Around this time of year, fans really start thinking about football and their expectations for the upcoming season. In Buffalo this year, there is more buzz because of Terrell Owens, and more reason to expect more from the team. But what does TO mean to the Bills season, and what should we expect from this team?
If recent history tells us anything then we should expect 7-9 right? Looking through the schedule, 7-9 might not be a stretch. Of course, the record rarely tells the whole story.
If the season could be placed on any one person's shoulders, it would be Trent Edwards. Looking at last season as a whole it was clear that Trent Edwards play was the biggest reason for Buffalo's success and failure. Obviously the QB's play is a large factor of any teams success, but good teams can win despite poor QB play. However, the Bills are not going to be good enough to overcome a poor game, or season by Trent Edwards.
All that being said, I expect Trent Edwards to have a Pro Bowl type year. He is a smart football player who will get the ball to the play makers on offense. Edwards showed flashes of greatness last year, but lacked consistency. This season he is a year wiser and will be more consistent for the Bills.
The Bills have retooled the offensive line for 2009. As of right now it seems likely that two rookies, Eric Wood and Andy Levitre, will be starting. The offensive line is really an unknown, but look for them to struggle a little bit early on and then get better as the season goes on. Everyone has heard the cliche about offensive lines needing to "gel" in order to play well, but the Bills lineman will have to play well as unit in order to get the job done.
Terrell Owens will give the Bills a legitimate second option at WR this season. Both he and Lee Evans will pose a real threat to defenses. The WR to watch, though, is Josh Reed. Last season Reed was exceptional out of the slot, especially on third down. When he got injured it really affected Edwards and the rest of the offense. Teams will have a difficult time shutting down Owens, Evans, and Reed.
Rookie TE Shawn Nelson looks like a promising young player. However, I would not expect him to start or contribute much to the offense this season. Derek Fine is who I expect to start at TE. He seems to be a decent blocker who is a better receiver than he gets credit for. Nelson will play in some situational downs, but Fine will take the bulk of the TE responsibilities.
Buffalo's group of RB's are gifted to say the least. A new offensive line might be just what Marshawn Lynch needs to become an elite back in the NFL. Although he will miss three games due to suspension (pending appeal), Lynch will still be a crucial part of the Bills offense in 2009.
Dominic Rhodes and Fred Jackson are two solid backs who should pick up the load nicely when Lynch is out. Both are shifty and can catch the ball well. Look for them to put up around 600 yards between the two of them.
Defensively the Bills have made some adjustments, but overall the defense will look much the same in 2009. Perry Fewell is not expected to go away from his "bend but don't break" defensive philosophy. The problem is that without a front four who can consistently get to the QB, the linebackers and secondary will left be on an island to defend against the likes of Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Chad Pennington.
Aaron Schobel will be welcomed back and should help the sack numbers for the Bills go up from last season. Schobel may have lost a step, but he has a chip on his shoulder this season for being called old and past his prime by some fans and media.
Aaron Maybin may be a rookie, but I expect him to get plenty of playing time, especially in passing situations. Maybin has tremendous upside, but his first year will be challenging as he adjusts to the size and speed of the NFL. Maybin will see his greatest success come in the second half of 2009 as he adjusts to his new environment.
The Bills have a couple of decent linebackers in Kawika Mitchell and Paul Posluszny. What is a concern, though, is who will play on the other side of Posluszny? Keith Ellison is not an adequate option, and rookie Nic Harris is shifting from safety to linebacker. Without a decent second starter at OLB, the Bills could see a lot plays run to the side either Ellison or Harris is occupying.
Buffalo's secondary could feature a lot of young players in starting positions. Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin will be asked to do a lot this season. McGee will be tested early when the Bills open the season at New England and face Tom Brady and Randy Moss. McKelvin will have to pick up where he left off last season if the Bills hope to have a defense who can handle the pass. Drayton Florence should be a solid number three corner, but if McKelvin struggles he could end up starting.
Donte Whitner has yet to establish himself as a quality safety in the league, and Ko Simpson is below average. Jairus Byrd could start at free safety, but the situation that I expect is for Donte Whitner to start at free safety with Bryan Scott starting at strong safety. I also would not be surprised if Byrd sees some action as the third or fourth cornerback.
It is very early yet, and projecting starters before training camp is a tricky business. Injuries also could turn everything upside down. But Buffalo has some excellent talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Before I went through the schedule I had the Bills going 9-7, maybe 10-6 based on talent. After going game by game on the schedule I had the Bills going 8-8. The level of competition they will face is tough to assess. Many of their opponents have questions at QB and/or new coaching staffs. So, based on last year, they have a tough schedule, but you really don't know until the season is under way.
The biggest question the Bills have right now is the offensive line. If the offensive line is able to pass block as well as last years unit, while run blocking better, the Bills could have a big year. If the line struggles significantly it could translate into 6-10.
Trent Edwards health is also a concern. If he can stay healthy, the Bills are in good shape, if he doesn't, they are in trouble. Edwards has a history of injury trouble, so that could be something to watch for.
Defensively, the Bills will be as good as their playmaking stats. If Buffalo finishes in the top ten in sacks and/or takeaways, it will be a good season. But if they finish in the bottom ten, it will mean another 11th overall draft selection.
What I have yet to mention in this article is the coaching staff, but trust me, I have accounted for them. There is little faith in the coaching staff, but perhaps the notion that this could be Dick Jauron's last coaching stint will have a positive effect on the team and staff.
So there you have it, my expectations for the 2009 Buffalo Bills. Although, I would like to officially make my prediction of a 7-9 record. Losing four Super Bowls in a row seemed very unlikely, but it happened, so why can't four straight 7-9 seasons happen? It would be fitting, especially since this is the 50th year the team has been in the NFL.