Monday Bills Musings: What If Edition

It's hard to complain about the Buffalo Bills having a 9-7 record. It's the first time they've had a winning record since 2004. That said, a few "what if" scenarios should leave Bills fans thinking what could have been.

What If?

A 17-9 victory over the New England Patriots ended the Buffalo Bills 2014 season. The win moved the Bills to 9-7 on the season, their first winning season since 2004. It’s certainly a good building block for the team but the winning record leaves many fans wondering “What if?”

What if:

-E.J. Manuel doesn’t throw a pick-six interception right to J.J. Watt?

-Bryce Brown doesn’t fumble on his way into the end zone against the Chiefs?

-What if Buffalo went for the first down with eight plus minutes remaining near midfield against the Raiders?

These are just a few scenarios that are especially painful for Bills fans. The Texans offense struggled tremendously against the Bills, yet EJ Manuel’s interception changed the game. It was most certainly a game Buffalo should have won.

The same can be said about the Chiefs game. Buffalo was the better team on the field for the majority of the game but Brown’s fumble took all momentum away from the Bills. A few other gaffes afterwards finished the Bills off against Kansas City.

Against Oakland, Buffalo was outplayed. That said, they had an opportunity to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Instead of going for the first down and trying to take the lead, Doug Marrone opted to punt. It led to a Raiders touchdown that put the game away.

The Bills were a few “what ifs” away from their first trip to the playoffs since 1999. Next year, playoffs are a must.

Bills Hold the 50th Overall Pick

Buffalo doesn’t have a first round pick in the 2015 NFL draft after trading for Sammy Watkins. The trade was certainly worth it as Watkins finished his rookie season with 982 yards and played a big part in Buffalo’s 9-7 finish. The successful season means that Buffalo, minus a trade, will have to see 49 players come off the board before getting on the clock in the draft. While it’s far too soon to peg specific players, Buffalo could look to upgrade quite a few positions. Some likely positions the team could focus upon include: RB, TE, OL.

Buffalo will have Fred Jackson, Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown back in 2015 but none are guys who would be considered No. 1 backs. Jackson’s days are numbered and Dixon/Brown haven’t shown that they’re No. 1 guys. In the second round of the draft, players like Todd Gurley and Duke Johnson could be intriguing. Tight end is another spot the team could explore, but Scott Chandler, MarQueis Gray and Chris Gragg are all under contract to return in 2015. The team knows what they have in Chandler and have used Gray quite a bit since joining the team. Gragg also brings strong blocking and athleticism to the position. Buffalo may be content with these three, but you never know how a draft board will fall for a team. There aren’t any first round tight end prospects in this year’s class but a few could go off the board in the second round. Last, offensive line needs to be improved. This is the one spot the Bills should address in free agency. Getting a proven guard would go a long way to improving their line. Then, the team could let Kraig Urbik, Cyril Richardson and Cyrus Kouandjio battle for the other guard spot. Buffalo drafted three linemen in 2014, so it may be unlikely for them to take another with their first pick in 2015.

Maybe a defensive prospect will fall into Buffalo’s lap that is too good to pass on. However, anyone that saw the Bills play knows that the offense is what’s holding the team back. This offseason, the offense needs to be addressed in free agency and the draft.

Random Musings

 -Brandon Spikes said that this season was the most enjoyable time of his career. It’ll be the first season that Spikes won’t be on a team in the playoffs, but it says a lot about the team. It’d be nice to see Spikes re-sign with the team in free agency, but he may have trouble finding playing time with Nigel Bradham, Preston Brown and Kiko Alonso on the field in 2015.  

-Quarterback quickly became a pressing need on Monday after Kyle Orton announced his retirement. He wasn’t an ideal choice, but there’s plenty of uncertainty with EJ Manuel and Jeff Tuel as the only quarterbacks on the roster.

-Sammy Watkins may be encouraged by the Orton news. He believes he could have had 1,200-1,300 receiving yards based on watching film. That’s a clear message that he believes he and the other wide receivers aren’t getting the ball enough. It’s hard to argue that when you see Odell Beckham Jr. getting 21 targets on Sunday.

-Orton’s retirement should make the Bills focus on improving their run game. There’s certainly money for them to spend in free agency on improving their offensive line. A strong offensive line will go a long way next year.

-The Orton news certainly caught everyone off guard, but now the focus on the Bills should be on if any coaches are let go. Nathaniel Hackett is one coach that many fans want to see out. There’s talent on the offense and there’s no doubt that the unit struggled this season. A new coach calling plays could go a really long way.

-If Hackett is retained, Marrone could use special teams as his defense. Last season, Bills fans wanted Danny Crossman, the special teams coach fired. Marrone went to bat for Crossman and said it was a talent issue. This season, the unit was much improved and Marrone looked intelligent in his decision.

-Jerry Hughes is a player I’d love to see return to the Bills, but he may be too expensive and the team may need to spend that money elsewhere. Getting Marcell Dareus extended long term should be one goal this offseason and the line should be another. The Bills have money to spend, but it’s important that it’s spent wisely with the team on the cusp of being a playoff team. 

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