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And so it begins! After months of work the Buffalo Bills are finally ready to start their first official game of the 2007 season. At least they better be ready. The Bills schedule does not start soft. The Denver Broncos were a solid team last season and have some of the best corners in the league. Buffalo did not instill confidence in their fans during the preseason games, but the players are confident that when they unveil their full offensive package, fans will be surprised. Lets hope some of the tackling problems on defense were due to the preseason tendency to hold back and play safe. Drew Brees proved the other night that preseason has little to do with the regular season when his high powered preseason offense fell flat against a mediocre colts defense. Still the Bills left fans a bit concerned.
The 2007 season looks to be daunting for the Bills. Based on last season’s records the Bills have the toughest schedule in the league.
Fortunately for the Bills, this is 2007 and last season’s record is of little consequence. One need only look back to 2005 to see how quickly things can change in the NFL. Many of the Bills opponents had a worse record in 2006 than they did in 2005. While the Bills face many playoff teams from 2006, several of these matchups are against wildcard teams that were hardly daunting. (see the 8-8 Giants, 10-6 Eagles, 9-7 Cowboys and 10-6 Jets twice) In reality, the Bills only face 3 opponents that had daunting teams in 2006 and two of them are New England. The other would be Baltimore. On the other hand the Bills face 4 opponents that had 6 wins or fewer in 2006. The rest are in the 7-9 to 10-6 range. But thats all last year. Teams change.
The Bills certainly did their fair share of changing during the offseason. Buffalo cut lose 3 veterans on defense and totally revamped the offensive line. Fans were concerned that the Bills 75 million dollar o-line didn’t look better in the preseason. It will probably take a couple games to work out the kinks, but the talent is there where it hasn’t been in the past. Can they pull it together for the first game? Probably. The Denver defensive line is battered and not particularly menacing to begin with, so the pressure on the line will not be huge. Bills fans also barely got to see the true starting o-line during the pre-season. Jason Peters, Derrick Dockery, Melvin Fowler, Brad Butler and Langston Walker were rarely on the field at the same time during the preseason games. This was due to injuries to Butler and Fowler. No one should have been surprised when Butler was named the starter over Whittle (making veteran minimum and a career backup) and Duke Preston (was great in relief but not the answer as a starter). If the starting five can pull it together in time for the season opener, it will go a long way towards the Bills finding victory.
Losman has mostly looked like Losman through the preseason, but he has been running what the team calls “vanilla” offense. It would be nice to see better execution of the vanilla plays, but these kind of play calling really gives the defense the advantage. This is reflected in the preseason scores throughout the league. Despite the lack of game plan, Losman has been able to connect with all of his receivers for big gains. The Bills certainly look like the long ball champions. The question remains as to whether Losman can keep his head cool enough during games to make the short touch passes connect with their targets. If he can find a way to deliver the ball to more receivers the Bills offense could be explosive.
Lee Evans looks like he is ready to have a Pro Bowl season. He makes unbelievable plays for the ball, burns his defenders and seems to be in the zone with Losman. This is so obvious that teams are going to double team him without question. That means Roscoe Parrish, Josh Reed and Peerless Price need to make more plays to help loosen up the coverage. Of the three, Roscoe Parrish seems to be the one poised for a breakout season. Josh Reed is always showing flashes, but never seems to be able to consistently contribute. If he can find a way to be a bigger part of the receiving game or if Peerless Price can find his old form, the Bills passing game will be deadly.
Added to the receiving mix will be a little larger dose of Tight End. Last season the tight ends had to stay back to help Terrence Pennington pass protect on the right side. Now Pennington is gone and so is Cieslak who was clearly a blocking tight end. This shows that the Bills are confident enough in their new linemen to stock the roster with receiving tight ends. Robert Royal is capable of having a big impact in the passing game if he doesn’t have to block. Kevin Everett is supposedly a great receiving tight end who the Bills have hardly used because they mostly were using blockers at the position. We will see this season if he can really catch and run like they say he can.
Marshawn Lynch replaces Willis McGahee at running back and all of Buffalo is feeling good about the switch. McGahee had worn out his stay both by making obnoxious comments to the press and by underperforming on the field. The guy doesn’t have game and Marshawn Lynch does. Lynch is quick and hard to take down. During the preseason, he struggled at times, but when he was able to get positive yardage, it was usually for 6 yards plus. He is also a significant threat receiving out of the backfield. It will be exciting to watch this kid run this year. He also loves the city of Buffalo which always helps.
The Bills didn’t show much in the preseason games, but you could see signs of where it might be. It all hinges upon the line. If they can give Lynch a few holes and give Losman just a little time to pass, the Bills O will be tough to stop. I think the talent on this offensive line is strong enough that its a matter of when rather than if. This should be a pretty exciting offense.
The defense on the other hand is full of question marks. The defensive field general will be rookie linebacker Paul Posluszny. Already we see cause for concern. The Bills are depending on a rookie at the critical middle linebacker spot. Luckily for the Bills, Poz looks like the real deal and could end up a candidate for defensive rookie of the year. But the Bills are taking a big gamble here that will likely cost them at times even under best circumstances. With Angelo Crowell on the strong side and Coy Wire filling in for Keith Ellison on the weak side, the Bills have a fairly inexperienced linebacking corps. Will their youth and speed be a benefit or a hindrance? Like the offensive line, I think this group will be good by season’s end, but, how many games will it take for them to find a groove?
The linebackers’ inexperience would be less of a concern if the defensive line wasn’t also such a concern. Going into the preseason it seemed as though the Bills were pretty well set at defensive end, but and injury to Ryan Denney and a 4 game suspension for Anthony Hargrove have left the Bills with only their starters and some very green backups. It could be worse, at least Schobel and Kelsay are the healthy ones. But it will prove interesting during the first four weeks until Hargrove comes back. Aside from depth concerns the Bills look good at End. However the defensive tackles are questionable. The closest thing to proven talent that the Bills have at tackle is Larry Tripplett. Tripplett had a disappointing first season with the Bills but the hope is that he will be more effective with one season under his belt. He was also playing with a lot of rookies last year who also now have a year in the system. John McCargo has looked good when he plays but has had injury troubles. If he can stay healthy it will make a big difference for the Bills. McCargo seemed to be disrupting the offensive line on every snap in the preseason. The Bills need that to continue. Kyle Williams, Tim Anderson and Jason Jefferson will be sharing time at the other tackle spot. Williams had a solid rookie season and the Bills are hoping he will pick up where he left off. Anderson struggled last season and Jefferson is a virtual unknown although the coaches are high on him.
In the secondary, the Bills have two solid players with lots of depth at Safety. Ko Simpson and Donte Whitner both had successful rookie campaigns and seem to be rocking at the start of the season. Hopefully the rest of the defense can play well enough for these young stars to shine. They are going to need to play their best ball because, after the departure of Nate Clements, the Bills are a bit thin at Cornerback. If Aston Youboty can take the next step and become a starter during the season, the Bills will be in better shape. But for now, they are starting Terrence McGee who is a lot better at returning kicks than playing corner and Jason Webster. This is an area that shoudl be heavily exploited by every team the Bills play. They will be counting on a solid pass rush to keep too many balls from making it to the wide receivers. Things could get ugly if Youboty, Kiwaukee Thomas or Jabari Greer don’t breakout.
If you were going to use one word to describe the 2007 Buffalo Bills it would be “young”. “Young” isn’t necessarily bad but it leaves a lot of question marks and opens the door for stupid mistakes and sloppy play. Dick Jauron and his staff will have their work cut out for them. Regardless, I think the Bills will improve this season. The reason why is the fact that Jauron already showed last season that he can get production out of young players. The Bills had 6 rookies start last season at one point or another. In some cases they actually looked better than the veterans they replaced. This is why the team looks the way it does now. Out with the old, in with the new. Its going to be a thrilling ride because this is not the type of team that can be comfortable holding a lead in the fourth quarter. They will make mistakes, but they can win games. The schedule is not as bad as it looks. Here are my predictions prior to game 1.
Week 1. Denver. The Bills will actually win this one by a larger margin than most predict. Jay Cutler has only played in 5 NFL games. He lost 3. He’s 2000 miles from his home stadium. It’s kickoff sunday. The 12th man will be raging. Cutler will struggle and throw 3 interceptions despite gaining a fair number of yards. This is what the Bills’ struggling defense needs. Marshawn Lynch gets 100 yards on a depleted Denver line. Lee Evans gets 2 TDs. Special teams shines. Losman looks “Crisp”. Bills 31 Broncos 14
Week 2. Pittsburgh. Despite attempts by ESPN to brainwash all of America into thinking otherwise, the Steelers were 8-8 last year and struggled often, mostly because of Roethlisberger’s interceptions, tops in the league. This year they have a new head coach. There is talent there but the Steelers play sloppy. Maybe later in the season this would turn out differently. The Bills have a slow start due to their cocky bravado after the dominant win the week before. Bills 21 Steelers 17
Week 3. New England. Every year the Bills come close to beating the Patriots in the first matchup of the season. This year the Bills catch the Pats on a bad week and get away with an ugly win in difficult weather conditions. Bills 10 Patriots 9
Week 4. NY Jets. The Jets got lucky last season. The Bills outplayed them twice but only came away with one win. This year will be different. Thomas Jones is no Hall of Famer. Mangini is over rated. The Bills will miss the 150 yards on the ground McGahee would bring to a jets game, but find Lynch’s 100 yards on the ground and 75 in the air to be a suitable replacement. Bills 27 Jets 14
Week 5. Dallas. The Bills are getting a lot of press at this point for starting the season 4-0. Thats when the Bills let it get to their head and collapse embarassingly on the national stage in their first Monday night game in a long time. Cowboys 31 Bills 7
Week 6. BYE. The Bills lick their wounds after the embarassing defeat.
Week 7. Baltimore. The Bills put up a good fight but get outplayed by a better team in the Ravens. McGahee is a non factor and gets spelled heavily, as he will most of the season. Ravens 28 Bills 10
Week 8. NY Jets. Nothing like the jets to cheer up a team on a losing streak. Bills 21 Jets 3
Week 9. Cincinnati. I hate spelling Cincinnati. The Bills like playing the Bengals. They seem to have their number, even when the Bengals have a much better team. Turnovers and Special teams make this one a fun watch. Bills 28 Bengals 17
Week 10. Miami. The Dolphins are rebuilding and fairly well imploded by this point in the season. The Bills luck out by playing the Dolphins late. Bills 21 Dolphins 17
Week 11. New England. Usually the second time the Patriots play the Bills each year, the Bills get blown out. This year is no different. See Bill outcoach Dick. Patriots 38 Bills 14.
Week 12. Jacksonville. The Jaguars never are sure who their quarterback is, but they manage to beat the Bills anyway. It happens again in an exciting one. Jaguars 21 Bills 17
Week 13. Washington. The Redskins aren’t that good. The Bills win this yawner. Bills 14 Redskins 10.
Week 14. Miami. The Dolphins put up a fight but turn the ball over too many times. The Bills steal a game with special teams. Bills 17 Dolphins 10
Week 15. Cleveland. Cleveland will be better than people think, but they will still be bad. Bills 28 Browns 24
Week 16. NY Giants. Eli has a rough season without Tiki Barber. The Giants are talking about getting a new coach and the Bills win pretty handily. Bills 21 Giants 7
Week 17. Philadelphia. With a shot at the division on the line the Bills lose dramatically and fin themselves a wildcard with broken confidence. Eagles 27 Bills 6
The Bills finish a surprising 11-5 but are still second in the division. They lose their first playoff game in the 21st century. Its not impossible for the Bills to sweep the Jets and the Dolphins. They nearly did last year. Going through the games its not out of the question. The Bills have to beat the Patriots once to truly be considered any kind of contender.
I’m pretty sure I have a lot of angry email coming my way. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
The season hasn’t started yet, its anybody’s guess.