Buffalo Bills Season Preview 2011: Ryan Fitzpatrick Leads No. 1 Team in the NFL
Ralph Wilson is a dish. For a franchise that hasn't been in the playoffs since the Music City Miracle, any positive news should be celebrated. Yes, the article in the Wall Street Journal may seem inconsequential at first. In reality, it shows that the Bills can be the best at something. They can be the best at being the most handsome team.
It's no fun writing negative season previews year after year, basically writing a copy-and-paste article about a non-playoff season under the reign of the dishy 92-year-old. The Bills don't spend to the cap, they have had many lost drafts, they don't maximize revenue, they don't have a star quarterback and they don't have a good offensive line.
It's all been said before and still applies in 2011, but this year is different. To tweak a famous phrase used by Billy Crystal on SNL, it's better to look good than to be good.
A little positivity is actually creeping into the black hole of the Bills organization this year. They got rid of the horrid uniforms that looked like they were a CFL developmental team. They went back to the white helmets, to relive the days of Joe Ferguson and Roosevelt Hooks. And they got the player they wanted in the first round of the draft.
Also, other teams are bigger messes in the hunt to move to Los Angeles. Tampa Bay not selling out in Week 1 and Malcolm Glazer's massive investment in Manchester United only add another suiter to the mix. The pressure is off Buffalo for a while. San Diego is already packed.
What Will the Bills Record Be This Year?
Most importantly, in this world where the Kardashians are stars and a sports network does a red carpet show, looks do matter.
Whether this translates into wins is a whole different matter, but it's got to be tough for opposing teams mentally. All week, wives and girlfriends will be leading up to the game, gawking over the adonis that is Jairus Byrd, the model that is Eric Wood and the tough Lumberjack-like stud that is Ryan Fitzpatrick (who also happens to have an Ivy League degree).
Football wives aren't lusting over the Chiefs, the last place team in the Wall Street Journal's handsomeness study. Dwayne Bowe may be a fantasy football star, but he is far from a fantasy to the ladies. Todd Haley can't match Chan Gailey's GQ photo shoot masculinity.
The NFL is so lucky to have beauty versus ugly meeting in Week 1.
Maybe this momentum carries over, most likely the only play it is getting in the locker room is laughter. Which is good, because the Bills really have nothing to lose this year. The team has zero expectations—every one thinks they are going to stink and they could surprise some teams.
Think about last year.
What is Chan Gailey Too Sexy For?
The Bills started 0-8 and finished 4-12, far from a dangerous or successful team. Yet looking deeper into the season, this was a 4-12 team mostly because of depth issues and a complete lack of knowing how to win.
They lost at New England by eight, at Baltimore in OT, at Kansas City in OT, versus the Bears in Canada by three and in OT to the Steelers. That's five losses against playoff teams equaling 20 points, basically four of those games on the road (I refuse to consider Toronto games as home games. If you need a passport or special ID to play a home game, it's not a home game).
I sense a lot more people would be optimistic about the Bills had they finished 6-10 last year. With Shawne Merriman being healthy, Marcell Dareus on the defensive line, Nick Barnett bringing championship experience to the team and a healthy Terrence McGee, a mediocre to bad defense instantly looks better.
Losing Paul Posluszny is a dent in the defense, but he had so many health issues that it was difficult to rely on him all year long. Donte Whitner barely looked like an NFL safety last year, so any safety in his place has to be better getting to the ball or receiver. The Bills have decent corners, active safeties, and a front seven that can't be worse.
The linebacking corps is still weak. It's insane to imagine Chris Kelsay playing linebacker effectively, but the front seven instantly becomes better with Dareus and makes the guys next to Kyle Williams better, whether that be Merriman rushing or an end in a 4-3.
The offense will most likely struggle, but this is where I will make an argument for Chan Gailey. I think he's a good coach. If he's given enough of a window of creativity to shine, he can make average talent better. He desperately wanted Brad Smith and he has some unique plans for him.
Go back to the Dolphins and the Wildcat a few years ago. They weren't a great offensive team, but they had a scheme that was difficult to defend. By the time teams figured it out, they had 11 wins and made the playoffs. The best way to win in the NFL is with a star quarterback. The second best way is with a dominant defense. If you have neither, the best shot is to have a strategy nobody can plan for.
Fred Jackson can run the Wildcat or another formation where he takes the snap. C.J. Spiller can be a running back or receiver running the routes Lee Evans ran. David Nelson can be the ball catching TE while still being in four receiver sets. Roscoe Parrish is dangerous in the open field. Brad Smith can be a QB, or a back or a receiver.
That's a lot of interesting pieces to work with to create formations or routes that nobody else runs. Lee Evans didn't fit because he was a deep route fly type guy and limited otherwise. Receivers who can go anywhere on the field at any time make the options for a coach like Gailey much more interesting.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is not a franchise quarterback and hasn't proven he can win in this league. However, he was pretty solid last year and this is the first time he's gone into the season knowing he's the guy. The Bills started Trent Edwards last year; now Edwards couldn't even make the Raiders.
Fitzpatrick has the coach's confidence behind him. He has shown he can move the ball and find Stevie Johnson and Parrish and Nelson. Now he has to win games.
Last year the season was lost as soon it began. The losing attitude that already fogs the franchise because they are the Bills grew thicker.
This year, the schedule is far from easy, but it also provides opportunities to win in the beginning.
Kansas City will be a tough game. The Bills did almost win there last year—and that was before the world knew about the Chiefs' incredible facial hideousness. In the first four weeks, the Bills play the Raiders and the Bengals. Confidence comes from winning, especially when the team has experienced that feeling so rarely the last 10 years.
Playing two teams that are even more screwed up than them in the first four weeks gives them an opportunity to build some winning momentum. Games against the Patriots and Eagles will be brutal, but both of them are at home; winning just one of those games changes the direction of the franchise. The schedule is there for the taking early on.
I'm pretty realistic in not believing that the Bills have a shot to make the playoffs. They will probably need 10-11 wins to make the playoffs, especially with the schedules teams like the Ravens and Browns have to play.
I just don't think the Bills will only get four wins this year. Despite a comparative lack of talent and many front office mistakes, this team went out there a lot of Sundays last year and scared really good teams. Winning some of those games is the next step. I can see them winning six, maybe seven, in what will at times be ugly, but at other times be just as exciting as last year.
It's amazing how attitudes change when one looks good. Stevie Johnson will be the Old Spice spokesman in no time.
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