I have read too many articles recently that were focused on the wrong "key factor" to the Buffalo Bills' upcoming season and I believe that it is time to set the record straight.
Yes, everyone knows that Marshawn Lynch is suspended for the first 3 games of the season and Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes need to step up and fill the void that their Pro Bowl caliber running back has left in the backfield. (A feat that the two of them should prove capable of)
Yes, everyone that Trent Edwards is entering his third season in the NFL and should make fairly large strides in leading the Bills' offense and if he does not there could be problems in Buffalo...including a vacant head coaching position.
But there is one thing that most sports writers and fans are over looking and that is the ONE key to the Bills success this season and that key is...the offensive line.
Let's set the scene first...
A lot of NFL Draft analysts and fans scratched their heads on draft day as the Bills decided against taking a OT to replace their newly departed pro bowl left tackle Jason Peters. Instead the Bills drafted two interior linemen in Eric Wood and Andy Levitre.
The Bills caused more head scratching when they decided to release under achieving guard Derrick Dockery and decided against retaining centers Melvin Fowler and Duke Preston. This left the Bills with only two of their remaining five starting offensive linemen from the year before (Brad Butler and Langston Walker).
Luckily (hopefully) the Bills ended up signing former Carolina Panther Geoff Hangartner and got themselves an intelligent Center to help Trent Edwards read opposing defenses. The Bills intend to plug in their two rookie draft picks to man the two Offensive Guard positions and move Butler from Right Guard to Right Tackle and Walker from Right Tackle to Left Tackle. Leaving a starting line of Walker, Wood, Hangartner, Levitre and Butler. That's right...NO Offensive lineman is starting in the same position and/or the same uniform that they donned at the beginning of last season.
This rag tag Offensive Line remains key to the Bills success on offense and largely the success of their entire season for many reasons. Including (but not limited to):
The fact that it doesn't matter if you have Jerry Rice or Cris Carter or Lynn Swann or Randy Moss lined up at WR, if the offensive line doesn't mesh well and protect Trent Edwards the ball will never get out of his hands. This will make for a very unhappy player with the number 81 and a major headache for the Bills organization as a whole.
Also the fact that it is true that the Bills will miss Marshawn Lynch for the first three games of the season but it makes no difference if Lynch is in the offensive backfield for the remaining thirteen games if there are no holes to run through.
If the O-Line does come together, which there is a possibility that it will, the Bills could potentially have one of the most high powered offenses in the league. They are certainly not short on play makers with two great WRs (Owens and Lee Evans), three capable RBs (Lynch, Jackson and Rhodes) and an exciting rookie pass receiving TE (Shawn Nelson).
But, if this key aspect of the Bills team does not come together through work in training camp (which the Bills started early perhaps for this very reason) and their five preseason games it will be a long season in Buffalo. A season that could cause a head coach vacancy, a beat up starting QB, two unhappy star WRs , a 600 yard under performing running back and a team that could be one step closer to singing "O Canada" before every home game.