AFC East: Chan Gailey

A look at what to expect as the Buffalo Bills begin the Doug Marrone era:

[+] EnlargeDoug Marrone
Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SportsQuestions at quarterback could make for a rocky first season in Buffalo for Doug Marrone.
Biggest change to expect: The most significant changes Marrone brings from Syracuse in replacing the fired Chan Gailey are his schemes. Buffalo is a team in major transition in 2013. Marrone is installing a new defense, a new offense and will start a new quarterback. Marrone comes to Buffalo with an offensive pedigree. He runs an up-tempo, K-Gun style that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. However, with questions at quarterback surrounding Kevin Kolb and EJ Manuel, it may not be in Marrone's best interest to speed the game up for four quarters. There will be times when Marrone must adjust and slow the game down in order to hand the ball to his best offensive player: tailback C.J. Spiller. Gailey made the mistake of ignoring Spiller in the past. Marrone would be wise not to make the same error. Defensively, Marrone handed the group over to former New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Buffalo will be very aggressive and blitz-heavy, which is needed after last year's meager performance under former defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt.

What success would look like: This is a grace-period year for Marrone. Expectations are low in Buffalo, and most view the Bills as a third-place team in the AFC East behind the New England Patriots and the up-and-coming Miami Dolphins. Buffalo had playoff aspirations last year after making big-money acquisitions such as Mario Williams. But that quickly blew up in the Bills’ face during a disappointing 6-10 season. Buffalo has the NFL's longest non-playoff streak and has not made the postseason since 1999. If Marrone could win seven or eight games in Year 1, that would be considered a success.

AFC East struggles: One of the biggest issues with Buffalo’s previous regime was the inability to win in the division. The Bills were 4-14 against AFC East competition in the past three seasons under Gailey. Marrone must change that trend for Buffalo to turn things around. Marrone and the Bills can make a statement right away with a home game in Week 1 against AFC East rival New England.

More or fewer wins? The Bills have good talent in certain areas. As long as the quarterback play isn't a complete abomination, Buffalo can win more than six games in 2013. As I mentioned earlier, the Bills on paper look like a seven- or eight-win team. But much of their success will come down to the consistency of Kolb or Manuel at quarterback. They must play well and manage the game on a weekly basis in order for the Bills to be consistent.
Can the Buffalo Bills challenge the New England Patriots in the AFC East? Not this year, according to ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton.

Clayton addressed Buffalo's present and future in his latest mailbag Tuesday when asked if the Bills can make the postseason by winning 9-10 games.

"That’s too much to ask," Clayton responded. "The quarterback position is in transition. The receivers are too raw. The defense is switching back to a 3-4. That could lead to a tough start. As the season goes on, EJ Manuel might take over at quarterback. As long as the team can finish the season respectably, the Bills could start building toward 2014."

Buffalo has talent in several areas, and in some ways the team underachieved during its 6-10 season in 2012. The 2013 Bills have a chance to be a threat if they find a way to put it all together and get quality quarterback play from Manuel or veteran Kevin Kolb.

Improvement in coaching also will have a lot to do with Buffalo's success. Former Bills head coach Chan Gailey and former defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt didn’t do a good job of managing Buffalo’s talent. It’s too early to tell if rookie head coach Doug Marrone will be noticeably better in that area.

AFC East over/under: C.J. Spiller

June, 25, 2013
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With training camp just around the corner, the AFC East blog will provide over/under totals throughout the week for key players in the division. We start on Tuesday with dynamic Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller, who will begin the season as a starter for the first time in his four NFL seasons.

SportsNation

Will Bills RB C.J. Spiller have over/under 1,500 rushing yards?

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The AFC East blog sets Spiller's over/under total for 2013 at 1,500 rushing yards. Can Spiller reach this number with Buffalo this season?

Spiller rushed for 1,244 yards and six touchdowns last year despite inconsistent opportunities under former Bills head coach Chan Gailey. Spiller received just 207 carries and averaged an astounding 6.0 yards per rush.

New Bills head coach Doug Marrone is not expected to make the same mistakes in his first year. Spiller will be the starter and veteran Fred Jackson the No. 2 running back heading into this season. Can Spiller handle the load and become one of the NFL's leading rushers?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on the over/under total of 1,500 rushing yard for Spiller in 2013. You can also share your thoughts in the comments section below.
The rosters are pretty much set for the 2013 season. That means it’s time for some early predictions this week in the division.

SportsNation

Will the Bills go over or under 7 1/2 victories?

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Throughout the week, the AFC East blog will set an over/under for each team. We start Tuesday with the Buffalo Bills and an over/under of 7 victories. We provided the so there would be no ties.

Buffalo entered 2012 with playoff expectations but flopped with another 6-10 season. It resulted in former head coach Chan Gailey getting fired and the hire of rookie head coach Doug Marrone.

Can the Bills win more games than last year under Marrone? Buffalo's roster has talent, but there are still concerns at quarterback. Much of the team's success will hinge on Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson or rookie EJ Manuel stepping up.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on the over/under for Buffalo at 7 wins. You can also share your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each AFC East team look at running back, and what still needs to be done?

Buffalo Bills: The Bills have one of the NFL’s strongest duos in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. They complement each other very well. Spiller is a dynamic home run hitter, while Jackson runs hard between the tackles. Both players are also versatile enough to catch out of the backfield. Former Bills head coach Chan Gailey could never figure out how to effectively use both players. Spiller was mostly underused on Gailey’s watch until the second half of last season. New head coach Doug Marrone is expected to learn from Gailey’s mistakes. Spiller as the primary ball-carrier, with Jackson as the backup, would make a dangerous combination.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have an intriguing situation at running back. After 2012 starter Reggie Bush left Miami for the Detroit Lions in free agency, the Dolphins are left with three relative unknowns at tailback. Second-year player Lamar Miller is the projected starter. He showed tremendous flashes during his rookie season and led Miami backs with 4.9-yards-per-carry average. Miller fits Miami’s West Coast offense well but needs to do a better job in pass protection as an every-down back. Backup Daniel Thomas never lived up to his high draft status but isn’t bad as a second or third option. Thomas will compete with 2013 fifth-round pick Mike Gillislee, who many think is a nice sleeper pickup for the Dolphins. This is an unknown group that could end up better than advertised.

New England Patriots: The Patriots are well-stocked at running back. It starts with starter Stevan Ridley, who led the Patriots with a career-high 1,263 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. Ridley fit in well with New England’s up-tempo, spread offense. Backup Shane Vereen is expected to fill the third-down role vacated by Danny Woodhead, who signed with the San Diego Chargers in free agency. New England also added burly tailback LeGarrette Blount, who can add toughness and help in short-yardage situations. Leon Washington is the fourth running back on the team but is primarily a kick returner. The running game could be even more important in 2013 now that New England had a major makeover at wide receiver and has injury concerns with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

New York Jets: The Jets are in a tough spot at running back. Free-agent signee Mike Goodson was arrested last week and faces drug and weapons charges. He was expected to compete for the starting job in New York, but now his future with the Jets is uncertain. First-year general manager John Idzik is trying to change the culture in New York and could make an example of Goodson for poor off-the-field behavior. That would leave New York with a not-so-impressive trio that includes projected starter Chris Ivory and backups Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight. This is not a trio who will scare an NFL defense. The Jets are in the middle of a long rebuild, and that includes not having many weapons on offense.
We have an interesting topic in this week’s "Poll Friday" blog in the AFC East.

So often we discuss which team will win the AFC East. But which team will finish last in 2013?

SportsNation

Who will finish in last place in the AFC East in 2013?

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Will it be the New York Jets? The Jets are beginning a long and arduous rebuild under first-year general manager John Idzik. New York traded away its best player (Darrelle Revis) and still has many questions at quarterback. Will the Jets finish in last place during a must-win season for head coach Rex Ryan?

Or will the Buffalo Bills finish at the bottom? Buffalo was a major flop last season after signing big-name free agents last year such as defensive end Mario Williams. The Bills fired former head coach Chan Gailey and hired new coach Doug Marrone, as a result. With a new offense, a new defense, a new coach and a new quarterback, are major growing pains ahead for the Bills this season?

Could it be the Miami Dolphins? The Dolphins spent more than $204 million in total contracts and was a major winner in free agency. But spending money doesn’t always equal wins. Are the Dolphins, my sleeper pick for 2013, setting themselves up for a major disappointment and a last-place finish in the AFC East?

You can also vote the New England Patriots to finish last, although I think that would be silly considering their track record and consistency under quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick. Also feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

There are two names that immediately come to mind when I think of Buddy Nix's tenure as Buffalo Bills general manager: Mario Williams and EJ Manuel.

Williams, who signed a $100 million contract in 2012, was by far Nix’s biggest free-agent signing. Manuel, a first-round pick in April's draft, is Nix’s most important draft pick. Until the fates of these two players are determined in Buffalo, it's difficult to fully gauge Nix’s impact in Buffalo.

Nix is stepping down as general manager Monday after three years with the Bills. It is a move that’s been in the works for months as Nix, 73, transitions to a less demanding phase of his career.

The tangible evidence so far doesn't look good for Nix. It's easy to point to Buffalo's 16-32 record during his three-year tenure. You can also look at Nix's failed hire of former Bills head coach Chan Gailey. Those are two clear blemishes on Nix's record in Buffalo.

Manuel and Williams could also be huge blemishes that would make Nix's run as GM in Buffalo a complete disaster. But if Manuel turns out to be a franchise quarterback who turns the Bills into a perennial playoff contender, and Williams plays up to his capabilities for the duration of his contract, Nix’s era in Buffalo will be viewed through a much brighter lens.

Until then, Nix’s three-year legacy with the Bills is still to be determined.

Bills want new WRs with Steve Johnson

February, 24, 2013
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The Buffalo Bills are continuing their makeover in the image of new head coach Doug Marrone.

First, the Bills cut defensive veterans like safety George Wilson,a linebacker Nick Barnett and cornerback Terrence McGee. Now, Buffalo turned its attention to its offense. The Bills will not tender restricted free agent David Nelson a contract this offseason, making Nelson an unrestricted free agent.

Nelson joins Donald Jones as two significant receivers Buffalo will not bring back. When completely healthy, Jones and Nelson were the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers in Buffalo, respectively. But both were fits in former head coach Chan Gailey's offense. It also didn’t help that both receivers have been injured.

Marrone is coming to Buffalo with a different offensive system, and after watching the film of last year, it's clear he wants different receivers to play with Steve Johnson. The Bills have struggled in recent seasons to find someone consistent enough to take the pressure of Johnson, who's had three straight 1,000-yard seasons.

Buffalo, which holds the No. 8 overall pick, has plenty of options in the draft to improve at wide receiver. The group is not top heavy, but there is value for the Bills in the first three rounds. Free agency also is an option.

In other Bills news, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith confirmed on the NFL Network that he’s met with Buffalo at the combine. The Bills have been scouting Smith during the college football season and could be a target if they take a first-round quarterback.

Walker’s Fab 40: Nos. 5-8

February, 1, 2013
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We are getting to the very best players in "Walker’s Fab 40." For the second year in a row, we rank the top 40 players in the AFC East.

Throughout Friday we will complete our rankings. Here are Nos. 5-8:

Pouncey
No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 16 starts

Analysis: In just two years, Pouncey has quickly ascended to becoming one of the top centers in the NFL. Just like his twin brother, Maurkice, Mike has a rare blend of strength and athleticism that’s currently unmatched at the position. He has a mean streak on the field and is one of the few linemen able to effortlessly pull from the center position. Mike was a Pro Bowl snub this season. But his brother did take one of the spots, and it’s difficult to tell at this point which player is better.

Spiller
No. 7: C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills

2012 stats: 1,244 yards and six TDs

Analysis: There may not be a more physically gifted player in the division than Spiller. He goes from zero-to-60 so fast and is a treat to watch in the open field. Spiller finally got enough opportunities to show what he could do in Year 3. And based on what we saw, it’s inexcusable that former Bills coach Chan Gailey kept Spiller under wraps for so long. Still, too many games went by when Spiller had single-digit carries in 2012. New Bills coach Doug Marrone would be wise not to ignore his best player in 2013.

Wilfork
No. 6: Vince Wilfork, DT, New England Patriots

2012 stats: 48 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles

Analysis: The Patriots’ veteran leader continues to plug away with another Pro Bowl season. Wilfork anchored New England’s ninth-ranked run defense with a combination of size, strength and smarts. He also has surprising athleticism for a player his size. Wilfork and quarterback Tom Brady are the final holdovers from New England’s last Super Bowl victory in 2004. Even at age 31, Wilfork is showing no signs of slowing down.

Wake
No. 5: Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins

2012 stats: 53 tackles, 15 sacks, three forced fumbles

Analysis: Wake was dominant for the Dolphins despite facing constant double teams. He produced a career-high 15 sacks and made it to his second Pro Bowl. Wake cashed in with a big contract last year but never let up. If anything it made him work harder to become a better player. Wake particularly improved last season at setting the edge against the run, which contributed to him becoming an all-around player and not just a pass-rushing specialist. Miami’s front seven was a problem for opponents and Wake was a primary reason.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC East:
  • Former St. Louis Rams tailback and Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk says he will never get over being "cheated" out of a Super Bowl by the New England Patriots.
Morning take: It’s been 11 years since that game. New England’s titles still stand after the “Spygate” scandal. So it’s time to move on.
Morning take: Spiller earned it after last season, when he rushed for 1,244 yards -- and could’ve had an even bigger year if former coach Chan Gailey provided more opportunities.
Morning take: No home team has ever played in a Super Bowl. The Jets' chances next season appear very slim. Maybe the Giants will have a shot.
Morning take: The Dolphins can go in a lot of different directions. They are a hard team to read at the moment, because Miami will likely fill a number of voids via free agency. However, wide receiver and corner are big needs.
There are varying opinions on the Buffalo Bills' hiring of former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone.

Skeptics say Marrone was a .500 coach in college and was never a head coach in the NFL. Supporters say Marrone has quality NFL experience as an assistant and is known for turning around struggling teams, which is what the Bills need.

Either way, Marrone's level of success will mostly be determined by his ability to maximize Buffalo's talent. The Bills were a puzzling team of underachievers in 2012, and finding out why should be one of Marrone's first orders of business once he hires a coaching staff.

The Bills were 6-10, but they are certainly not a talentless team. That is why the front office kept its jobs and former Bills head coach Chan Gailey got the ax after the season.

Marrone would be wise to study plenty of last year's tape in order to avoid repeating Gailey's mistakes. For example, Marrone can build his offense around dynamic tailback C.J. Spiller, which Gailey did not. Marrone also must get the most out of $100 million defensive end Mario Williams, which Gailey also failed to do.

The same goes for the quarterback position. I expect the Bills to cut Ryan Fitzpatrick before his $3 million roster bonus is due in March. I don’t see why Marrone would work with such a limited and turnover-prone quarterback in his first year when the Bills can find other options via the draft or free agency.

Marrone will take over a Buffalo team which has talent at many positions. If players such as Williams, Spiller, receiver Steve Johnson, center Eric Wood, rookie corner Stephon Gilmore and defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams play up to their potential in 2013, Marrone could have a successful first year in Buffalo. However, most players in this group either underachieved or weren't consistent -- and the old coaching staff deserved much of the blame.

Bills venture into the unknown

January, 6, 2013
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The Buffalo Bills interviewed high-profile coaching candidates Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt and Chip Kelly. But they settled on a lesser-known commodity Sunday in former Syracuse University coach Doug Marrone.

Is Marrone the right choice for Buffalo? Expect plenty of early skepticism.

SportsNation

Is Doug Marrone the right choice for the Bills?

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Marrone would not have been my first pick from the batch we just mentioned. The Bills haven't been to the playoffs since 1999, the NFL's longest drought. Bills fans are a tortured bunch who need a big name to re-energize the fan base.

The Bills failed to make a splash with Marrone, who was only 25-25 at Syracuse. Based on comments I received this past week, nabbing Kelly would have been more appealing to Bills fans if they wanted a college coach.

However, a low-profile hire doesn't always mean it's a bad hire. It simply means the Bills had better be right. Marrone’s .500 record in college and Buffalo’s poor track record with head coaches makes it a risky choice. The Bills will either look smarter than everyone else or dumber than everyone else in two or three years based on Marrone's performance.

You also knew what Smith and Whisenhunt brought to the table. Both coaches led their former teams to the Super Bowl and multiple playoff appearances. This is what Buffalo is striving for as an organization, and there was comfort in taking the safe pick.

But Buffalo took the retread route twice in the past seven years with Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey. Both choices were disasters. So the Bills deserve some credit for trying something different.

The Bills have a seven-to-10-year stadium lease, a new president in Russ Brandon and Marrone as their next head coach. This is truly a new beginning in Buffalo. Marrone will get the next several years to prove he is the right choice for the Bills.

Buffalo’s next step is to hire the best coordinators and assistant coaches available. Marrone has no NFL head-coaching experience, and that transition will go more smoothly with veteran assistants.

The Bills have quality talent on both sides of the football. Buffalo tailback C.J. Spiller is one of the more dynamic players in the NFL and must be used properly in 2013. Buffalo’s next offensive coordinator must make Spiller the focal point.

The Bills’ defense underachieved this past season but has talented players such as Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Stephon Gilmore. The Bills need a defensive coordinator who can maximize their talent.

Hope and concern: Buffalo Bills

January, 4, 2013
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The Buffalo Bills wrapped up one of their most disappointing seasons in recent memory. Buffalo, which entered 2012 with playoff aspiration, finished 6-10. Head coach Chan Gailey was fired on Monday, as a result.

But it's time to look forward in Buffalo. Here are reasons to be hopeful and concerned about the Bills this offseason.

Reason to be hopeful: A new beginning

The Bills have a new stadium lease, a new president in Russ Brandon and will soon have a new head coach. The Bills appear to be getting stronger as an organization in 2013. The decision at head coach will be huge. But whoever the new coach is, he cannot be worse than Gailey was this year. If the new coach can improve an anemic defense and simply hand the ball to dynamic tailback C.J. Spiller enough, that would be an upgrade. The Bills have talent at various positions to succeed. They just need the right coach to maximize it.

Reason to be concerned: Uncertain quarterback

Who is Buffalo’s quarterback in 2012? Not even the Bills know. What we do know is Buffalo cannot win with Ryan Fitzpatrick. He is too inconsistent and is 23-40 as a starter. The Bills owe Fitzpatrick a total of $7.75 million in 2013, but none of it is guaranteed. Buffalo can cut Fitzpatrick before his $3 million roster bonus is due in March. But that leaves a huge void at the most important position. The Bills could explore the free-agent market for a quarterback like Alex Smith. Or Buffalo can look to the draft for a rookie. But this year's quarterback class is not nearly as strong as last year.

For more, check out our "Hope and Concern" series this week on the Dolphins and the Jets.
The Buffalo Bills are scheduled to interview University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly in Arizona on Friday. Kelly is arguably the hottest prospect on the NFL coaching circuit. He's also reportedly at the top of the list for the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles.

The Browns and Eagles have deep-pocket owners who aren't afraid to get into a bidding war to land their coach. But here's the big question: Are the Bills willing to join that bidding war and pay top dollar for Kelly?

I don't see Buffalo overpaying to land Kelly, or any coach. That's especially the case this year since former Bills head coach Chan Gailey is still on the books for 2013. The Bills essentially will be paying two head-coaching salaries in 2013. One will not be working for that salary, and Kelly would command a high amount to leave his cushy job at Oregon.

Kelly's stock is high enough where he could become one of the NFL's top-paid coaches, despite lacking NFL experience. Kelly's high-speed, up-tempo offense has revolutionized the college game. Kelly also worked with the New England Patriots last offseason to speed up their offense, and New England led the NFL in total yards and scoring.

Kelly might fit a lot of things the Bills are looking for. But once Buffalo hears Kelly's asking price, I expect the Bills to back away. Buffalo has plenty of other candidates and could be willing to let the Browns and Eagles duke it out and offer more and more money to convince Kelly to leave Oregon.
The Buffalo Bills are interested in former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and the feeling is mutual. Both sides reportedly will meet this weekend, as Smith will become the most accomplished NFL coach on Buffalo's interview list so far.

Smith
Whether Smith is at the top of Buffalo's wish list remains to be seen. But for Bills fans, the idea of hiring Smith may open up old wounds left by previous head coaches Chan Gailey and Dick Jauron.

Buffalo's last two coaches were NFL "retreads" -- coaches who were fired by one NFL team but given a second chance in Buffalo. Gailey's failed stint with the Dallas Cowboys and Jauron's failed stint with Chicago were warning signs that neither was a good head coach. The Bills took that chance anyway and ruined the past seven seasons for the franchise.

Smith now has that infamous "retread" label after getting fired this week by Chicago. But if you look more deeply at the numbers, Smith is as intriguing a candidate as he is polarizing.

There are plenty of reasons to believe in Smith, such as his 81-63 record, his 6-3 mark in the playoffs, and one Super Bowl appearance. There also are reasons not to believe in Smith, such as his six non-playoff seasons in nine years and his consistently horrendous offenses in Chicago.

How polarizing was Smith in Chicago? Look no further than the fact that he was just fired after a 10-6 season. That rarely happens. But the spectrum of opinions was so wide with Smith that the Bears decided it was best to start over.

There are good NFL retreads and bad NFL retreads. The Bills had a pair of misses recently with Gailey and Jauron. But if Buffalo goes the same retread route this year with a coach like Smith or former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Bills better get this call correct.

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