One look at the title should have you laughing hysterically. The Buffalo Bills haven't even been to the playoffs since 1999. That's the longest streak in football.
They're the only team to not yet reach the playoffs in the 21st century. They haven't had a winning (or even .500) season since 2004. That too is the longest streak in the NFL. And we're asking if they can win the Superbowl?
Well, yes. They could be excused for that playoff drought by simply mentioning the Patriots. That alone means a wildcard place is all but the best they can hope for.
The team hoping to knock the Patriots of their perch is led by EJ Manuel under centre. Before the NFL draft last year I hadn't heard his name mentioned all that much (if at all). Which made it all the more surprising when he was the first quarterback taken.
It's hard to say if it was the right choice. An injury meant he only started 10 games and had 306 attempts on the season. Completing 180 of them gave him a completion rate of 58.8%. Not great. It actually made him 28th out of 39 qualifying QBs - with only 4 QBs below him. The silver lining in this is that Colin Kaepernick was one of them - and he's still regarded as an excellent QB.
His touchdown to interception ratio was 11/9. That puts him just above the likes of Carson Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Again, not great.
He's now coming into his second season, and he simply has to improve his game. I, personally, do have faith in him and think that he can turn out to be a good starter for them this season. If he doesn't, being benched in favour of one of Thad Lewis (who stepped up when Manuel went down and actually played at a respectable level) or last year's UDFA Jeff Tuel is a very real prospect. He might have the starting job now, but if he doesn't perform he won't come the end of the season.
EJ Manuel will certainly be helped by rookie WR Sammy Watkins. When a team trades up to 4th to grab someone, you know he's a special player. With 82 passes caught for 1,219 yards and 12 TDs in his freshman season, he's even more than that. Top quality speed? Check. (He was a track star in college). Great hands? Check. Good height? Check. He's stepping into the shoes of Stevie Johnson who left for the 49ers. Bills fans, celebrate. Not only did you improve
at the position already, you're now in possession of a player who, with the right mentoring, will be a pro-bowler before you know it.
The rest of the group isn't bad either. It may not have any "stars," but it does have an abundance of good young players with huge potential. Mike Williams could potentially be considered a star, although I'll stick with calling him a very good number 2. At least for now. Since entering the NFL he played with the Buccaneers, and in his rookie season managed to grab 964 yards and 11 TDs. He could only play 6 games due to injury last year, but when he's fully healthy there's no telling how well he can do.
Marquise Goodwin was a rookie last year with serious speed, and caught 3 TD passes. He's seriously fast too - he ran a 4.27 40 yard dash. Did I mention he's fast? Robert Woods had 587 yards in his rookie year. The list of WRs the Bills have in a similar mould is seemingly endless. They're helped out by starting TE Scott Chandler. While he is by no means an elite TE he's a valuable contributor, catching 53 passes for 655 yards last season.
The Bills O-line is an interesting case. They have an excellent tackle in Cordy Glenn. Rookie Cyrus Kouandijo should instantly be a starter at RT. RG Craig Urbik is a very solid player. Centre Erik Wood can get the job done. So this is a pretty good line, right?
LG Chris Williams was a first round pick for the Bears in 2008, and it just hasn't worked out. The Bears tried to use him all over the line before releasing him. He didn't do any better at the Rams. For now at least, he keeps this line at an average level.
At DT the Bills have Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. If there's a better pairing of DTs in the league I'm yet to see it. Williams had 68 combined tackles on the year with 10.5 of those being sacks, making him the defensive tackle with the second most sacks (Jason Hatcher had half a sack more). Dareus might have had some off the field issues this offseason, but there's no
getting past his playing credentials - he finished last year with 71 combined tackles and 7.5 sacks.
At LE is Manny Lawson. He's probably the weak link of this defensive line. He also had 74 combined tackles and 4 sacks last year. This unit is unbelievably good, and so far they seem to be going under the radar. That suits them, as they'll get the recognition they deserve after Brady goes down for the sixth time in the first quarter.
Still not convinced by this D-line? It's so strong I nearly forgot to write about Mario Williams. Nothing much to write about really. Well, except for the 13 sacks he got last year. Tom Brady haters, you're in luck. He has to play this front 4 twice a year. Oh, and Jerry Hughes will fit into the mix somewhere. He also had 10 sacks on the year...
Defensive line groups are usually combined with linebackers when being spoken about to produce a "front 7." You could probably just put a stick in every linebacker position and the Bills front 7 would still be above average. But with Kiko Alonso, Brandon Spikes and Nigel Bradham? I'm scared just writing about them.
Let's start with Kiko Alonso. Was there a better defensive rookie last year? The second round pick played well above expectations, with 159 combined tackles. The first LB selected in that draft (Jarvis Jones) had 40 tackles - Kiko Alonso was one tackle away from having 4 times the production Jones had. Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Keenan Allen would have been a first round pick. Paul Worrilow would have been drafted. If the draft was to be re-done, there's no doubt Alonso would be a top 10 pick. Talking of picks, he also managed to get 4 on the season (joint third highest for any LB).
Nigel Bradham is a solid starter - no more, no less. With 51 combined tackles last year, he's not the sort of player who can win you games by himself. But he is young, and with the supporting cast around him he doesn't need to be.
Brandon Spikes has just moved from the Patriots to the Bills. Oh dear. They've just given the group of players that could be the biggest threat to their throne an un-needed boost. He logged 86 combined tackles and a single interception last year. The amount of tackles this front 7 had combined last year is unbelievable. People might be raving about the Carolina front 7, but I'm not convinced they're a more dangerous unit than the Bills boast.
I suppose it's inevitable that the secondary can't be at the same level as the front 7. But CBs Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore are no slouches. McKelvin's been with the Bills for the entire duration of his career (6 years) and he usually gets an interception or two each season. He's by no means a great player, but you could do far worse. Gilmore fares slightly better. He's only been in the league for 2 years, but he's managed to force 3 fumbles and record 3 interceptions. No-one's calling them shutdown corners or throwing them into the discussion of the best cornerback in the league, but they get the job done.
At SS is Aaron Williams, who's heading into his 4th year. Last year was by far his best season, as he forced one fumble and had 4 interceptions (making him the joint third highest safety in that category). Partnering him is Da'Norris Searcy, who had just the lone FF and interception. You could make an argument that his relatively young age still makes him a good safety in the league, but I'd say ranking him as just above average is fair.
Verdict: Yes. Believe it or not, this Bills team is good enough to win the Superbowl. With the plethora of great contributors on offence all it takes is a strong season from EJ Manuel and this team is capable of putting up 40+ points a game. If you were to look at the secondary alone, it wouldn't be unrealistic to think there would be times that wouldn't be enough. Then you look at the front 7. Then, if you're a fan of any team in the AFC East, you cry. Jets, Dolphis fans - better luck next year. Patriots fans? Watch out. The Bills are coming for you, and they're worse than a nightmare. They're very much for real.
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