EJ Manuel launches his NFL career Sunday.

Operative word for Bills' opener: possibilities

Like many of you, I miss the feeling of nervousness before important Bills games. Way back when the team was good -- you know, last century -- I'd get to a point on a Sunday morning where the upcoming Bills game would just own me. I was possessed by it. What if we lose? What if we win?

It's been a long time. Rare has been the game in the last 13 years that has carried real meaning. We've had our successes, like the 2011 win over the Patriots. But these aren't important wins. They're more like college upsets, where a national power has a bad day and little ol' Plucky State makes history.

It carries extra weight to win a game like that on the road. While many fans hold up The Comeback as their personal Bills highlight, I like thinking about the win two weeks later in Miami even more. Beating a good team on the road, with high stakes. Watching their fans mope and complain. It's been more than 20 years and the Dolphins haven't come that close again to the Super Bowl. As a Bills fan, I love that.

An argument can be made -- and I have made it -- that the Bills do not have a single quality road win since. Two decades. A win that mattered. A win that really moved the NFL meter.

(The Bills won in Dallas the next year, gaining some small measure of revenge for the Super Bowl loss in Pasadena. However, like every other Bills road win since, there's a "but" attached to its meaning. In that case it was Emmitt Smith's holdout.)

Of course Sunday's season opener is a home game, and the Bills take the familiar position of underdog. It's 10 years and counting since they've been favored to beat New England, and in that case -- the 2003 opener -- they were favored by one point. For this game they're about a 10-point dog.

I won't be nervous for this game -- you know, the kind of nervous that fans get. They're expected to lose, and if they get taken apart by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, well, it wouldn't be the first time. I won't be nervous, but I won't either be indifferent, which is how too many of these losses through the years have made me feel.

Sunday's game, and this season, are about possibilities.

The possibility that the Bills have in EJ Manuel a young, competent quarterback that can really take them somewhere, a star to call their own.

The possibility that starting with Manuel, C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson the Bills have enough talent on offense to win, and the possibility that young Nathaniel Hackett knows how to keep the offense on the road while putting the pedal on the floor.

The possibility that experienced new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine knows how to put talent in the right place and can turn his band of highly touted individuals into a respectable defense, if not a downright good one.

The possibility that Doug Marrone doesn't wimp out on game-day decisions, or drive us crazy with twisted, illogical coach-speak.

The possibility that over time Doug Whaley can swing a trade or two that can heave higher a team on the rise.

The possibility that Russ Brandon can keep good people here and bring others in.

The Bills have very little to lose Sunday. A win would be almost shocking, and would set our imaginations racing for the season and beyond. If they were to lose decisively, well, that's merely a starting point. Maybe the worst-case scenario is a close game that gets away through something self-inflicted, like a few recent Foxboro setbacks. But even then, losing like that is what young teams tend to do.

Sunday's game is one to kick back and enjoy. It won't be a day for getting nervous. But maybe this game will tell us that those days will soon be back.