Heading into the 2012 season, the Buffalo Bills were being picked by many as a surprise playoff team. Their offense seemed to have big play potential with the likes of Stevie Johnson at wide receiver, and Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller at running back. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bills looked to sure things up with the signing of former #1 overall pick Mario Williams at defensive end.
But things did not work out as planned for the Bills as they finished with a record of 6-10 which resulted in the firing of head coach Chan Gailey and the release of starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. In their places, the Bills hired Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone to the same position, signed ex-Eagle and Cardinal quarterback Kevin Kolb and used their first round draft pick on Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel. With a new coach and new quarterbacks, there is not as much optimism heading into 2013 as there was this time last year in western New York. But before we bury the Bills, let's take a look at how the schedule will play out for the upcoming season:
Game 1: September 8th vs. New England
It's opening day in Buffalo and the Bills are taking on a team that has dominated them in recent years, the New England Patriots. The good news for the Bills is that the Patriots offense is still trying to figure things out. Coupled with a raucous crowd and a solid running attack, the Bills pull off the opening day upset.
Bills 28, Patriots 21
Game 2: September 15th vs. Carolina
The Bills look to build off of their huge opening week win, but find that Cam Newton and company are too tough to handle. The Bills defense just can't stop the read-option so they commit to stopping the run only to have Newton put the final nail in the coffin with a deep touchdown completion to Steve Smith.
Panthers 31, Bills 17
Game 3: September 22nd at New York Jets
After being lit up by Cam Newton and the Panthers, the Bills defense finds the remedy it needs in the New York Jets. Led by rookie Geno Smith, the Jets offense sputters for most of the day. Meanwhile, Kevin Kolb does a good job taking care of the ball and the tandem of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson is too much to handle for a tired Jets defense.
Bills 24, Jets 10
Game 4: September 29th vs. Baltimore
After another divisional win, the Bills return home to face the defending champs, the Baltimore Ravens. After a solid first quarter, the Bills defense once again cannot find consistency as Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith have their way. The Bills offense makes a comeback, but ultimately cannot make enough plays as Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Haloti Ngata dominate the Bills' offensive line
Ravens 31, Bills 21
Game 5: October 3rd at Cleveland
The Bills look to rebound after another home loss as they travel to Cleveland on a short week. Trent Richardson gives the Bills all they can handle in the first half, but the Bills defense wakes up in the second half. The Bills offense gets some big plays out of C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson, putting the Browns in catch-up mode, thus taking Richardson out of the game.
Bills 27, Browns 17
Game 6: October 13th vs. Cincinnati
Off to a 3-2 start, Bills fans are feeling good about their team and the Bills feed off the enthusiasm as they have a quick start. But it doesn't last long as the Bengals' defensive line dominates, forcing the Bills into obvious passing situations. A.J. Green has a field day on a tired Bills defense and the Bills cannot catch up.
Bengals 35, Bills 17
Game 7: October 20th at Miami:
The Bills make their annual trip to Miami where they face an improving Ryan Tannehill and Miami Dolphins team. This game goes back and forth all the way to the fourth quarter. Kevin Kolb gets the ball with 2 minutes left, down by 3, but Cameron Wake has a huge sack. The Bills face a fourth down but must go for it as they are out of field goal range. Kolb throws for Stevie Johnson, but the pass is incomplete as Johnson is double-teamed.
Dolphins 20, Bills 17
Game 8: October 27th at New Orleans
Doug Marrone thinks about starting first round pick E.J. Manuel, but not wanting the rookie's first start to be at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, he decides to stick with Kolb. The Bills keep things close in the first half, but the Saints offense is just too tough at home. E.J. Manuel makes his first appearance during "garbage time."
Saints 45, Bills 23
Game 9: November 3rd vs. Kansas City
E.J. Manuel makes his first start for the Bills and the home crowd is anxious to see how the first round pick performs. After a shaky start, Manuel finds his grove and Marrone calls a great mix of runs and passes. Mario Williams has a great game and gets to Alex Smith repeatedly, eventually forcing a fumble. The Bills recover and Manuel shows off his strength and speed by running for the clinching touchdown.
Bills 24, Chiefs 14
Game 10: November 10th at Pittsburgh
E.J. Manuel comes crashing to Earth, finding out that the NFL is tough on rookie quarterbacks. The Steelers defense is stingy and the Bills defense just cannot stop Ben Roethlisberger and the passing attack. Kolb comes in for mop-up duty.
Steelers 31, Bills 13
Game 11: November 17th vs. New York Jets
It's rookie vs. rookie as Geno Smith and the struggling Jets visit western New York. E.J. Manuel bounces back with the help of C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson. The defense picks it up as they prey on the offensively-challenged Jets offense. It's always nice to beat the Jets!
Bills 23, Jets 7
Game 12: December 1st vs. Atlanta
The Falcons are vying for the #1 seed in the NFC and they don't fall into the "trap game" here. The weather is now starting to turn so the Falcons rely on Steven Jackson to carry the load. Having seen Cam Newton and Russell Wilson in recent weeks, the Falcons defense is not fooled by E.J. Manuel and the Bills' version of the read-option. Weather keeps the score low, but the outcome is never really in doubt.
Falcons 21, Bills 10
Game 13: December 8th at Tampa Bay
This game is virtually meaningless as neither team will reach the postseason, but the Bills are motivated to finish the year strong. E.J. Manuel feels at home in Florida and has his best game as a pro. The Bucs match them score-for-score but the Bills running game is too much for the Bucs in the end.
Bills 35, Buccaneers 27
Game 14: December 15th at Jacksonville
E.J. Manuel enjoys another game in Florida, especially against one of the league's worst teams. The Jaguars are playing out the string and the Bills want to continue things heading in the right direction. Maybe one of the year's more boring games, but not if you root for the Bills.
Bills 31, Jaguars 14
Game 15: December 22nd vs. Miami
It's a cold day in Buffalo and the visitors from Miami are not enjoying their trip north. E.J. Manuel and the Bills offense is feeling good and their confidence continues as they run the ball all over the Dolphins' defense. The Dolphins' comeback bid falls short as the Bills hold on for another divisional win.
Bills 20, Dolphins 14
Game 16: December 29th at New England
The Patriots have wrapped up the division, and they want to head into the playoffs on a high note. They also remember their opening week loss to the Bills and have some payback in mind. E.J. Manuel plays well, but ultimately, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are just too much for the Bills.
Patriots 38, Bills 21
The Bills finish the season a respectable 8-8. With rookie head coach Doug Marrone and rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel, Bills fans have high hopes for the future of this duo.