Bills Following the Panther Path?

 Bills and Panthers, September 2013

Bills and Panthers, September 2013

Three years into Ron Rivera’s tenure with the Carolina Panthers, the team reached the playoffs following a 12-4 season. This achievement, on the surface, seems to have no relation to the Buffalo Bills of any kind. But, when looking deeper into the Panther’s recent success, it seems that the Bills do have an interest, or should rather. The Buffalo Bills, in a way, are on the Carolina Panther path, simply two years behind.   

            A major part of a football team’s success is the coaching staff. In 2011 the Carolina Panthers hired their new coach Ron Rivera, while the Bills hired Doug Marrone for the 2013 season. Though Marrone did serve as a head coach in college for Syracuse, both of these jobs were the first time each man had control of their own NFL roster. For Rivera, it took only three years to reach the playoffs. The Panthers have gone 6-10, 7-9, and 12-4 in Rivera’s three seasons respectively. In Marrone’s first season, the Bill’s went, yes, you guessed it, 6-10.

            Along with the obvious effect a new voice on the sideline has, a new voice in the huddle also immensely changes a team’s success. In Rivera’s first season, 2011, the Panthers drafted Cam Newton out of Auburn with their first round pick to help give the organization a completely new look. In Marrone’s first season, the Bills selected with their first pick EJ Manuel out of Florida State. The two quarterbacks are very comparable, in more ways than one. Both quarterbacks stand 6 ft 5 in, with Newton at 245 lbs and Manuel at 240 lbs. Moreover, both Newton and Manuel are 24 years old, if only for another week and a half with Newton’s May 11 birthday. On the field, both Newton and Manuel are agile and adaptable. With strong and reliable arms, they both often look to pass first, and tend to reserve their running abilities for broken plays needing improvisation. Due to injuries though, EJ Manuel only played in ten games through his first pro season. Through those ten games, Manuel led the Bills to a 4-6 record. In Cam Newton’s first ten games the Panthers went only 2-8. Newton completed 60% of his passes with Manuel completing about 59%. In the air, Newton threw for 12 touchdowns while Manuel threw 11. Additionally, Newton threw 14 interceptions with Manuel only throwing 9. Though comparable while passing, Newton did hold a heavy edge rushing the ball, running for seven more touchdowns and 226 more yards than Manuel. However, Manuel’s knee injury and difficult recovery likely hindered his rushing, giving a possible explanation for the wide discrepancy. Of course Newton had a more productive season than Manuel, receiving Rookie of the Year honors, though the similarities cannot be dismissed easily. Overall, the quarterbacks were somewhat comparable through each of their first ten games, a true cause for optimism in Buffalo. Cam Newton has continued to progress, being selected to two Pro-Bowls and leading his team to the playoffs in 2013. We can only hope the same for Manuel.

            Along with new captains of the offense for both teams, came new captains of the defense as well. Linebackers Luke Kuechly of the Panthers and Kiko Alonso of the Bills both played phenomenal in their respective rookie seasons. Kuechly, in his rookie season of 2012, gathered one sack, two interceptions, and 103 tackles over a full 16 game schedule. Alonso tallied himself two sacks, four interceptions, and 87 tackles in his 2013 rookie campaign. The solidity at linebacker for both teams shows great promise. Kuechly continued to be named AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. If Alonso can continue on the trajectory he has performed at thus far in his young career, it would seem that the Bills have much to look forward to in the near future.

            While there are many similarities between the situations, there are obvious differences too. In the past 14 seasons, the Panthers have made the playoffs four times. They have advanced to a Super Bowl in 2003 and lost a game prior to the Super Bowl in 2005. The past 14 seasons in Buffalo have been very different. The team has not reached the playoffs once, only boasting one winning season in the 14-year span. Though the team has not performed, fans have stayed faithful in the often freezing cold seats, though not always with a smile on their face. With similarities in the quarterback, linebacker, and coaching trajectories it seems the Bills may be headed down the path the Panthers have paved through the past three seasons. If the path and recent success of the Panthers is any indication of the Bills future, it seems that Buffalo will soon be unable to stop from smiling.