A new-look team, rookie quarterback and coaching staff. The Buffalo Bills tore down parts of the roster to reform their offense and lean on a stifling defense. With a favorable schedule it could be enough to see the Bills trend upwards.
Head coach Doug Marrone is looking to be the next successful college coach to break into NFL head coaching ranks just a year removed from Syracuse. The surprise hiring initially looked like a team taking a chance, but scratch the surface and you'll find Marrone's wealth of NFL experience at the coordinator level. Choosing to select quarterback E.J. Manuel spurned popular belief he'd side with his college signal caller Ryan Nassib, but the move paid off early in the preseason as Manuel finished two games with a quarterback rating of 112.0, throwing for two touchdowns without a turnover.
A knee injury once looked like it could derail the start of the season, but Manuel is already practicing and still has an outside shot of starting Week 1. The first four weeks will be vital to setting up the Bills' season, as the team faces two divisional opponents in the season's first month.
No division is in flux more right now than the AFC East. The Miami Dolphins spent big in free agency, the New England Patriots are reforming their offense without Wes Welker and the New York Jets are contending with a quarterback controversy of their own. The door is open for the Bills to take advantage of roster shifts and climb in the division, especially given their weak strength of schedule -- 26th in the NFL.
|Sept. 8||1:00 p.m||New England Patriots||Ralph Wilson Stadium|
|Sept. 15||1:00 p.m.||Carolina Panthers||Ralph Wilson Stadium|
|Sept. 22||4:25 p.m.||at New York Jets||MetLife Stadium|
|Sept. 29||1:00 p.m.||Baltimore Ravens||Ralph Wilson Stadium|
|Oct. 3||8:25 p.m.||at Cleveland Browns||FirstEnergy Stadium|
|Oct. 13||1:00 p.m.||Cincinnati Bengals||Ralph Wilson Stadium|
|Oct. 20||1:00 p.m.||at Miami Dolphins||Sun Life Stadium|
|Oct.27||1:00 p.m.||at New Orleans Saints||Mercedes-Benz Superdome|
|Nov. 3||1:00 p.m.||Kansas City Chiefs||Ralph Wilson Stadium|
|Nov. 10||1:00 p.m.||at Pittsburgh Steelers||Heinz Field|
|Nov. 17||1:00 p.m.||New York Jets||Ralph Wilson Stadium|
|Dec. 1||4:05 p.m.||Atlanta Falcons||Rogers Centre (Toronto)|
|Dec. 8||1:00 p.m.||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Raymond James Stadium|
|Dec. 15||1:00 p.m.||at Jacksonville Jaguars||EverBank Field|
|Dec. 22||1:00 p.m.||Miami Dolphins||Ralph Wilson Stadium|
|Dec. 29||1:00 p.m.||at New England Patriots||Gillette Stadium|
The Bills face the Patriots to bookend their season, which is what makes these such a difficult set of games. In Week 1, Buffalo could be without the team's starting quarterback, and while the Patriots are also making adjustments, they are the veteran team. When the sides meet again for the final game of the season, the Patriots should have installed their new packages.
Week 3 against the New York Jets is the must win game on the Bills' schedule right now. Not because it's likely to have playoff implications, but rather because it's set to serve as a barometer for how the new coaching staff is doing. It's the first away game for E.J. Manuel and the new-look Bills offense, and regardless of how the team performs in the first two weeks at home, that third game should be able to determine how the season looks as a whole.
The Cleveland Browns are often seen as a punchline, but this season could be different. A short-week game on Thursday night presents a dangerous situation for the Bills if they look past Cleveland to Cincinnati a week later. New Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski is known for his high-powered offenses, and will test the Bills' secondary.