The Buffalo Bills have been all too easy to predict since 2000. They've been virtually a lock for a sub-.500 record (10 times,eight straight) and have gone through starting quarterbacks (nine) and head coaches (six) all too frequently.
With the hiring of Doug Marrone as head coach and the drafting of quarterback EJ Manuel in the first round of April's draft, the Bills are hoping to change their fortunes.
Of course, they are far from the only two people who will have a major influence on the outcome of the Bills season. Their season will be impacted also by the arrival of a new coaching staff, including former New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Other selections from the 2013 draft could also play key roles this season.
Oh, by the way, they have some running back named C.J. Spiller who is apparently pretty good. I'm told the coaching staff would be wise to hitch one of those wagons the Bills love to circle to Spiller and put the ball in his hands.
With so many new things, this Bills team could be tough to predict, but here's my best shot.
C.J. Spiller is the most electric player to suit up for the Bills in recent memory. The previous coaching staff did a disservice in keeping the ball out of his hands week after week, and in one crucial third-down or fourth-quarter situation after another.
This coaching staff already knows better, as offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett indicated on WGR 550 Sports Radio in August.
"It's real simple," he said. "We're going to give him the ball until he throws up. So he's either got to tap out or throw up on the field. Let's just put it that way."
Bills fans and Spiller's fantasy owners don't have to worry about Chan Gailey standing in the way of Spiller's success this season. As the Bills try to break in their rookie quarterback in EJ Manuel, they'd be wise not to put too much of the burden on his shoulders early on.
If the new coaching staff is more competent than the previous one, Spiller should be the focal point of the offense.
Five rookie quarterbacks got the nod as their teams' starter for Week 1 of the 2012 season. That number is down to just two in 2013—Bills quarterback EJ Manuel and Jets quarterback Geno Smith—and it looks like Manuel will be the only one of the two whose job is safe in his first year.
Manuel is "what's hot" in the league right now because of a skill set that makes him dangerous both as a passer and runner. His dual-threat ability gives him even more opportunities to make big plays and set himself apart as the best rookie of this year's crop.
He won't have ton of pressure on him either, not with the bevy of weapons at his disposal in the passing game and the dominant C.J. Spiller ready to run the rock at a moment's notice.
Quarterbacks have won the ROY award six times in the past nine years. What's more, Manuel may not be held back from winning the award even if the Bills aren't successful as a team this year. Sam Bradford went 7-9 with the St. Louis Rams in 2009 and Cam Newton's Carolina Panthers went 6-10 in 2011.
This prediction has the potential to be cringe-worthy by the end of the season.
Stevie Johnson has been the Bills top option in the passing game for three years strong, but that was also in an offense designed to put him in favorable situations and get him the ball. Even with that advantage, Stevie's touchdown total dipped year after year from 10 in 2010 to seven in 2011 to six last year.
The new West Coast offense run by Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett figures to spread the ball around a bit more than did the old offense, and Woods has the ideal short-area quickness to get open in the middle of the field and in the red zone.
Woods caught a dumfounding 26 touchdowns over the past two years at USC and figures to be a threat to score early and often for the Bills.
Watch carefully from 0:07 to 0:09 of the embedded video.
What do you see? Plenty of Indianapolis Colts defenders with a chance to make a tackle, none of whom have the foot speed to keep up with Marquise Goodwin.
The former Texas wide receiver and track star is set to be the Bills' top kickoff returner with receiver/return specialist Brad Smith now on injured reserve.
Goodwin picked up 252 yards on six returns for a gaudy average of 42.0 yards a return. Even if you take out Goodwin's 107-yard return, his average is still 29 yards per return, which would have ranked tops in the league by over a full yard last season.
With all kinds of speed to burn, Goodwin figures to energize Bills fans more than once with a big return. I'll go out on a limb here and say he gets three return touchdowns in his rookie season.
Arguably the Bills' best defensive player, Jairus Byrd, is set to hit the open market next year as a free agent.
According to a recent report from The Buffalo News, however, it seems Byrd and his agent don't want to wait that long to fly out of Buffalo and are trying to orchestrate a trade.
Byrd, who is currently battling plantar fasciitis, is playing on the franchise tag of $6.916 million for 2013. It's hard to say with confidence that a team is going to be willing to meet Buffalo's trade demands then turn around and pay Byrd the lofty price tag it would take to keep him beyond January.
So, it seems almost certain that Byrd will finish the 2013 season with the Bills.
What happens after that point, however, remains uncertain.
Scott Chandler (above) tore his ACL nine months ago, in Week 16 of 2012.
The Bills offense lost one of its best players at the end of the 2012 season when tight end Scott Chandler went down with a torn ACL in his left knee.
The timing of that injury could not have been much worse, as it happened in Week 16, one of the last games of the season. Now, just nine months removed from the surgery to repair that knee, Chandler is back on the field and is in the lineup for Buffalo's Week 1 matchup against the New England Patriots.
There may be some questions as to how effective he can be on that knee, but even before the ACL injury, Chandler has had a hard time staying healthy and has missed time in each of his three seasons with the Bills.
I'll go against tradition here and guess that this is the year he will finally stay on the field for a full 16 games.
Jerry Hughes (top) chased quarterbacks all preseason.
The Buffalo Bills gave Mario Williams a six-year, $96 million contract in 2012.
To acquire Jerry Hughes, all the Bills had to do was give up Kelvin Sheppard, a bust of a second-round pick.
Yet, it could be the under-the-radar player who outperforms the high-profile free agent when it comes to the Bills getting after the quarterback in 2013
Super Mario will be a chess piece for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to move around so as to apply pressure from multiple directions. It would make sense that this element of surprise will allow Williams to get even more pressure, but offensive lines will still try to account for his whereabouts on a regular basis.
That kind of attention could lead to more opportunities for Mario's teammates.
Hughes rushed the passer only 42 times in the preseason but managed to log seven combined pressures in that time (three quarterback hurries and he was in on four sacks). There's no chance he'll keep up that pace in the regular season, but the Bills may have found a diamond in the rough with Hughes.
Leave it to Pettine to manufacture pressure using talented athletes up front.
Mike Pettine's defense looks a lot like the Jets defense in that they have an aggressive attack with exotic blitz packages that send multiple rushers after the quarterback from a variety of directions.
Even with talented defenders like Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Mario Williams and others, the Bills defense will likely boast a plethora of players with five, six or seven sacks.
But none will reach double digits.
Bills middle linebacker Kiko Alonso figures to be a central piece to the defense for years to come and not just because of his position.
The Bills drafted the Oregon product in the second round because of his experience playing in the Ducks' uptempo style of defense. Alonso has the athletic ability to make plays sideline to sideline and to stay with both tight ends and running backs in pass coverage.
Alonso has been spotted wearing the green dot helmet on defense, meaning he is in constant communication with the Bills coaching staff when calling plays in and out of the huddle. For Alonso to be given that role as a rookie is a testament to his quick development. He knows the game of football, has sharp instincts and already possesses advanced knowledge of the calls and checks.
He came into the NFL with a reputation as a sure tackler, and he didn't miss a single tackle in preseason. While he'll surely miss at least a couple during the season, he'll end up with at least 100 based on talent and instincts alone.
I just got done throwing bouquets at everyone wearing a Bills logo, yet they finish with a sub-.500 record?
With a brand new coaching staff, the Bills certainly could surprise people. They have a strong running game, and if their defense plays better under the new coaching staff, that's the perfect formula for a team to overachieve.
That being said, it may take a year or longer for the entire operation to come together as players learn a new system and learn how to work in unison with new teammates.
What's more, the Bills—like the rest of the AFC East—have a very tough schedule that features the AFC North (at Steelers, Ravens, Bengals, at Browns) and NFC South (at Saints, Falcons, at Buccaneers, Panthers). The Bills have also really struggled against their division rivals in recent years, going 4-14 against the Patriots, Jets and Dolphins over the past three years.
The pieces are in place for a successful future, but the present remains shrouded in uncertainty.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.