Always Expect the Unexpected From Dick Jauron and the Buffalo Bills
The Bills fast 5-1 start was perhaps a glimpse of what could be with a healthy Trent Edwards. Although wins against the Seahawks, Jaguars, Raiders, and Rams are not marquee wins, the Bills were winning the tough games they were known for losing the year before.
In arguably the toughest division in football the Bills will try to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. That goal will only be reached if Edwards stays healthy, and shows that he is the future in Buffalo.
Realistically the Bills are probably looking at another average season. Having to play the AFC and NFC South divisions is a tall order for a team with as many question marks as the Bills.
The way I see things playing out is a 9-7 record. If a few balls bounce their way it could lead to victories over stronger opponents.
Here are some things that need to happen for the Bills to take the giant step from average to playoff worthy...
Four Keys to Exceeding Expectation
Trent has to step his game up and become more than just a game manager. He has to start trusting his receivers to make more plays down field.
With Terrell Owens on the other side of Lee Evans and rookie tight end Shawn Nelson stretching the middle, Trent's job got a lot easier this off season.
This is the year the coaches should let Edwards open things up with a receiving corps that is loaded with talent, size, and speed.
Edwards also has to stay on the field for a minimum of 12 games. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick is an upgrade over J.P. Losman, but you could say that about almost anyone.
Offensive Line Progress:
After releasing the underachieving Derrick Dockery and trading an unhappy Jason Peters to Philadelphia the Bills reloaded through the draft.
With three new starters and two players changing positions, the Bills line needs to gel early to be successful.
Langston Walker will take over at the left tackle spot vacated by Peters. Walker has performed well on the right side, and filled in nicely for short stints on the left side last season.
Walker is probably better suited for the right side, but should be sufficient for a year or two while the Bills find a long term replacement.
They added some much needed toughness in the form of Eric Wood and Andy Levitre. Wood is a tough as nails lineman who can play any of the interior line positions. Levitre was a tackle in college, but is thought to have short arms which does not translate well to the NFL game.
Both Wood and Levitre are almost locks to start at right and left guard respectively.
They also brought in former Carolina Panther Geoff Hangartner. Hangartner is also a versatile player who can play anywhere on the interior line. He is projected to be the starting center. This is no small task with nose tackles like Kris Jenkins and Vince Wilfork on the opposite side of the line twice a year.
Brad Butler will most likely take over the right tackle position. This will be a return to his natural position after playing guard the past couple of years.
With lineman like Butler, Wood, and Levitre the Bills line will have a mean streak that hasn't been there for years. With that mean streak comes inexperience.
Buffalo's pass rush was non existent at times last season. Pro Bowler Aaron Schobel was out for most of the season with a foot injury. The Bills were only able to get to the oppositions quarterback twenty four times last season.
Schobel's return as well as the addition of first round draft pick Aaron Maybin should increase that total.
The Bills defense runs on the principal of having a four man front that can create pressure without blitzing. The pressure on the quarterback will in turn lead to turnovers.
The lack of pressure by the front four last season allowed receivers to sit in the soft spots of the zone coverage and pick up chunks of yards.
The pass rush will need to be much more effective if the Bills are to make a push to the playoffs. With more of a consistent rush will come more turnovers.
There is no doubt about what Terrell Owens brings to a football team. His effort on the field has never been questioned by anyone. Owens brings the play-making ability the Bills have been seeking.
The big question is will he be able to keep his competitive nature under control? The popular answer is no. How could a player who wasn't happy with Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, or Tony Romo be happy with Trent Edwards?
The Bills did the right thing by giving Owens a one year contract. Owens is noted for being on good behavior for his first year with a new team. He will be looking for a new contract after this season, so his behavior should show that.
Four Key Games That Could Decide Their Fate
Week 1 at New England:
It may be early in the season, but if things get ugly in Foxboro it could be over before it starts.
A player like T.O. will not settle for the usual thumping the Patriots hand the Bills twice a year, especially in prime-time.
If things come unglued in this game the T.O. experiment could produce a monster.
Look for a high scoring game with no shortage of highlight reel plays from Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. If the Bills can escape New England with a win it would go a long way in their quest for the playoffs.
Week 8 vs. Houston:
The Houston Texans are a team, much like Buffalo, that will be in the playoff hunt. This game has wild card implications written all over it.
After Steve Slaton's surprising rookie year being added to an already dangerous offensive attack that features Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels, the Texans have become a team to fear.
An improving defense led by Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans will only get better with the addition of Brian Cushing in this years draft.
Buffalo has to start beating teams that are at least as talented as them, and beating Houston would be a good start.
Week 12 vs. Miami:
Anytime the Bills and Dolphins play it is always a big game for the fans. This year it should be a big game in determining the wild car if not the division winner.
The Bills are coming off a season in which they went 0-6 in the division. They will be looking for some revenge against a Dolphins team that surprised a lot of people last year.
If the Dolphins want to repeat as division winners then they will have to get more production from their wide outs. This may be hard to do against a talented Bills secondary that features second year star in the making Leodis McKelvin.
The Bills will have to contain the Miami wildcat attack that will now insert Pat White. White should be a perfect fit for the wildcat with his ability to throw and scramble.
This one could go either way, but is a must win for the Bills at home if they want to end the playoff drought.
Week 17 vs. Indianapolis:
The Colts usually have their playoff spot wrapped up by this time, but don't forget when the Drew Bledsoe led Bills lost to Pittsburgh's second and third stringer with a playoff birth on the line.
Nobody knew at the time that Willie Parker would turn into the Willie Parker we know now, but still you can't lose in that situation.
If the Colts starters do have to play their starters in this game could be huge in determining if the Bills can squeak into the playoffs.
In a strong division like the AFC East it is sure to come down to the wire. It's that time of year that fans will root for teams they never thought they would to beat other contenders.
If the Bills can pull out a win against the Colts it could be their ticket to the playoffs, starters or not.
Buffalo has a lot to overcome this season with a mix of new attitude and an inexperienced offensive line. If they can put some of these pieces together they could bring glory back to Western New York.
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