I’ll be the first to admit: I am a critical Bills fan.
I wasn’t always this way. But there has been little to be excited or happy about as a Bills fan since there were 16 seconds left on the clock in a game against the Tennessee Titans on January 8, 2000.
The Bills have only sniffed the playoffs once since that fateful day and only have one winning season in the ensuing 11 years. They have suffered through too many seasons with guys manning the huddle named Johnson, Losman, and Edwards. Drew Bledose even lost more games than he won in Buffalo and came up empty when the team needed him most in the final game of the 2004 season.
But those memories are starting to be forgotten thanks to a 5-2 start by Buffalo this season. The 5 wins include a monumental victory over the New England Patriots, who the Bills had lost 15 straight to, in a game the Bills came back from being down 21-0.
The thing that worries me is I’ve seen this before.
In 2008, I was a season ticket holder and got to see the Bills get off to a 5-1 start with 3 exciting victories at home – I was ecstatic. The Bills decided that such a start warranted giving head coach Dick Jauron a three year contract extension mid-season even though it wasn’t expected that teams would be clamoring for his services in the offseason. The Bills promptly lost 8 of their final 10 games and Jauron was fired before he could even finish the first season of his new contract – with the Bills, of course, still having to pay him an exorbitant amount of money. So while it is not 2008 and I am very excited about how the Bills are playing, I’m still wary.
Thankfully, a lot has changed since 2008. Ryan Fitzpatrick has just been rewarded with a contract befitting the team’s new franchise QB, and deservedly so. Former Bills QB Trent Edwards had only 5 TD passes through the team’s first 7 games in 2008 and played extremely mediocre. Fitzpatrick has almost triple that and is completing nearly 68% of his passes this year. Marshawn Lynch was also decent, but averaged under 3.7 yards a carry through 7 games in 2008. Fred Jackson has been an absolute beast this year and is being mentioned as an MVP candidate while averaging over 150 yards from scrimmage a game.
That’s why this game is so huge. The Bills are already 1-0 in the division (in 2008 they were 0-1, after losing to the Dolphins) and have a shot to start 2-0 against division foes for the first time since 2005. In 2008 the 5-2 Bills welcomed the New York Jets to Orchard Park on the first Sunday of November, needing a win to prove they were a legitimate playoff contender. The same holds true this weekend. See why I’m wary?
As I stated, this Bills team has better playmakers on offense and defense. In 2008 the Bills finished the season with 10 interceptions and 23 sacks. This year they already have 14 INTs and 14 sacks, thanks to a 10 sack explosion against Washington last Sunday. I also trust the decision makers more since they’re not named Dick Jauron and Russ Brandon.
The Jets come into this game at 4-3 and also needing a win. A loss would drop them to .500 and give them a record of 1-2 inside the division. That’s not where a “Super Bowl contending” team should be halfway through their schedule and they know it. They need this game just as badly as the Bills do to prove the naysayers wrong.
I think this game comes down to three things.
- To win this game, you need to run the ball effectively which will allow you to control the clock. The Bills have run the ball very well this year with Jackson, but the Jets are starting to improve in this area too. They have also gained 249 or more yards in each of their last 4 games against the Bills. If that happens again, I’d be shocked to see the Bills victorious.
- I also think you have to minimize your mistakes, meaning don’t turn the ball over. Both teams have shown they are very good at capitalizing off of opposing team’s miscues. I can’t see the winner of this game turning the ball over more than twice.
- You have to want it more. This game is going to be a battle. All games are, but this is a divisional game and both teams need a victory to further their playoff aspirations. I think that whichever team shows the most heart and ability to take a pounding while giving an even bigger one back will be victorious.