The Past: Talk about uncommon opponent; does anyone remember the last time the Packers played the Bills? If you answered 2010, you either remember that the Packers played the Patriots (and therefore the AFC North and the Bills by extension) or you are just plain lying. To recap, Trent Edwards was the quarterback and he spent a lot of time on the ground due to Clay Matthews, who basically put himself on the map with 3 sacks in that game alone. The offense, not to be outdone, scored two touchdowns, to through the air and one apiece on the ground by Brandon Jackson and a “discount double check” 9-yard TD run by Aaron Rodgers. Add to that two interceptions by Brandon Chillar and Morgan Burnett (yes the same one that hadn’t seen in over a year until last week) and the Packers stout defense holding the Bills to a net of 0 offensive yards in the first quarter allowed the Packers to easily steamroll the Bills 34-7
The Present: Defense is the name of the game for the Buffalo Bills and will offer a pretty decent litmus test for the Packers, who will face the Detroit Lions in the last game of the regular season. The Bills defense is built very similar schematically to the Lions; both feature fearsome defensive lines that can get to the quarterback without much help; while the Lions are best in the league at stopping the run (which is bearable for the Packers), the Bills are best in the league at stopping the pass, in particular getting to the quarterback. Aaron Rodgers commented on his weekly radio show that a couple teams have not rushed him to get sacks but to contain him inside the pocket, where he is slightly less dangerous; the Bills will likely do no such thing and the offensive line, who has looked near perfect in recent weeks is up for a challenge. Rodgers also might be without the services of Eddie Lacy, who suffered a hip injury against the Falcons, which would leave James Starks and DuJuan Harris to carry the brunt of the load. However, if the Packers can figure out how to beat the Bills defense, they stand a great chance to do the same against the Lions.
On offense, it’s a completely different story; while the Lions are average offense with a couple of weapons, the Bills are near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to scoring points. While the Packers defense was exposed by Julio Jones, Sammy Watkins is nowhere near the level of Jones and more importantly, Kyle Orton has proven himself to be no Matt Ryan. The Bills are not particularly good at either running of throwing the ball, but do tend to go for volume on passing plays, preferring to dink and dunk their way down the field (Orton throws it around 23 times a game while Rodgers throws it about 27 times a game, but obviously the Packers don’t mind Rodgers throwing a lot). Either way, expect for the Packers defense to hold down the Bills offense, especially after being embarrassed on Monday night football and having to be bailed out by the offense.
The Future: The Bills have been spending big and have made quite a few misses. At the moment they are carrying $2.7 million in salary cap, which is fine at this point since the season is almost over, but most teams would prefer to have a little more saved up for the future; with that amount it’s highly unlikely that the Bills will be able to resign anyone before the season ends and the carryover probably won’t be enough to really sign a big name free agent. The Bills also have an ungodly amount of dead money, especially after wasting $1.6 million after signing and then cutting wide receiver Mike Williams this offseason. But Williams isn’t the Bills biggest financial blunder, which the honor would go to wide receiver Stevie Johnson, who is getting paid an ungodly amount of money ($10.25 million) to play for the San Francisco 49ers. Add to that $7 million to cut Ryan Fitzpatrick and $3 million to cut Mark Anderson and the Bills have nearly $24 million of dead cap space this year. You’d think that with that much money wasted away the Bills would be prudent in free agency, but the Bills made a big splash a couple years ago to nab Mario Williams and are paying him a ridiculous $18.8 million (which is more than what Aaron Rodgers is making this year).
In terms of free agents, Jerry Hughes and CJ Spiller likely headline the 2015 free agent class, although Spiller might have fallen out of favor with the Bills coaching staff at this point. 2016 is really the defining year for the Bills in terms of free agency with Kyle Orton (do they give up on EJ Manuel so quickly), Marcel Dareus, Fred Jackson (who might have too much tread off his tires by then) and Stephen Gilmore, one of their better corners. Really, the Bills need to be asking themselves about the quarterback position: while Kyle Orton is good enough to win a team a couple of games, when you have to face Tom Brady twice a year, you need a star quarterback and that’s what EJ Manuel was supposed to be. Obviously that didn’t turn out the way you wanted, but will the Bills wash their hands so quickly after investing a 1st round draft pick on him (he was the 1st quarterback taken and the only one in the 1st round) and try to one of the top 3 or 4 quarterbacks in this years draft?
Speaking of the draft, the Bills moved up and down the draft but spent a king’s ransom on Sammy Watkins, giving up their first round pick and the 2015 first round pick to draft the wide receiver out of Clemson. How has the turned out? Not that great, Watkins has graded negatively overall, but has shown a couple of things which leads many to believe that Watkins will endure his rookie bumps and become a better wide receiver down the road. With their 2nd round pick, the Bills selected Cyrus Kouandijo, who has been a complete bust as he’s currently the backup right tackle behind Sentreal Henderson, who they drafted in the 7th round. Between them, the Bills linebacker Preston Brown, who has played very well, CB Ross Cockrell and Randall Johnson, neither of which has played and OG Cyril Richardson, who hasn’t played all that well either. Overall, the Bills likely have gotten some good players but most of them will need some time to fully develop.
Perhaps the factor most important to the future of the Buffalo Bills is the fact that they are under new ownership. Ralph Wilson was one of the founders of the NFL and vowed to keep the Bills in Buffalo, even with two bigger market teams (the Giants and Jets) right next door. The Bills have often had to scrape by a little as the underdog of the region including playing games in Toronto, which they have just cancelled. However with new owner Terry Pegula, the direction and identity of the Bills will undoubtedly change, the question is how and will Pegula keep the Bills in Buffalo when bigger markets like Los Angles and San Antonio beckon?——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.