Expectations are higher in Buffalo than they have been in years, as a Bills team that overachieved with a gutsy season in the face of a slew of injuries and an unproven quarterback returns looking even better this year.
Now that the growing pains have been worked out, the theory among optimists for this season is that the return of injured key players (such as safety Ko Simpson and linebacker Paul Posluszny), a more experienced and prepared Trent Edwards, and the addition of offseason acquisitions (DT Marcus Stroud, LB Kawika Mitchell, and first and second-round draft choices CB Leodis McKelvin and WR James Hardy) will lead the Bills to a considerable improvement on last year's 7-9 record.
Also noteworthy is the slim margin some of last season's defeats came by. Denver and Dallas defeated Buffalo by just one point. The Bills did, however, win their fair share of close ones, defeating Washington by one point, and the Dolphins and Jets by just three.
So what will this year bring?
A few question marks are still lingering, including how effective new offensive coordinator Turk Schonert will be in replacing Steve Fairchild, how effective James Hardy can be in freeing up space for Lee Evans in the red zone, and how Trent Edwards develops in his first year as unquestioned starter.
Also, the lingering situation that could derail a promising season is the status of star left tackle Jason Peters, who wants a new deal and could possibly be holding out of training camp.
Losing Peters, for any amount of time, would be a crucial blow to the Bills' run and pass attacks, and would make life much more difficult for young Trent Edwards.
I'm writing these predictions assuming that there are no catastrophic injuries to the Bills and that Jason Peters is playing. If those are not the conditions under which the season unfolds, all bets are off.
With that said, let's have a look at the schedule:
Week One vs. Seattle
I think opening day will be a sad one for Bills fans as I see the experience of the Seahawks and their proven playmakers being too much for the young Bills.
Week Two at Jacksonville
I see this one as another likely "L" for the Bills, as Jacksonville's run defense shuts down Lynch, and Edwards is unable to make it happen.
Week Three vs. Oakland
Bills get into the "W" column with a solid handling of the upstart Raiders.
Week Four at St. Louis
I also see this as a Bills victory, as the Rams simply don't have the guns to get it done.
Projected record after September: 2-2
Week Five at Arizona
I see this one as a toss-up, but I could see the Cardinals pass attack giving Buffalo a lot of problems, and I think the Bills will fall short here.
Week Six: Bye Week
Week Seven vs. San Diego
I smell an upset here. Bills fans may remember the close finish in San Diego's last trip to Buffalo, and the Bills could catch the Chargers sleeping here.
Week Eight at Miami
I don't expect a squeaker like Buffalo's last trip to Miami. Bills take care of the hapless Fish.
Projected record after October: 3-4
Week Nine vs. New York Jets
I like the Bills here. Buffalo has had the Jets' number recently, and I see that continuing.
Week 10 at New England
I don't expect the Bills' struggles with the Pats to end this year. Write this one off, Bills fans.
Week 11 vs. Cleveland
I like Buffalo getting some payback for last year's playoff-chase-ending loss to the Browns behind a strong running game and what will likely be much clearer conditions.
Week 12 at Kansas City
Bills shut down the meager Chiefs offense and plunder a "W" from Arrowhead.
Week 13 vs. San Francisco
Bills contain Frank Gore and take care of business.
Projected Record After November: 7-5
Week 14 vs. Miami (In Toronto)
Bills handle Dolphins, despite lack of the Buffalo faithful at the Ralph. This may be slightly off topic, but I think it sucks they had to take the Dolphins game away from the hometown fans.
Week 15 at NY Jets
Bills squeak by Jets in a close one on the strength of D.
Week 16 at Denver
I see the Bills dropping this one in a tough road environment, but this game could break either way.
Week 17 vs. New England
Possible playoff berth riding on the line here. The Bills don't lack motivation and heart, but barring the Pats sitting key players for playoff rest, I wouldn't count on this. The Bills need to reach 10-11 wins before Week 17.
Final projected record: 9-7
That's just my prediction of how each game will break. Certainly everyone will have their own view on these.
Any game can swing on the slightest unseen variable, so this type of prediction is always a crapshoot. That said, I see the Bills' D making a large improvement, and the offense will come along, too, though more slowly than the defensive unit.
There are a lot of factors that could swing the season to the good or bad for Buffalo, but even if the playoff drought isn't broken, the team will certainly take a step in the right direction.
The keys to watch are improvement of the run D, improvement of the passing attack, and health of the team. If the roster is wracked with injuries, the Bills will be behind the eight ball once again and will likely fail to reach the playoffs.
I also believe that Dick Jauron must improve his game-day coaching. He has done excellent work in preparing the team and keeping them focused in the face of adversity (such as the QB controversy and onslaught of injuries last year).
However, he failed to make proper adjustments and stop slides in games such as the 8-0 loss to Cleveland and the heartbreaking Dallas loss, in which Jauron saw his team blow a fourth-quarter lead and lose on the final play.
Should those factors all happen, I think the Bills have the potential to win 10 games and snag a Wild Card berth. If some of them happen, eight or nine wins might be a bit more likely. If the defense and the passing game don't improve considerably, the Bills will likely be looking at seven to eight wins again.
I don't know what will happen; I'm just hoping that Buffalo will once again play a game in January. It's time.
Thanks for taking the time to have a look at my own opinions. Please do contribute your own thoughts and expectations. Let's just keep it respectful.
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