By BBD Staff Writer: Eric Samulski
With the crucial parts of the offseason program still many weeks away, football has entered the speculative period, in which fans start dreaming of kickoff and the hopes that come with a new season. Keeping this in mind, we began our look ahead to the first part of the Bills season last week and will continue to examine the second part of the schedule in detail.
Week 10 @ New England Patriots
Opponent Summary: We covered most of the Patriots roster during the first part, so you can skip to the prediction if you’ve already heard this, but the Patriots will still live or die by the performance of Tom Brady. Despite the four interception performance against us last year, he’s still going strong, and they added another receiving option for him in Brandon Lloyd. Their defensive front got better in the draft with the additions of Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, and if they can get production out of second-year CB Ras-I Dowling, their secondary could also improve.
However, the importance of losing Matt Light can’t be over-stated. I know they were planning for his retirement, but he’s still a tough guy to replace. Vollmer and Solder are both solid players, but neither is near the level of Matt Light.
Although I still believe that they failed to adequately address their secondary. Tavon Wilson was wildly over-drafted, and they didn’t take a cornerback until the 6th round. I understand that people assume Dennard was a steal because he was formerly projected as a first rounder, but he dropped for a reason. He’s slow and doesn’t have great recovery speed and won’t be able to win as many physical battles at the line of scrimmage as he did in college.
Intriguing Match-up: This one is all on Tom Brady. After the Bills win the first game of their match-up at home, the Pats will be looking for blood. Brady is going to come out to run up the score. If the Bills can hit him often they might stand a chance, but if he has time in the pocket, it’s going to be a very long day.
Outcome: 31-17 Pats
I don’t see this game going in our favor. Winning at home is one thing, but sweeping the Pats and winning at Foxboro are two completely different beasts. Belicheck will make adjustments and, as mentioned, Brady will up his game to a level unmatched by almost any other QB in the league. If the Bills can keep this close it would be a good way to start the second half.
Week 11 vs Miami
Opponent Summary: The Dolphins were a trendy sleeper pick after they won six of nine games to end the season. However, unlike the Cardinals, I don’t see the Dolphins as being a team that can realistically carry over that success.
Matt Moore has shown flashes of above-average play before, only to tank when asked to repeat. I think we can expect more of the same. He’s simply an average quarterback and, when asked to carry the load for a full season, the law of averages plays out. If the Dolphins turn to Tannehill, they’re in even more trouble. I love him as a prospect, but “prospect” is the key word with him. He is nowhere near a finished product, and his trouble finishing off games in college doesn’t bode well for immediate success in the NFL.
Reggie Bush also exploded into the upper echelon of runningbacks with his 2011 performance, but he’s never been able to put together numbers like that on a consistent basis, despite frequent touches, so I’m not sold that his performance was legit. Daniel Thomas was a fine runner in college, but with no NFL success to his name it’s hard to predict that he and Bush will form a real two-headed monster. Of course, Lamar Miller may emerge has the main threat here, but he’s had an injury history that prevents me from anointing him the true workhorse. However, I do think he has the talent to become one by this point in the season.
The bad sign for the Dolphins is that, with the exception of Miller, the rookie I’m most excited about is undrafted free agent Jeff Fuller. Fuller was a first round pick coming into the season but struggled with drops, then a post-season ankle injury, and his stock plummeted. I tend to look at more than one year, and Fuller has displayed solid hands, during the rest of his career, a large catch radius, and has a good frame for a possession receiver. He could turn into a solid move-the-chains guy at the next level. I like BJ Cunningham the most out of their other new options (Matthews, Moye and Egnew, the Missouri TE) but he’s too similar to Fuller in my eyes. Losing Brandon Marshall was made even more important by failing to fill the void.
Intriguing Match-up: Miami run D versus Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller. Last season Miami ended the year with the 3rd ranked run defense. With guys like Gary Guyton, Jared Odrick, Kevin Burnett and Karlos Dansby, I think the run D is legitimate. Depending on how Gailey can deploy the toughness of Jackson and shiftiness of Spiller, the Bills might be able to earn some hard fought yards and free up some space for the passing attack.
Outcome: 23-10 Bills
I just don’t find Miami to be a very good team. I think their defense is good enough to keep them from being blown out, but I can’t see many scenarios where their offense scores a ton of points. The Bills new secondary will stifle the passing attack, leaving the front seven to focus solely on the running game. It’s going to be a long day for Miami’s offense, and I think the Bills will add a defensive touchdown as well.
Week 12 at Indianapolis Colts
Opponent Summary: The Bills are certainly into the easier part of their schedule here. The Colts are in the middle of completely transforming their franchise and won’t field any difference-making players except Freeney and Andrew Luck, who will undoubtedly experience some rookie ups and downs.
Freeney and Mathis remain, but they’re getting up there is age and might not be nearly as effective in the new 3-4 scheme brought over by Pagano. As Bills fans know firsthand, switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 can be a real challenge in the first year. I’m just not sure the Colts have the personnel for it.
On offense, Luck will have Reggie Wayne to throw to, but I look for this to be a very tight-end centric attack. Luck utilized the tight end a lot in college and he’ll now have his old teammate, Coby Fleener, as well as Clemson’s Dwayne Allen. Both young receivers are athletic and have strong hands and Luck figures to be dumping the ball off a lot.
Intriguing Match-up: This game is really all about Andrew Luck. There doesn’t figure to be much competition, but Luck will be more than halfway into his NFL career and may be starting to ease into things. If he can show some of that promise, he might make it closer than we expect.
Outcome: 34-10 Bills
I’ll give Luck a touchdown, probably to a tight-end, but I don’t see the Colts offense doing much else. They don’t have the line to contain a revamped defensive front and they don’t have the receivers to really test a young secondary. On offense, I expect to see a lot of Jackson/Spiller running through gaping holes in a brand-new 3-4 defense.
Week 13 vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Opponent Summary: This could be the third game in a row that the Bills would face a first or second-year quarterback, and Blaine Gabbert is by far the worst of the bunch. He has happy feet in the pocket and doesn’t possess the field recognition skills to really warrant being an NFL starter. Rumors are that Henne is likely to unseat him by the time the season rolls around. While I like Henne, I don’t think he has much other talent to work with here.
The Jaguars added a lot of names at wideout, but none that really inspire much confidence. I was not on the Justin Blackmon bandwagon at the end of last season. I think he’s a talented receiver and has some good skills after the catch, but I don’t think he’s a top tier #1 WR. I think he’s more of an Anquan Boldin-type, and I wouldn’t pick Boldin in the top ten. The Jags also added Laurent Robinson, who has done nothing in his career before one good year in an injury-depleted Dallas WR corps, and Lee Evans, who showed almost no burst last season with the Ravens. This is still a team that will need to rely heavily on Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jaguars are much better on defense. They had the 6th ranked unit last year and were able to re-sign Mincey and draft Andre Branch, who I think can be a real pass-rushing force, although not likely in his first season. Paul Posluszny and Darryl Smith lead a solid linebacking group, but Poz is never a sure bet to play a full season. Where the Jags really like defensive power is in their secondary. Dwight Lowery is very talented, but I’m not sure guys like Aaron Ross, Mike Harris or Morgan Trent will really add much.
Intriguing Match-up: This is going to be the first time Poz has come back to Buffalo since leaving for greener pastures – and I mean that wholly in financial terms. A goold ol’ Polish boy when he was with the Bills, it will be interesting to see how the fans react to Poz. If he’s at the top of his game, he has the ability to really cause some havoc for the Buffalo running game.
Outcome: 23-9 Bills
Believe it or not, I think the Jaguars might have an even worse offense than the Colts by this time next season. The Bills should stack the box with eight players and dare Gabbert or Henne to beat them. It won’t happen. The Bills also won’t light up the Jags defense, but they won’t need much to pull out a win.
Week 14 vs St. Louis Rams
Opponent Summary: The Rams are certainly not as bad as they were last year. Sam Bradford has the tools to be a very solid NFL quarterback, and Steven Jackson still has some tred left in his tires. This will almost certainly be Jackson’s team in 2012, and if the defense can keep opposing teams from lighting up the scoreboard, Jackson can lead them to some hard-fought wins.
The success of the defense will depend largely on their secondary. The Rams were riddled with injuries to cornerbacks last year and really needed to address that this offseason. They paid big money for Cortland Finnegan and, were able to land a solid corner in Janoris Jenkins. Now, Jenkins isn’t the player Claiborne is, but he could have been the second corner on most boards if it weren’t for off-field issues.
The problem is that the Rams added another player, Michael Brockers, will work ethic concerns. This is still a young team that needs to grow and mature. If Jenkins and Brockers don’t prove to be ideal NFL players then it could really turn the locker room sour.
However, I think the Rams biggest problem could still be their receiver corps. They lost Brandon Lloyd to free agency and only got back Brian Quick and Chris Givens. That’s not a lot of help for Sam Bradford, and I still don’t believe he has a true number one wide receiver. The Rams needs to be dedicated to helping Bradford grow and right now they have him saddled with offensive tackles (Smith and Saffold) that have failed to deliver and wider receivers who lack explosive talent. It’s not a good recipe.
Intriguing Match-up: There are not many match-ups in here that really get me excited, but I think Chris Long against the Bills offensive tackles will be a interesting. Long has come into his own a bit of late, tally 8.5 sacks in 2010 and 13 in 2011. His athleticism and motor could be a good test for a young line.
Outcome: Bills 21-13
The Rams secondary is improved,so the Bills won’t be able to pass all over them, but I’m not convinced that the Rams have a defense that can stop Freddy and Spiller. Similarly, I don’t think Bradford has the WRs to scare the Bills secondary, so they can load the box to stop Jackson.
Week 15 vs Seattle Seahawks
Opponent Summary: The Seahawks were a decent team last year, thanks in most part to their 9th ranked defense. Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas proved to be a fairly formidable safety tandem, while KJ Wright and Chris Clemons really emerged as play-makers in the backfield.
The Seahawks hope that they added another playmaker in surprise first-rounder, Bruce Irvin. However, I’m not a believer. Irvin was a great pass rusher in 2010, but really fell off this year when teams made him do more than simply use his speed around the edge. Irvin reminds me a lot of Aaron Maybin, a very athletic and supremely quick edge rusher, who really lacks diversity in his pass rushing moves.
However, the addition that is attracting the most media attention is the signing of Matt Flynn. After filling up stat sheets during intermittent playing time in Green Bay, Flynn will need to prove that he’s not a product of a passer-friendly system. The only hiccup might be that he actually hasn’t been promised the starting job. Conventional wisdom says that they didn’t pay him to sit, but the team appears high on draftee Russell Wilson, and Pete Carroll refuses to give up on Travaris Jackson as a legitimate NFL starter.
Where the Seahawks strength really lies is with their young, constantly improving offensive line. Russell Okung, James Carpenter, and John Moffit are all early round picks that help anchor a line, which also includes Max Unger and Deuce Lutui. Their physicality is tough for many defensive fronts to match and their production really helped Marshawn Lynch to a career year in 2011. If they can all continue to improve, this could be one of the league’s better units.
I know the Seahawks got great production from Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner last year, but I thought that they could have used an upgrade at cornerback. Adding Jeremy Lane was a solid depth move, I think he can be a good sub-package corner, but I’m not convinced they really have a shut down guy.
Intriguing Match-up: Marshawn Lynch versus the Bills front seven. The first time Lynch will play his old team since his trade from Buffalo. It’s interesting to watch, similar to the Jacksonville game, simply to see how the fans react, but what could prove to be a big storyline is the success of the Seahawks offensive line. If they continue to improve, Lynch could have some holes to run through. With his physical running style, it will only take him running over one defender before talk re-emerges about whether or not he should have been traded.
Outcome: 23-14 Bills
Consider me unimpressed with the Seahawks defense. I know they were successful last year, but I just don’t see enough talent on the outside and I think losing David Hawthorne will be a real blow to the linebacking corps. The Seahawks will try to grind the game out, which will limit the Bills offensive possessions, but I think Fitzpatrick and company should find enough success through the air to take this one.
Week 16 @ Miami Dolphins
Opponent Summary: The summary for the Dolphins is listed in full above.
Intriguing Match-up: By this time I fully expect Miami to be out of contention and Ryan Tannehill to be starting under center. With that in mind, this game will be a good chance to check out his progress and prospects for the future. With the Bills fighting for a playoff spot, I can’t see them letting Tannehill beat them, but they’ve traditionally struggled against QBs with athleticism, so it could be interesting.
Outcome: 30-13 Bills
I think there will be too much on the line in this game for the Bills to let their foot off the proverbial gas. Tannehill will make some exciting plays, but he’ll make at least double the mistakes, and the Bills will capitalize. This will get the Bills to 11 wins and hopefully lock up a playoff birth.
Week 17 vs NY Jets
Opponent Summary: It will be interesting to see if the Jets have turned to Tim Tebow by this point in the season. I don’t expect them to be a very successful team, so it’s certainly a possibility. If that’s the case, this will be a run-heavy game.
Santonio Holmes is a dynamic threat at WR, and Stephen Hill will likely have put together some of his immense talent, but Tebow will make little or no use of that. It will be all about him and Shonn Greene.
However, if the Jets are able to control the clock on the ground, it could be a trap game for the Bills who will have a hard time running on a defensive front that includes Coples, Muhammed Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis, Sione Pouha, David Harris, Bart Scott and Demario Davis.
Intriguing Match-up: Tebow, if he starts, will be the focus. Many Bills fans were clamoring for Tebow when the Broncos made him available and if he beats the Bills in the final game of the season, and if that loss keeps them out of the playoffs, it might be a very long offseason.
Outcome: 17-10 Bills
I think this is going to be a ball-control game that the Bills will be able to squeak out. The Jets will not go down without a fight, good season or not, and would love to play spoiler to the Bills.
I understand that predicting a 12-4 season seems a bit crazy, but I certainly think it can be done as long as the Bills don’t lose any games to inferior teams. Since that’s always a hard feat to accomplish, I would say that 10 or 11 wins seems more realistic, but an easy schedule should really help the Bills have a memorable 2012 season.