Seven and Nine: Seven key games to win that will end Buffalo's nine year playoff drought.
Seven and Nine are familiar numbers to Buffalo Bills fans, and it’s a dubious combination that the team itself wants to avoid at all costs when the final standings are sorted out the evening of January 3, 2010.
One thing is for certain, if the Bills finish 7-9 again this season, not only will they extend their playoff drought to double digits in terms of years, but there will likely be wholesale changes made in the front office, coaching staff, and roster.
With the exception of last year’s 5-1 start, a major reason why the Bills have failed to make the playoffs is because of their notoriously slow starts the greater part of this decade.
If they ever want to get back to playing football in January and February, they can ill afford another slow start. It’d be nice to replicate last season’s fantastic start, but even if they can manage a .500 record through their first six games, they should be in good shape heading down the stretch.
Obviously, an NFL season isn’t as long as the other three major professional sports leagues, so you can argue that every game in a 16 game NFL schedule is equally important.
Here are seven key dates that are significantly more important than the other nine. And what makes them so important is that they are either divisional or against fellow AFC conference rivals that all have the same goal in mind. So mark your calendar now, because the Bills are likely going to need to win at least four or five of these contests to have a chance at making it back to the playoffs this year.
1) AT New England 09/14/09
Considering the venue, the hype, and the prime time slot, this game has all the makings of another lopsided blowout in the Patriot’s favor.
But what if the Bills go into Foxboro and do the unthinkable? It could very well set the tone for a special season, and would certainly be a disaster for the media circus that is anticipating nothing short than a Patriot rout of the Bills as Tom Brady makes his triumphant return to the NFL.
I would also imagine that the Vegas gambling network would collapse considering how much money is likely going to be waged on this one in the Pats favor, as they will likely be at least 14 point favorites by kickoff.
2) AT Miami 10/04/09
Whether you want to call it Land Shark Stadium, Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Stadium, etc; the Bills have won three of last five in South Florida. This is a very key game for both teams because the Dolphins could very well be 0-3 going into this one, which would give the Bills an opportunity to go for the jugular early.
Conversely, if the Bills lose in New England, they will be desperate to avoid a 0-2 start in division play, and for a team that went 0-6 in division play last year the pressure will mount fast.
Given the schedule, there’s also a chance that the Bills are 1-2 heading into this one. So again, to avoid an early season hole, this one has "must win" written all over it.
3) Houston 11/01/09
A very big game before the bye week and this one will likely have major tie breaker ramifications for both teams in terms of potential playoff seeding and a wild card spot.
The Texans could be very good in 2009, and like the Bills they are looking to not only make the playoffs for the first time this decade, but also the first time ever. Luckily the Bills get them at home despite the fact they’ve been far from dominant there in recent years.
Houston has only been to Buffalo once, but did come out victorious in that contest. Buffalo has visited Houston twice and won both games there as well. With two young up and coming teams, I smell a potential rivalry brewing.
4) AT Tennessee 11/15/09
Coming off the bye week, another huge game against the AFC South looms large. Even if they aren’t the juggernaut they were last year, the Titans will likely be in the thick of the playoff race at this point.
Buffalo could be looking to avoid falling below .500 here or get on a roll as they make a strong push for the playoffs. But for the Bills to get back to the postseason, they need to win games on the road against contenders.
This contest should be a game that tells us exactly who the 2009 Buffalo Bills are. They need to prove they can hang with physical teams and run the football against them.
5) New York (Toronto) 12/03/09
Buffalo’s new second home is in Toronto, but it’s really just a neutral field on foreign soil.
It’s always tough to play a Thursday game with just a few days of preparation, and considering this is a division rival that makes it even more difficult. Also factor in they will play Miami in Buffalo just a few days before this game.
The Jets might be in the playoff mix, or looking ahead to 2010 by this time, but either way the Bills need to win their first "home" game in Toronto.
Playing in the dome should help as well since neither team will have to worry about the inclement weather conditions that comes with the territory in December.
6) New England 12/20/09
Twas the Sunday before Christmas, when in a jam packed Ralph Wilson stadium, not a fan was quiet, and if the Bills could win this game it may incite a riot. Or it might just be another lopsided win in New England’s favor, and the Bills could be out of playoff contention by then.
After all that has been the norm in Western NY for far too long. But could you imagine if the Bills go into this one with a chance to not only sweep the Patriots, but to put a stranglehold on the AFC East?
If this game does end up having serious division and playoff implications, look for it to be moved to the prime time Sunday night slot.
7) Indianapolis 01/03/10
This could very well be a win and get in game. And against a veteran team like the Colts, it won’t be an easy task.
One thing's for sure though, the last thing Bills fans want is another game like the 2004 season finale against the Steelers, especially if the Colts don’t need to win this one.
Regardless the implications, it’s never an easy task playing a Manning led offense. And these Colts have come a long way since being a former AFC East cellar dweller that was usually good for two easy wins a year.
Here’s hoping this isn’t the only game Buffalo will be playing in January 2010. This is also another possible flex scheduling candidate.