This is a big season for the Bills. Last time expectations were this high going into a season was 2003. The Bills signed Takeo Spikes, Sam Adams & Lawyer Milloy that off season. Fast forward ten (10!!) years and add another big splash in the free agency market and a solid draft, and you have people around these parts not only talking playoffs, but SUPER BOWL!
Yes, someone on twitter made that ridiculous prediction. So when I think about this upcoming season, there are five guys who make my “Make it or break it” list. So here are, in my opinion, the five people who need to step up or be shipped out (I guess?) for the Buffalo Bills to snap the streak:
5) Leodis McKelvin- First CB taken in the 2007 draft, an exceptional return man, and has been under much scrutiny since his arrival. The Bills have really spruced up their secondary the last two drafts. AJ Williams, Justin Rogers, Stephon Gilmore, and Ron Brooks all have been added to the corner spot. This is it for McKelvin, he is in the last year of this contract and he really needs to show his worth. Aside from his gaffe in the Monday Night Opener @ New England in 2009, his return game has had no issue. The real problem with Leodis is playing the ball while in coverage. Needs to work on that. Interesting that during the OTAs, he was working with the starting defense with Gilmore on the other side.
4. Marcus Easley & the rest of the WR’s outside of Stevie Johnson – Does this make sense? Let me explain: Marcus Easley and I have the same number of career catches in the NFL. Zero. The rest of this core: Brad Smith, Derek Hagan, Donald Jones, David Nelson (who really is a slot guy, but I’ll list him anyway), Ruvell Martin, Naaman Roosevelt, and the list of no one of significance goes on. The Bills really need Easley to step up here and more importantly stay healthy. He is the ideal #2 WR of choice. He is tall, has decent hands and can get open. If the Bills can get something..ANYTHING from him to help Stevie, the Bills offense can be very good. (I’m not listing TJ Graham just yet just b/c it’s his first year and to be honest, he needs to get a full year or two in before we can make an accurate judgement on him)
3. Eric Wood – Has shown he can be a dominate player when he plays Center. However, he still has yet to play a full season. And when he went down last year..Well.. things got a rough for the Bills up front. Remember when Levitre couldn’t snap the ball against Miami? If Wood stays healthy and plays all 16 games, it will keep Buffalo from having to re-shuffle the line. I really think Eric Wood is a pro-bowl level player when at full go.
2) Ryan Fitzpatrick- Fitz became the full-time starter two games into the 2010 season. In that time, he has won only two games vs the AFC East. TWO! @ Miami in 2010 and last year vs. New England. That needs to change obviously and it will start off on opening day vs. the Jets, who the Bills haven’t beaten since October 18, 2009. If you have read my previous columns here or follow me on Twitter (@Michael_Necci), you know how I feel about Fitz. I’m far from sold and I don’t really think Buffalo thinks he is the franchise guy. However, given how the defense is built, and the potential Spiller & Jackson can bring behind him, Fitz is capable of guiding Buffalo to 10-11 wins and to the playoffs. The Bills just can’t rely on Fitz throwing 35-40 times a game and expect to win. The Bills offense is capable of putting up big numbers, we’ve seen it when they are healthy, if they can keep that trend up like that did during the 5-2 start, and with the addition of what looks like a great defense, good things will happen. Fitz just needs to manage and be consistent week in and week out. Not too much to ask for.
1. Chan Gailey: 10-22 in his first two seasons. Both seasons saw brutal 7+ game losing streaks and saw fan interest dwindle week by week. In Gailey’s defense, injuries really hurt Buffalo both seasons and that is something nobody can control. We are now on to season three and given what Buddy Nix has supplied Chan this off season via the draft and free agency, we’ve come to Chan’s make it or break year. Let’s use Jim Schwartz and the Lions as a bench mark. Prior to last season, Detroit & Buffalo were on non playoff streaks. Both had missed the post season since 1999. In Jim Schwartz first two seasons, the Lions were 8-24 and looked miserable. Matthew Stafford wasn’t healthy enough to finish those seasons and the Lions had a rough go at it. Enter the 2011 season. Stafford’s first healthy year, passes for over 5,000 yards (yes, they have the best WR in football) and in Schwartz’s third season in Detroit, he finishes 10-6 and makes the playoffs. See Buffalo? The streak can end. I know the Lions have a better QB and WR, but Buffalo’s defense and offensive backfield are just as good if not better. The spot light is on Chan. He needs to get this team over the hump. If the Bills fall on their faces again and miss the playoffs? Nix will have a coaching search to begin in 2013.