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EJ Manuel's Seasonal Evolution Means More Than New England Patriots Game

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COMMENTARY | "New England Patriots Week" has been a Groundhog's Day exercise in Buffalo for more than a decade now. As one franchise has become the staple of consistency and regional pride, the other has epitomized dysfunction and embarrassment.

We're reminded how much Bills fans hate Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, a hatred that's really just a disguised mixture of fear, envy and respect.

Hope skips around the Ralph Wilson Jr. Stadium parking lots, through Bills Backers bars and in Western New York man caves. Typically, that underdog hope is mutilated by the Evil Empire by the fourth quarter. Sometimes by halftime.

This "New England Patriots Week" feels different, though. Maybe it's because I simply have reached my wit's end with offseason, training camp and preseason shenanigans. Maybe it's the new team president. Maybe it's the new general manager. Maybe it's the new, non-retread head coach and his two new coordinators. No, I know.

It's EJ Manuel.

He's the difference. The biggest difference.

Say what you want about what the Bills have been missing over the past 13 playoff-less years. They've been lacking in many areas at one point or another. But nothing has had a stronger correlation to Buffalo's agonizing funk more than the quarterback carousel.

Manuel was the first quarterback to be taken as the Bills' first selection in any draft in the organization's history. After a risky trade back, the new coaching staff had its pick of the quarterback litter, and made the Florida State Seminole signal-caller their choice.

Buffalo finally did it the conventional way, and put quarterback-unequivocally the most vital position in the game-at the top of its priority list.

Manuel possesses all the desired quarterbacking traits to flourish in the NFL. Right now, that collection of traits is simply known as "potential."

The Bills need that potential to morph into production.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, if that transformation does occur, it doesn't happen overnight. Furthermore, and maybe more importantly, one game doesn't make or break a career for a young quarterback.

Should Bills fans be excited about the possibilities Manuel represents? Absolutely. What they shouldn't do is place too much emphasis on the 2013 outcome of the culmination of "Patriots Week"-the game.

I know, a bit much to ask as anxiousness, enthusiasm and hope--Buffalo's eternal buddy--find themselves at a fever pitch with the Patriots coming to town to start the Bills' new era.

Would a win elevate Manuel to rockstar status in Buffalo by 4:30? For sure. It'd be a great uplifter for a city so accustomed to getting beat down. It would build a massive wave of momentum. But it wouldn't count for more than one win in the standings. It wouldn't automatically qualify the Bills for the postseason.

A loss would rip Bills fans from their cloud of optimism once again and send them in a free fall to the pit of despair occupied by many fans who simply have had enough. The perception of Manuel would instantly change. Doubt would resurface.

While this Patriots game is becoming somewhat of a Super Bowl for the Bills and especially for their fans, it should be seen as just the first leg in Manuel's Developmental Marathon, a journey Buffalo should be thrilled to begin, one that legitimately could restore dignity and make football fun again.

You see, this season is all about EJ Manuel's evolution. Observing his maturation process means much more over the long haul than the result of his first NFL game.

Chris Trapasso is a sportswriter who lives in Western New York and has been covering the Buffalo Bills and the NFL since 2009 for Bleacher Report.

For Bills and other NFL news, follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisTrapasso

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