Last week we posted a web poll at WGR550.com in regards to the Bills over/under for the 2013 season which was set at 6.5 wins. The poll question was "would you bet the over or under"?
I chose the under and fully anticipated a decisive majority would agree with me. Much to my surprise, 60% of the respondents said they would bet the over. Of course, its one thing to make a choice in a web poll and another if you actually had to put money down on the bet.
There are far too many questions, with both the coaching staff and the roster, for me to think the Bills would reach at least the seven win mark this coming season.
Even if you are a fan of the Doug Marrone hiring, he is about to embark on his first NFL head coaching job. Marrone is not new to the league since he was an assistant with the New York Jets and the New Orleans Saints but its one thing to be an assistant and another to be the guy in charge. Unknowns include whether or not his vision for the Bills offense and defense will work, how the coaching staff will turn out and how Marrone fares when it comes to in game decision making.
I like what I hear about Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and the plans for an up tempo offense but, as Marrone is a first time head coach at the NFL level, Hackett is a first time coordinator in the pros. It appears the Bills have assembled some solid weapons on the offensive side of the ball but it remains to be seen how the 33 year old Hackett will make it all work.
It also remains to be seen who the starting quarterback will be. I don't think Tarvaris Jackson or Kevin Kolb is an upgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick and if EJ Manuel wins the job(I hope), there might be some growing pains. Of course, recent history has shown rookie quarterbacks can win and lead their teams to the playoffs.
But in the Bills case, I think there are way too many "what ifs" in addition to the quarterback position.
On the offensive line, even though the Bills were correct in not giving Andy Levitre $8 million a year, there is a huge hole at left guard. The right tackle spot is a bit of a question as well since Erik Pears game went backwards last season, although that might have been due to injuries. Chris Hairston stepped in but was inconsistent.
Whether or not Scott Chandler will be healthy for the start of the season is a big question but the Bills seem to have gotten good news on that front as Chandler is working out on his own at OTA's and says he is ahead of schedule in his comeback from a torn ACL last December.
Speaking of pass catchers, there are nothing but questions after Stevie Johnson on the depth chart. On paper there appears to be a good deal of talent with the likes of Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Da'Rick Rogers and TJ Graham but that group is made up of three rookies and a second year player who didn't contribute much as a rookie.
If the Bills are to get to at least the seven win mark, the defense will have to be much better than it was. Its possible if you believe the problem the last three years was all about coaching and not about the players on the field. George Edwards and Dave Wannstedt oversaw some of the worst defenses, from a statistical standpoint, in Bills history.
As opposed to the young offensive coordinator, the Bills have an experienced defensive coordinator in Mike Pettine. Even the most pessimistic Bills fan would likely agree that Pettine has to be better than the previous two men who had the job.
As is the case with Hackett's plans on offense, I like what I hear from Pettine about the aggressiveness and flexibility of the defense. Again, there are questions at various positions since I don't believe the issues were solely with coaching the last few years. Where will a consistent pass rush come from? Mario Williams had 10.5 sacks last season but wasn't very effective over the first half of 2012, which may have been due to a wrist injury.
Mark Anderson was the Bills second big pickup in free agency last year, played five games, with little effectiveness, and then missed the remainder of the season with a knee injury from which he has yet to fully recover.
I thought Marcell Dareus was poised to have a breakout year in 2012 but that never materialized and he was a non factor on too many occasions. His mind may have been elsewhere as he dealt with the tragic shooting death of his brother.
The Bills have re-made their linebacking corps which is a good thing since that unit made very few game changing plays last season. It seems they are counting quite a bit on second pro Nigel Bradham and rookie Kiko Alonso.
The best player on the defense and the most consistent play maker, might not even be around at training camp or even the start of the regular season. Jairus Byrd has yet to sign his franchise tender and the two sides have been unable to agree on a multi year contract.
Cornerback has the potential to be a train wreck. I'm expecting Stephon Gilmore to take another step on the way to being a shut down corner but its not like that is a given and Gilmore is the best corner the Bills have. After him there are nothing but questions starting with Leodis Mckelvin who might be the most frustrating Bills cornerback I have ever watched. He has speed and ability but when it comes to ball skills, Mckelvin comes up too short, too often.
I like what I saw from Ron Brooks last season but he's only a second year pro, coming off less than a full season due to injury.
Finally, there's the schedule. I think 3-3 in the division is the best the Bills can do. I think they'll lose both games to New England but should be able to sweep the Jets(who might be the worst team in the league) and split with the Dolphins. Its entirely possible the Bills lose both games to Miami if Ryan Tannehill continues to develop and the big free agent pickups pay off.
That leaves four more wins to get to seven and the over. I don't see the Bills beating Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Atlanta or Baltimore which means four wins will have to come from this group: Carolina, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Jacksonville. It doesn't seem like a Herculean task but the questions up and down the roster and the unknown that is the new coaching staff have me convinced the under is the way to go.