The Buffalo Bills have not played postseason football since 1999, easily the longest playoff drought in the NFL. How long ago was that in football years? Tom Brady was a senior at Michigan. The Patriots were 8-8 under coach Pete Carroll, and he would be fired later that season. The starting quarterback on the ’99 Bills was Doug Flutie.
The Bills won’t look all that different on the field in 2013 after finishing 6-10 in 2012, the team’s eighth-straight losing season. Coach Chan Gailey was fired and replaced by Syracuse’s Doug Marrone. He was the Saints’ offensive coordinator from 2006-2008 before taking over the Orange, going 25-25 in his first stint anywhere as a head coach.
Marrone has one of the best running back duos in the NFL with rising star C.J. Spiller and versatile veteran Fred Jackson. Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards last year and he tied NFL MVP Adrian Peterson for No. 1 in the league in rushing yards per attempt, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. Jackson was limited to 10 games due to injury.
The big question on the offense is clearly at quarterback. Buffalo shocked many by taking Florida State’s E.J. Manuel with its first-round pick in the 2013 draft. Manuel, the only quarterback chosen in Round 1, had a second-round grade. It was assumed he would sit and learn behind Kevin Kolb this year because Manuel is so raw. However, he outplayed Kolb in camp and the Bills’ first two preseason games.
Manuel probably would have won the Week 1 job but had to undergo a minor knee procedure and is out at least the rest of the preseason. Manuel completed 26 of 33 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns in his two games. It would have been an upset if Kolb wasn’t the starter Sept. 8 against the Patriots. With Kolb suffering a serious concussion in Buffalo’s third preseason game though, Buffalo’s Week 1 quarterback is a huge question mark.
The Bills haven’t won the AFC East since 1995, also the year of their last playoff victory. Buffalo is +800 to win the division this year.
New England swept Buffalo again last season. It has been the NFL’s most one-sided rivalry. Since 2001, the Pats have won 22 of the 24 meetings, with Buffalo’s victories in 2003 and 2011. In Week 4 last season at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Pats were down 21-7 early in the third quarter and promptly scored six consecutive touchdowns on the way to franchise-record 45-point second half and 52-28 victory. Brady threw for 340 yards and three scores. Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden each had 100 yards rushing, and Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski each totaled 100 yards receiving. It was the first time the Pats had two 100-yard rushers and two 100-yard receivers in the same game.
In Week 10 at Foxboro, New England won 37-31, with Devin McCourty picking off a pass in the New England end zone with 23 seconds left to seal it. The Pats will open around 7.5-point favorites for the opener.