When an NFL team has a quarterback battle entering training camp, it might make betting more interesting. Who will get the call Week 1 for Buffalo against visiting Indianapolis?
Bills Have Talent Everywhere But QB
Buffalo has the longest playoff drought in the NFL, last playing extra football in the 1999 season. The team's primary starting quarterback that season? Doug Flutie. Great college QB and a Heisman winner but a forgettable NFL signal-caller. But it proves you can make the playoffs even without a stellar quarterback under center.
That's going to have to be the case this season. The Bills have one of the NFL's best defenses. It ranked No. 4 overall in yards allowed last season and fourth in points at 18.1 per game. The coordinator of that unit, the highly respected Jim Schwartz (at least as a coordinator, not from his head coaching gig at Detroit), was let go after the team hired Rex Ryan as head coach when Doug Marrone opted out of his contract. But Ryan is also a defensive guru and his Jets teams were always formidable on that side of the ball. The team replaced Schwartz with Dennis Thurman, who was Ryan's defensive coordinator in New York. Thurman’s and Ryan's 2014 Jets defense limited opponents to the fifth-fewest rushing yards per game (93.1) and finished sixth in the NFL in total defense (327.2 total yards per game). So that side of the ball is in great shape.
We could see an interesting face on the defense: new addition wide receiver Percy Harvin. Ryan said Friday at training camp that Harvin has requested the opportunity to try his hand at cornerback. Ryan said he would let him line up there from "time to time" in camp. Maybe he could be something like an emergency corner in the regular season. Harvin is currently projected as the No. 3 receiver behind Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods.
The offense won't revolve around the quarterback but be more like Seattle's in that the running back will be the focus. And in Buffalo that's LeSean McCoy, who was acquired via trade this offseason from Philadelphia for linebacker Kiko Alonso -- that shouldn't harm the Buffalo defense because while Alonso was great as a rookie in 2013, he didn't play at all last year due to injury. Ryan is a pretty conservative guy and likes to pound the ball and wear teams down old school. The NFL's leading rusher in 2013, McCoy has made the Pro Bowl three times, including in the last two seasons. Ryan says he wants McCoy to get at least 300 carries. The Bills last season ran the ball 25.1 times per game -- 4.5 fewer than the Eagles, with whom McCoy had 312 carries for 1,319 yards and five touchdowns. Buffalo also still has the very capable Fred Jackson at tailback as great No. 2 option.
Must Read: Ranking the Best Five Backup Quarterbacks
Cassel Vs. Manuel ... Or Taylor
5Dimes lists Buffalo's Week 1 starter against the Colts as E.J. Manuel at +115 and any other player at -155. Most experts were scratching their heads when the Bills took Manuel with the No. 16 overall pick in 2013 as the former Florida State star wasn't projected as a Day 1 selection. He was OK in 10 games as a rookie but benched after a 23-17 loss in Houston in Week 4 last season when Manuel threw two picks, including one returned 80 yards for a score by Texans superstar J.J. Watt. Buffalo turned to Kyle Orton, whom it had signed off the scrap heap. Orton was what he always had been: good in some games, bad in others. He has retired.
So the Bills traded for another journeyman backup this offseason to replace Orton in Matt Cassel from the Vikings. That deal came one day after the Alonso-McCoy trade. Cassel started three games for the Vikings in 2014 before suffering an injury and losing his job to rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Cassel completed 57.7 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and four interceptions for a terrible 65.8 quarterback rating. Cassel won 10 games as a starter with the Patriots in 2008, taking over when Tom Brady was hurt in Week 1. Since then, Cassel has won a total of 23 starts over six seasons. His 57.8 completion percentage since 2009 is 27th in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks.
Take this for what you will, but Cassel took the majority of first-team reps when the Bills opened camp on Friday. Tyrod Taylor was second and Manuel No. 3. Taylor has never started an NFL game but it appears he's ahead of Manuel. The 2011 sixth-round pick served as Joe Flacco's backup for the Ravens the past four seasons.
NFL Free Pick: Take the any other quarterback for this NFL pick. Shoot, back in mid-May there was a report that Manuel might not even make the roster. I find that hard to believe as Manuel’s contract is fully guaranteed so Bills have to pay him the $2.8 million they still owe him for the next two years whether he’s on the team or not. Whichever QB it is, Ryan just wants him to hand the ball off and not turn it over.