The Buffalo Bills may have as much offensive talent as any team in the AFC East this season, but their success in 2014 will depend on how well second-year head coach Doug Marrone and sophomore quarterback EJ Manuel work together.
The Bills (6-10 straight-up and 8-8 against the spread in 2013) lacked long-term continuity under center last season, as then-rookie Manuel played in just 10 games and other QBs such as Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel were forced into action despite being inexperienced.
That situation left Marrone without many options offensively other than trying to pound the ball on the ground with running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. It also led the team to trade up in the NFL Draft and select wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the fourth overall pick in the first round.
Buffalo has been desperately lacking a playmaker at the receiver position since the days of Eric Moulds and Andre Reed. Watkins could give Manuel the perfect weapon to challenge defenses within and outside the division as long as Spiller, Jackson and new addition Bryce Brown can make the opposition respect the run.
That three-headed monster offers the Bills tremendous depth at RB, although the odds are still stacked against them at 40-1 to win the AFC and more than 100-1 to win the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, Buffalo’s defense lost arguably its best player this offseason when leading tackler Kiko Alonso blew out his knee. The second-year linebacker and 2013 second-round draft pick will be sorely missed, as veteran Takeo Spikes looks to take his place as the starter in new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense.
Regardless, the front four of the Bills remains one of the best in the NFL with defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams on the inside and ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes on the outside combining for 41 sacks a year ago.
There’s no doubt that Manuel has talent around him on both sides of the ball, but he needs to make sure he can stay healthy for Buffalo to go over 6.5 wins this year. That remains a big question mark, as he started just two years for a loaded Florida State team in college, with many of his former teammates going on to win the national championship last season.
The lack of quality depth at QB could come back to haunt the Bills again if injuries continue to plague them.
Odds and stats courtesy of Odds Shark.