Why the Ranking?
The Bills move up this week—even after a terrible preseason-opening performance from EJ Manuel— thanks to a very strong defense and a run game good enough to fuel the team to victories when the weather in Upstate New York gets cold.
The team's second preseason game was more impressive for everyone involved—and the run defense looked crazy good—but this is still a team relying heavily on the quarterback in a big season for all involved.
Most Important Offensive Player for 2014
Quarterback EJ Manuel
You might think wide receiver Sammy Watkins is the team's most important offensive player, but Watkins cannot produce without a quarterback capable of getting him the ball.
As I tweeted this week, Manuel is the worst starting quarterback in the NFL heading into the season, but he's young enough for that to change. The trouble is he didn't show anything worth noting in the preseason opener. Yes, that's only the preseason, but Manuel's bad habits were still on display as his second season started.
Staring down receivers and poor timing on downfield throws hurt him in 2013, and looking at one quarter of play so far, it's still an issue. He did look better statistically in the second game, but he still has the habit of looking at one receiver throughout his drop and too often locking his eyes on that one target.
For Manuel to evolve and improve as a quarterback, he must learn to focus his eyes away from the target—even on hot reads.
The offense has a good offensive line, a talented crew at running back and explosive potential at receiver, but none of those things will matter if defenses don't respect Manuel.