ALMASI: Cassel could be the final piece of the puzzle for the Bills


Dan Almasi/Sports editor

Dan Almasi, Sports Editor

So, here we are in 2015. The future of the Buffalo Bills is in the unlikely hands of Rex Ryan and very possibly Matt Cassel.

Many expect Cassel to be little more than one more name to add to the long list of mediocre, legacy-lacking Buffalo Bills quarterbacks of seasons’ past. But I wouldn’t be surprised if his name is remembered as the quarterback who finally leads the Bills to the postseason, ending the longest playoff drought in team history.

It’s hard to argue that Cassel is anything more than average, but given the names that have started under center for Buffalo in recent years, an average quarterback is an improvement. Given the supporting cast that he will have around him, average quarterback play may be all the Bills need to finally put together a playoff run.

In 2008, when Tom Brady went down with a season-ending injury, Cassel threw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns, leading the Patriots to an 11-5 record; the first 11-win season in NFL history that saw a team miss the playoffs.

In 2010, Cassel threw for 3,116 yards, 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a 10-6 record and a first-place finish in the AFC West.

The point is that Cassel has done it before, and that the 2015 Bills will likely have a strong resemblance to the 2010 Chiefs.

Cassel didn’t do it all by himself. He had a premier running back in Jamaal Charles and a strong defense to make sure he had the ball enough to get the job done.

In 2010, Charles rushed for 1,467 yards and five touchdowns, averaging an incredible 6.4 yards-per-carry and appearing in his first Pro Bowl.

The Bills just landed LeSean McCoy, a dynamic, game-breaking running back who has remained primarily healthy in his six-year NFL Career. He has rushed for over 1,000 yards in four of the last five seasons, including a 1,607-yard, nine touchdown performance in 2013. He is in the prime of his career and is a top-tier back comparable to, if not better, than Charles of 2010.

The 2010 Chiefs defense was good, but not great. They were 14th in the league in yards-per-game allowed with 330 and 11th in the league in points allowed per-game with 20.4, good for 11th in the NFL.

There is no reason the 2015 Buffalo Bills defense shouldn’t be great. They’re coming off a 2014 campaign in which they were fourth in yards allowed per game (312.2) and points allowed per-game (18.1). The Bills led the league in sacks last year, all of their top pass rushers are returning, and new head coach Rex Ryan is one of the most respected defensive coaches in the NFL.

Cassel should have a much better array of receivers to throw to than he did with the Chiefs in 2015. His top three-receivers were wide-out Dwayne Bowe, tight end Tony Moeaki, and running back Charles. The Chiefs second-best wide receiver that year was Chris Chambers, who totaled just 213 yards.

With a second-year wide-out in Sammy Watkins, a solid No. 2 receiver in Robert Woods and a good tight end in Scott Chandler, Cassel will have much more to work with than he did in 2010. Not to mention the Bills are in the market for possible free agent tight end Charles Clay, who put up nearly 1,400 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in his last two season with the Miami Dolphins.

Yes, Cassel has not returned to his 2010 form or seen much success at all in the past four years with Kansas City and Minnesota, but he was in bad situations with poor supporting casts.

All I’m saying is Matt Cassel has done it before, and with much less talent surrounding him. It’s likely that E.J. Manuel will be given a fighting chance at reclaiming his starting spot, but I’m putting my money on Cassel. Too many reporters from inside and outside of the Bills organization are forgetting to even mention Manuel as a possible option for 2015 now that Cassel is here.