Revisiting 10 Bold Buffalo Bills Predictions from the Preseason
The expectations were low for the 2013 Buffalo Bills, and with a 6-10 record, the Bills finished exactly where they were in 2012.
In some ways, that can be seen as a success. They were installing a new system on offense and defense, they were playing with a rookie quarterback, they were without that quarterback for six games, and several of their losses came by seven points or less.
I made a list of predictions for the Bills before the season began, and in the interest of accountability, now seems like a good time to look back on where I was right and where I was stupidly wrong.
C.J. Spiller Will Finish with More Than 2,000 Yards from Scrimmage: False
What I Said: "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."
What Happened: Spiller totaled just 1,112 yards from scrimmage this year, a whopping 888 yards short of my prediction.
In that interview mentioned above, Hackett said he would feed Spiller "until he throws up." The only people throwing up were Spiller's fantasy owners. The electric back handled the ball just 14.6 times per game, down exactly one touch per game from last year.
Who could blame them? Spiller was hindered by an injury at times this year, and there were long stretches when Fred Jackson was the more effective back.
The Bills were a run-first team all the way, with the most rush attempts of any team this year, and as a result, the carries were nearly evenly split.
EJ Manuel Wins Offensive Rookie of the Year: False
What I Said: "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."
What Happened: This prediction was doomed from an early stage; given his four-game midseason absence, Manuel would have had to dominate in the rest of the season even to earn consideration for this award.
Given that he missed the final two games in addition, there was virtually no chance for him to win it.
Manuel's rookie season wasn't all bad, but there were a lot of growing pains for the unpolished passer. He completed 58.8 percent of his throws and threw 11 touchdowns against nine interceptions. Still, Manuel needs to improve his accuracy and eye speed if he's going to develop into a franchise quarterback.
Robert Woods Will Finish with More Receiving TDs Than Stevie Johnson: False
What I Said: "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."
What Happened: Woods and Johnson each finished with three touchdowns, thus making my prediction inaccurate.
Both players missed time. Woods missed two games and Johnson missed four, including the final two games of the season. Woods' three touchdowns came on just 40 receptions, while Johnson had 52 receptions on the year.
It was expected that Woods could come in and provide the Bills a solid red-zone threat and touchdown scoring option, as he had done at USC for so long.
The potential is there, but it just wasn't fully realized in Woods' rookie year.
Marquise Goodwin Will Return 3 Kicks for Touchdowns: False
What I Said: "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."
What Happened: Goodwin burst onto the scene with a whopping 252 return yards on six returns in the preseason (42 yards per return). However, the Bills' former Olympic speedster didn't return a single kick for a touchdown this year.
Goodwin did manage to score three touchdowns, but all of them came as a wide receiver, where he was the best big-play threat on the Bills' roster. Perhaps the Bills have found another speedy receiver to build their offense around.
Jairus Byrd Will Finish the Season in a Bills Uniform: True
What I Said: "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 Happened: There were rumors that Byrd could be on the trade block, but those rumors never came to fruition and Byrd finished the season on the roster, as predicted.
Part of that may have had to do with the plantar fasciitis he dealt with early in the season, but part of it may also have had to do with his status on the franchise tag, which would have meant whoever traded for him would also have to sign him if they wanted him as more than a rental.
Regardless, we have likely seen the last of Byrd in a Bills uniform.
Scott Chandler Will Play 16 Games: True
What I Said: "There may be some questions as to how effective he can be, 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."
What Happened: For the first time in his career, Chandler finally played a full 16-game season. It was surprising that he was even ready for Week 1 after tearing his ACL late in the 2012 season.
As a result of his health, Chandler enjoyed the most productive season of his career, with 53 catches for 655 yards and two touchdowns. Chandler's health and productivity could not have come at a better time for him; he is set to hit the open market as a free agent this offseason.
Jerry Hughes Will Be a More Productive Pass-Rusher Than Mario Williams: True
What I Said: "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."
What Happened: Williams finished with more sacks than Hughes (13 to 10), but according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Hughes was the more productive pass-rusher on a per-play basis. In fact, by their measure ("pressure created on a per snap basis with weighting toward sacks"), he was the most productive pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker, registering a combined 59 pressures on 305 pass-rush snaps.
In Williams and Hughes, the Bills have a standout duo of pass-rushing edge defenders to build around. That's something Mike Pettine never had in his years with the New York Jets.
No Bills Defender Will Finish with More Than 10 Sacks: False
What I Said: "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. If you look over the recent history of the Jets, though, one trend that sticks out like Miley Cyrus is that they haven't had a single defender with double-digit sacks in the Rex Ryan era. 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."
What Happened: Wrong. Dead wrong.
The Bills had not one, not two, but three defenders with 10 sacks or more. It was a record-setting season; the Bills registering 57 sacks, a franchise record. As a result, their defense was one of the league's best against the pass on a per-play basis, yielding just 5.3 yards per pass attempt.
With a strong defensive line filled with solid pass-rushers, the Bills have a great core to build around on defense.
Kiko Alonso Will Finish with 100 Tackles: True
What I Said: "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."
What Happened: Alonso shattered my expectations, finishing with 159 tackles. For his efforts, he is in the discussion among potential Rookie of the Year candidates.
As a second-round pick, Alonso may be close to the best value pick of the draft. He is the leader of the defense, and he wears the green dot which has him radio-linked to the sideline at all times.
More impressive than his high number of tackles, he finished with four interceptions. His abilities in coverage make him an incredibly valuable asset to the Bills defense for the future.
Final Record: 7-9: False
What I Said: "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 Happened: Close, but no cigar.
The Bills finished with a final record of 6-10, falling just short of my prediction. They had a chance to meet my expectations all the way up to the final game of the season.
While a 6-10 record is not an improvement over last year's record, it is promising that the Bills were able to finish with that record despite being absent their starting quarterback for six games and despite installing new systems on offense and defense.
If they can build on some of the progress they made this season, their win total could go up next year.
Final Score Card: 4 out of 10
The Bills are not who I thought they were.
They were, however, relatively close.
Four out of 10 isn't acceptable in any walk of life, so I'll have to try a little harder next time. If the Bills want to do better than a 6-10 record next year, they'll have to try a little harder, too.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.