from his ability to move the chains and accumulate yards after contact and after the catch. With defenses rightfully expected to game plan for him, Buffalo will need its other playmakers to step up more consistently.

Best Case: Bills Land Geno Smith at No. 8 Overall

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    The Buffalo Bills won't be risking much by waiting for Geno Smith at No. 8 overall.

    For one thing—while Smith may be this draft's best quarterback prospect—he's not worth trading up for.

    Secondly, the Bills can improve elsewhere in the draft prior to taking a quarterback. Smith becoming available at No. 8 is ideal, because he does presents a solid arm and impeccable accuracy. Completing 71.2 percent of his throws with 42 touchdowns and only six picks in 2012, his decision-making cannot be questioned.

    Plus, Smith never completed less than 64.8 percent of his throws during any one college season. For certain, his numbers are inflated due playing in a pass-heavy attack and facing some weak defenses.

    But the wherewithal to remain in the pocket and consistently dart lasers all over the field is appealing. With talent at the skill positions and a reliable offensive line to play behind, Smith would develop nicely under Doug Marrone.

Worst Case: Bills Address Other Needs in Round 1 of 2013 Draft

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    Should the Geno Smith not be available for Buffalo at No. 8, the Bills can go a few other directions.

    Defensively, taking a linebacker such as LSU's Barkevious Mingo or Notre Dame's Manti Te'o (if available) would be a great selection.

    With solid defensive tackles and Mario Williams on the front line, going with a 'backer will improve the run defense and intermediate pass defense. The Bills could also find the immediate complement to Williams in Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore.

    Having recorded 45 tackles for loss, 26.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles for the Aggies, Moore will significantly enhance Buffalo's ability to control the line of scrimmage. Other ends such as Florida State's Bjoern Werner or LSU's Sam Montgomery would also suffice.

    And should Buffalo still want offense if Smith isn't there, taking Cal receiver Keenan Allen would be a bold reach. Allen presents impressive size and playmaking ability and would be a nice complement to Steve Johnson.

Best Case: Bills Trade Down to Stock Up on Picks

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    Despite needing a quarterback, the 2013 class of signal-callers is far less impressive than that of 2012.

    As a result, the Bills trading back in Round 1 would not be surprising.

    Holding a top 10 selection, Buffalo could get two additional first-round picks after swapping 2013 first-rounders. Obviously the package of any potential deal would vary depending on the trade partner, but moving down to stock up will allow the Bills to address more areas.

    Plus, just looking at the impact of Russell Wilson for the Seattle Seahawks proves a reliable signal-caller can be taken after Round 1. It's just a matter of finding the right guy.

    Considering Tyler Wilson—or any quarterback besides Geno Smith—at No. 8 will address the quarterback situation, but all such prospects would be a reach.

    Instead, providing itself with a greater pool of selections to work with would allow Buffalo to make a quicker turnaround.

Worst Case: Bills Select a QB in Back End of Round 1 or Later from Trading Down

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    Aside from Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson and Matt Barkley are the only quarterbacks with first-round talent.

    At the same token, neither Wilson nor Barkley are worth the reach of a top 10 pick.

    Buffalo puts itself in a favorable position by trading down and potentially landing Wilson or Barkley toward the end of Round 1. This is not a bad worst-case scenario by any means.

    If neither of those prospective quarterbacks are available with Buffalo trading down, shifting gears to the second and third round is feasible. Guys like Georgia's Aaron Murray or Tennessee's Tyler Bray aren't bad second-round selections.

    Murray is mobile, knows how to work from under center, has a stronger arm than given credit for and throws well off play-action. Bray can stretch defenses with his strong arm and is capable of setting up consistently in the pocket.

    Regardless, Buffalo does need to find a quarterback in the 2013 draft. Trading down instead of reaching and building through additional picks is a safer route for a new coach.

Best Case: Bills Average 24-Plus Points Per Game with Improved Consistency

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    Because of Doug Marrone's balanced approach, Buffalo can become extensively more consistent.

    Last season the Bills did score 24-plus points eight times.

    Unfortunately, Buffalo also put up fewer than 20 points eight times. That level of inconsistency cost the Bills quite often and it's no surprise only six victories came as a result.

    Presenting an increase of balance courtesy of Marrone features more opportunities for C.J. Spiller. His established ability on the ground and out of the backfield will take an immense amount of pressure off the quarterback and keep defenses guessing.

    A byproduct of that comes in the form of winning the possession battle.

    Buffalo moving the rock more efficiently keeps it in control of the game tempo and reduces an opponent's number of possessions. The ultimate result are more wins and getting into the playoff mix.

Worst Case: Bills Average Fewer Than 21 Points Per Game

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    The Bills possess the offensive arsenal to build consistency and become a high-powered attack.

    Still, they must actually get to that point and roll off some wins.

    The Bills were one of the worst touchdown scoring offenses in 2012 when in or near the red zone, and settling for field goals rarely gets the job done in an offensively oriented league.

    The Bills managed just 13 points against the Indianapolis Colts, 12 points vs. the St. Louis Rams and 10 points in Week 16 against the Miami Dolphins. To a certain extent, Buffalo's 2012 offense was eerily similar to that of the Minnesota Vikings.

    Only difference was the excessive amount Minnesota relied on Adrian Peterson.

    Buffalo definitely needs to get Spiller more involved up front, but balance also means taking what the defense gives and minimizing turnovers. The Bills need to establish stronger balance, otherwise 2013 will be an encore performance.