January 8th, 2000. That is the last time the Buffalo Bills took to the field for a postseason NFL game.
Since that fateful day that Rob Johnson and company lost to Tennessee via the Music City Miracle, the Bills have been in a constant state of flux, drafting, signing, and releasing quarterbacks; ad nauseum has been Buffalo's hallmark of the 21st Century.
Coming into 2013 the story is no different. Gone is quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, whom the franchise signed to a six-year, $59M contract extension in October of 2011.
Released this past offseason, the franchise brought in veteran free agents Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb to keep the seat warm until they could draft a future franchise quarterback.
The Bills hope to have addressed that need by selecting (and perhaps over-reaching), Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel with the 16th overall pick.
Manuel is currently listed at No. 2 on the Bills' depth chart following the release of Jackson earlier this month (not too shabby on his part as Jackson picked up $500k just for signing a contract with the team and never actually playing), and the season may just rest on the ability of the young signal caller, given Kolb's inability to maintain his role as a starter at any of his previous NFL stops.
There is talent on the Bills' offense with Fred Jackson and the versatile C.J. Spiller in the backfield, and while Steve Johnson is a candidate to be a true No. 1 wide receiver, the lack of a clear second option in the passing game following the departure of Donald Jones to division New England it remains a point of concern on offense.
The defense looks to be the strength of the team heading into 2013, as Mario and Kyle Williams will look to lead a potent pass rush that has been strengthened by the addition of free agent OLB Manny Lawson. Whether or not they have enough offense to keep up with the Patriots and Broncos in the AFC will determine the Bills' successes and failures in 2013.
So what does the year have in store for Buffalo?
9/8 New England (L)
9/15 Carolina Panthers (L)
9/22 @ New York Jets (W)
9/29 Baltimore Ravens (L)
The good news for Buffalo in the early part of the season is they have a number of games at home. The bad news for Buffalo is who they are hosting.
Ten years and one day after the Bills trounced the Patriots 31-0 to open the 2003 season, the two teams will renew their rivalry in the season opener. Buffalo has beaten New England just ONCE since that game (9/25/11 in Buffalo), and I believe that trend will continue here.
Following New England, Cam Newton and the Panthers will come to town and hand Buffalo their second straight loss.
Week 3 sends the Bills on the road to face the Jets, and this is the one game I think that Doug Marrone and company will triumph in during September. The Bills will face a 1-2 Baltimore team that is eager to show they can live up to their billing as defending champions.
10/3 @ Cleveland Browns (L)
10/13 Cincinnati Bengals (L)
10/20 @ Miami Dolphins (L)
10/27 @ New Orleans Saints(L)
October will be the toughest stretch for Buffalo, as they struggle through quarterback controversy before rolling with Manuel against Miami, and though the rookie quarterback will improve as the season goes on, he will show that there is still a lot of development needed to be successful in the NFL. Playing three of four on the road may also take its toll on the team.
11/3 Kansas City Chiefs (W)
11/10 @ Pittsburgh Steelers (L)
11/17 New York Jets (L)
November is a short month for the Bills, and one that starts off nicely as the team returns home from a trouncing in New Orleans to defeat the Chiefs and improve the teams record to 2-7.
Before they can turn the corner however, a surging Steelers team (winners of four straight entering the game) will continue to roll, and the Jets will avenge their Week 3 loss at home by repaying Buffalo in kind.
12/1 Atlanta Falcons (in Toronto) (L)
12/8 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (L)
12/15 @ Jacksonville Jaguars (W)
12/22 Miami Dolphins (W)
12/29 @ New England Patriots (L)
December will be a busy month for the Bills as they play five games in 28 days, and only one being a true home game. Atlanta will have no trouble handling Buffalo and the Buccaneers will follow suit as they run rampant over the Bills.
Two of the Bills' three Florida opponents will have positive outcomes however, as Buffalo will beat Jacksonville on the road, followed by a cold weather drubbing of the Dolphins to close out the Buffalo home slate.
The season will end as it began with a loss at the hands of New England, but the 4-12 Bills will have signs of promise going into 2014 with the improved play of EJ Manuel, as well as the emergence of Robert Woods as Manuel's go-to receiver.