Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our definitive guide to the upcoming NFL season. This team-by-team preview details why your favorite franchise might have to start looking forward to next year — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: we take a look at The Buffalo Bills, a team that’s literally been terrible for the last 15 years.
New York’s only team is in for a long, long year. The Bills are coming off of a 6-10 season in which they finished last in the AFC East. Their playoff drought, dating back to 1999, is the longest active drought in the league. The miserableness isn’t going away this year.
The Ryan Fitzpatrick era has come to an end. With that, the E.J. Manuel era has commenced, and I’m not sure that’s good news.
Just about every expert’s evaluation of Manuel describes him as “raw,” and that’s not something you want to hear about your team’s probable starting quarterback.
The former Florida State quarterback was selected by the Bills with the 16th-overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft after excelling as a starter in college. He totaled 7,736 yards in his college career, throwing for 47 touchdowns and 28 interceptions with an impressive 66.9 completion percentage.
Manuel is touted as mobile too, but I use the word mobile lightly because Manuel rushed for just 1.4 yards per carry as a junior and 3.0 yards per carry as a senior. I doubt that the run will be one of his strong suits in the NFL.
Manuel’s questionable decision-making and his inability to go through his progressions are both major red flags. Manuel is going to have to be more patient in the pocket and more decisive as a passer in order to be a successful NFL starter, and that transition isn’t an easy one to make.
But enough about E.J. Manuel. There are much higher forces at work here relegating the Buffalo Bills to yet another year of mediocrity. The Bills franchise is the epitome of “Pretty Much Screwed.” Their downward spiral started when they appeared in and lost in four straight Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993, led by quarterback Jim Kelly.
Since then, following a short transition period to suckiness, the Bills have been the worst team in the NFL over the last 15 years.
Jim Kelly was the best player ever to don a Buffalo Bills jersey. The run that he led the Bills on was one of the best that the NFL has ever seen. And yet the franchise has nothing to show for it. They have four AFC championships, but no Super Bowl championships, not in those four years and not in the franchise’s 43-year history.
When Kelly retired in 1996, he took any hope that the Bills had of winning a Super Bowl in the near future with him. Since Kelly left, the Bills have had 13 different players start at quarterback in just 16 years. Among those 16 are a couple bright spots, like a trio of solid years from Doug Flutie and a few good Drew Bledsoe seasons.
Other than those two, the quarterbacks to start for the Bills since Kelly include Todd Collins, Alex Van Pelt, Rob Johnson, J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Edwards, J.P. Losman, and Brian Brohm. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the latest Bills failure at the sport’s most important position. Knowing their luck and the team’s inane ability to find perfectly mediocre quarterbacks, E.J. Manuel will follow Fitzpatrick on that list.
One reason you might not be screwed: Two words: C.J. Spiller. The ninth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft had a breakout year in 2012, tallying 1,244 and six touchdowns while dealing with injury issues. The numbers don’t jump off the page, but he was forced into a limited role for a nearly half the season after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 3. He averaged an impressive 6.0 yards per carry and if he can stay healthy this year, I expect him to be a top five running back in the NFL. That will take some pressure off of E.J. Manuel and provide a spark for the offense.
Actual season prediction: 5-11, last in the AFC East. If Manuel pans out down the line, the Bills could actually be a competitive team in another couple years, but it won’t be in 2013. Expect Manuel to struggle this year and the Bills offense to do the same, regardless of how good C.J. Spiller might be. The Bills’ defense should improve under new coordinator Mike Pettine who came over from the Jets, but they’ll be somewhere in the middle of the pack. A tough schedule will be the downfall of a Bills team that should be slightly better than last season, so that won’t reflect in their record.
Photos via Getty Images