Even these guys are excited about the Buffalo Bills' chances of making the playoffs this year. Why, because they have bags over their heads and can't see Bill Belichick on the other sideline? No, because the Bills have put together an intriguing team loaded with possibilities. Here's why a decade long playoff drought will come to an end...
Posting 17 interceptions in three seasons against high powered PAC-10 offenses, rookie Jairus Byrd from Oregon is the perfect ball-hawking defensive back the Bills are looking for. With Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee manning the corners, look for Byrd to roam the center of the field and create turnovers as smoothly as Mark Kelso once did...minus the cool Kazoo helmet.
No, really, this is the year the former surprise first round pick makes his stand. He's in the best shape of his career and is finally healthy. He's also developed a rapport with new defensive line coach Bob Sanders. The Bills will be very happy the October trade to the Colts fell through due to a failed physical.
For over a decade, the Bills offensive line has been stacked with huge players with small intensity levels. Kudos to management for finally blowing up the foundation and beginning anew with smaller, nastier linemen. First round pick Eric Wood from Louisville brings that attitude to the guard position. Combined with offseason pickup Geoff Hangartner at center, the Bills interior will have a spittle covered ugliness not seen since the days of Kent Hull and Jim Ritcher.
If a three-game suspension to kick off 2009 isn't enough, the signing of Dominic Rhodes should be a nice alarm clock for Marshawn Lynch. Fred Jackson has shown he's capable of moving the offense and got a new deal as a result. With a proven veteran like Rhodes added to the mix, expect Lynch to run like his job is on the line. The thought here is that he runs mean this year...really mean.
Bills fans have been frustrated for many years by a defense that flashes moments of greatness followed by stretches as punching bags. The first of the Bills two first round picks, Aaron Maybin, will provide the speed and power coming off the end to keep the punches going in the opponents direction. He's from Penn State, so you know he brings attitude (see Paul Posluszny, Shane Conlan). Now if he can only be a former Nittany Lion that stays healthy (see Paul Posluszny, Shane Conlan).
Leodis McKelvin. Good thing it's a fun name to say, because Leodis will be on the lips of even casual NFL fans by the time this season is done. After a slow start in '08, he began showing why the Bills made him their first round pick last year, flying out of nowhere to break up passes and bringing a surprising amount of physical attitude as well. Not to mention that he immediately became one of the most exciting kick returners in the NFL. 2009 will be a highlight reel season for a man called Leodis.
Aside from the Drew Bledsoe tease season of 2002, the Bills offense has has little pop this decade. Enter Mr. Jiffy Pop himself, Terrell Owens. As crazy as T.O. in western New York sounds (and it does,) the man is still a top 10-15 receiver. Considering the mania in Bills nation unseen since Jim Kelly and his motorcade drove through town in 1986, the signing is already worth it. But the best thing about T.O. in Buffalo follows on the next slide.
A pro's pro since joining the Bills, Lee Evans has spent the better part of his career getting mauled by double and triple coverage. With no true outside receiver to complement him, his numbers have remained solid but unspectacular. Not anymore. The Bills rewarded his hard work with a new contract, and with T.O drawing attention, expect Evans to have a career season as he abuses single coverage.
Or something like that. The hot rumor at One Bills Drive this offseason is the Bills will run the no-huddle offense extensively in 2009. This is with good reason. With Trent Edwards entering his second full year at the helm, T.O and Evans outside, the vastly underrated Josh Reed with Roscoe Parrish wreaking havoc on the inside, Lynch and Jackson out of the backfield, and sleeper tight end Shawn Nelson stretching the middle, one can almost see ghosts of Kelly handing off the draw to Thurman as he dances through a tired and spread out defense.
This guy. Harsh, perhaps, but some of the gameday decisions made by Dick Jauron over the past three seasons make Bills fans long for the steady hands of legendary coaches Hank Bullough and Kay Stephenson. Jauron is an outstanding teacher of the game, and his talents as a secondary coach would be valued by any team. But the guys that train you in boot camp aren't necessarily the best guys to lead you onto the field. Jauron is the prime example.