The Buffalo Bills are entering the 2014 season with expectations at the highest they have been in over a decade. Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly attended minicamp last week and talked about the playoffs more than once in his speech to the team.
The moves made this offseason by the front office, specifically trading up to take Sammy Watkins, demonstrates a confidence that they believe they will be playoff bound. The last thing the Bills would want to do is send the Cleveland Browns a top-10 pick in next year's draft.
So what should Bills fans expect from this team in 2014? This is what I feel would be the best-case scenario for this team, or its ceiling, as well as the worst-case scenario, or the team's floor.
Buffalo Bills' Ceiling
Every NFL team would love to go 16-0 and win the Super Bowl, however this would not be a realistic ceiling. This team, while it is talented, has one big question mark at a very important position. The Bills ceiling will be determined by the development of EJ Manuel.
Last year, Manuel showed flashes of being a good quarterback, however the knee injuries slowed his development and raised questions of durability. If the Bills hope to reach their full potential, they will need a full 16-game season from Manuel.
If the second-year pro is able to stay on the field, they will be looking for him to gel quickly with new wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams. This offense should continue to rely on the run game, but the added threat of the passing game will make this offense much more explosive.
On the defensive side of the ball, it will be important for players to grasp Jim Schwartz's defense quickly and be able to rely on instinct rather than have to think about their role in a certain play. One of the reasons the transition may be smooth is because Schwartz has made a point to keep most of the play-calling terminology.
For the Bills to reach their full potential, it will be important for them to get off to a quick start, considering the schedule looks much easier in the first half than the second half. Over the first eight games, the Bills will face only two playoff teams from a season ago (San Diego, New England) compared to four in the second half (Kansas City, Denver, Green Bay, New England).
Losses: at Chicago, at NY Jets, at Denver, Green Bay, at New England
Buffalo Bills' Floor
No matter what the Bills front office does in the offseason, the Bills record is going to come down to what happens on the field. While it can try to predict what may happen, the best-laid plans don't always come to fruition.
The biggest setback the team could face is if the offense doesn't develop as the team hoped. This pressure is not solely on Manuel's shoulders as questions have started to creep up surrounding the wide receivers.
ESPN's Mike Rodak highlighted four players who are "fallers" after the team's OTAs with two of those players at the wide receiver position. Watkins is expected to develop into a No. 1 wide receiver at some point in his career, but the expectations may be high for this to happen Week 1 of his rookie season.
The bigger concern though is the play of Williams, who was acquired this offseason from Tampa Bay for a fifth-round pick. Rodak hints at the possibility of Williams actually being cut before the start of the season due to the emergence of Chris Hogan.
It seems unlikely that Williams would fall out of favor in Buffalo that quickly, especially because he is the player that gives this position the size necessary on the outside. Rodak has since addressed this and believes that once the season rolls around, Williams will be one of the top three wide receivers on this team.
It will be important for the Bills to get off to a fast start because of how their schedule is set up. The latter half of the schedule is much tougher, and they finish the year with three of their final four games on the road.
The floor for the Buffalo Bills would be if they finish 6-10 for the fourth year in a row. Last year, the Bills showed a great deal of pride and rarely found themselves on the losing end of a blowout. This is a testament to the coaching staff to be able to instill this type of mentality.
The upcoming season should be no different for this organization, as I would expect the Bills to continue to be competitive even if they stumble at the start of the season.
Wins: Miami, at Houston, Minnesota, NY Jets, Cleveland, at Oakland
Losses: at Chicago, San Diego, at Detroit, New England, at NY Jets, Kansas City, at Miami, at Denver, Green Bay, at New England
Entering this season, the Bills have one of their most talented rosters that they have had in some time. The team is young though, and there is uncertainty if this is the season everything clicks for them. If the team gels quickly and gets off to a fast start, it should be in line for a special season.