The Buffalo Bills finished 2013 with a 6-10 record for the third season in a row, marking 14 consecutive years without a playoff appearance. They will hope that the young roster can turn things around in 2014 to deliver a much-needed postseason berth in the city of Buffalo.
Buffalo lost a key contributor on the defense as All-Pro safety Jairus Byrd signed a six-year deal with the New Orleans Saints. However, the organization added linebackers Brandon Spikes and Keith Rivers and defensive back Corey Graham to help out against the run and the pass.
Defensively, the Bills were successful in 2013 under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. However, Pettine is now the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and the team replaced him with former Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz.
The Bills boast a dangerous rushing attack to pair with an improving EJ Manuel at quarterback—who battled knee injuries last season and missed valuable reps. After trading for wide receiver Mike Williams and signing free-agent guard Chris Williams, the offense should be good enough to compete with the best in the NFL.
The question is whether the team can survive a relatively tough schedule and finally be able to post a winning record. Here is a look at the complete slate of games in 2014:
|2014 Buffalo Bills Regular-Season Schedule|
|1||Sept. 7||at Chicago Bears||1 p.m.||Fox|
|2||Sept. 14||vs. Miami Dolphins||1 p.m.||CBS|
|3||Sept. 21||vs. San Diego Chargers||1 p.m.||CBS|
|4||Sept. 28||at Houston Texans||1 p.m.||CBS|
|5||Oct. 5||at Detroit Lions||1 p.m.||Fox|
|6||Oct. 12||vs. New England Patriots||1 p.m.||CBS|
|7||Oct. 19||vs. Minnesota Vikings||1 p.m.||Fox|
|8||Oct. 26||at New York Jets||1 p.m.||CBS|
|10||Nov. 9||vs. Kansas City Chiefs||1 p.m.||CBS|
|11||Nov. 13||at Miami Dolphins||8:25 p.m.||NFLN|
|12||Nov. 23||vs. New York Jets||1 p.m.||CBS|
|13||Nov. 30||vs. Cleveland Browns||1 p.m.||CBS|
|14||Dec. 7||at Denver Broncos||4:05 p.m.||CBS|
|15||Dec. 14||vs. Green Bay Packers||1 p.m.||Fox|
|16||Dec. 21||at Oakland Raiders||4:25 p.m.||CBS|
|17||Dec. 28||at New England Patriots||1 p.m.||CBS|
Based on last year's records, the Bills' upcoming opponents had exactly a .500 winning percentage. According to ESPN, this rates as the 14th-toughest schedule in football.
The good news is that some of the tougher games on the schedule will be played at home, where the Bills had a 4-4 record this past season. Teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings are known for their tough home-field advantages, but they will have to go to Buffalo this year.
This schedule and an improving team could certainly do what is necessary to post a winning record next season. Former star and Hall of Famer Bruce Smith had this to say about the team's future, via BuffaloBills.com:
I think the state of the Bills right now is that they’re heading in a positive direction. As this team grows together. As EJ Manuel gets more experience, I think they will be able to make a strong run to the playoffs, as early as next year.
One of the things that I found was very similar to back in ’87, we were losing a lot of games by 3 points or less. That’s what happened to the Bills this year. The next year we started winning those games by 3 points. Then the next year we started blowing teams out. If they can keep growing and keep adding players to the puzzle, good things will happen.
The schedule will be difficult, but it will not be impossible to finally sneak into the postseason next year and loosen the New England Patriots' grip on the AFC East.
At first glance, you would think the most difficult battles will be those against the Patriots. After all, the perennial contenders are once again expected to be a favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
On the other hand, Mike Rodak of ESPN.com notes that the division is closer than one would expect:
The Patriots hardly tore through the division last season, losing to the Dolphins and Jets on the road, while nearly dropping their season opener in Buffalo. But it's difficult to see the other three teams contending for a division title until their quarterbacks emerge as quality NFL starters. In Miami, Ryan Tannehill showed flashes last season. It's hard to predict much of anything season to season in the NFL, but I think the Dolphins are the closest to contending. The Jets and Bills are not that far behind.
However, the Bills need to set their sights lower. Instead of trying to dethrone the division champs, they should be looking at earning any postseason bid, and that comes from defeating the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins more consistently.
Buffalo surprisingly went 3-1 in these contests a year ago, and consistent winning against these clubs will help the Bills move up in the division standings.
If the Bills can take care of business against their division rivals and then win the games they should outside the division, they have a chance to find their way into the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and end the longest active playoff drought in the NFL.
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