In the NFL, the old saying goes that offense wins games but defense wins championships. That moniker was proven true last year when the Seattle Seahawks‘ dominant defense stifled the Denver Broncos‘ record-setting offense in Super Bowl XLVIII. While the Buffalo Bills are certainly not in the class of those two teams, they have playoff aspirations themselves this year, and the only way they can achieve them is if their offense improves dramatically from 2013.
The Bills had a playoff-caliber defense last season, as they finished second in the league in both sacks (57) and interceptions (23). Even with the loss of Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, the Bills still boast talent at all three levels of the defense: Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kiko Alonso and Leodis McKelvin are all coming off of strong seasons. Buffalo should once again boast one of the league’s best defenses.
The majority of the Bills’ struggles emanated from their offense and the lack of consistency they suffered from in 2013. The biggest and most important factor in the improvement of the offense will be the play of second-year quarterback EJ Manuel. Manuel showed promise in limited action last year, but also made his fair share of rookie mistakes. The Bills also suffered from poor play on the offensive line, and made a point of addressing that unit this offseason.
Manuel will have no shortage of weapons this season. He has one of the league’s best running back duos behind him in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. It has been a struggle to have both players healthy at the same time, but when they are, they are able to alleviate a great deal of the pressure placed on Manuel. Buffalo also possesses one of the best corps of receivers they’ve had in quite some time. First-round pick Sammy Watkins joins the likes of Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin and Scott Chandler, and free agent acquisition Mike Williams could be a wild card this season.
The Bills have to believe that if their defense plays as well as they did last season, they will have a chance to win every week. Of course, this belief was just as true in 2013. The reason the Bills finished with a lowly 6-10 record was because their offense consistently let them down in key moments late in games. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that Buffalo was never able to find consistency at the quarterback position. But even so, the Bills constantly shot themselves in the foot when it mattered most — see Stevie Johnson’s late fumble against the Atlanta Falcons or Jeff Tuel’s pick-six against the Kansas City Chiefs that stalled what would have been a massive upset. In 2014, it won’t be about putting up huge point totals: it will be about making sure that when the chips are down, the players are able to avoid the mental mistakes that separate mediocre teams from playoff teams.