Hello, I am Newb, and I am a Bills fan. Usually that type of introduction is reserved for a meeting at a 12 step program, and marking yourself as a Bills fan on the internet gets you at best compassion from fans of fellow crappy teams, or at worst derision and scorn from Massholes. However, this season the Bills are shocking everyone with their 4-1 start, and, if the season ended today, they would be the #1 seed in the AFC (oh why can't the season end today?). A lot of Bills fans are completely ecstatic, but I would say most are cautiously optimistic. I mean, we're BILLS fans, and if you've been a Bills fan for long, you're used to getting kicked in the nuts at the most inopportune time.
Hell, it was only three years ago when the Bills started 4-0, then 5-1. The reaction from the league was similar to this year's squad: a good story, but let's see them keep it going. That team couldn't quickly hitting a long losing streak and finishing up 7-9. That season is certainly in the back of everyone's minds, and while I think the Bills could actually beat just about anyone this year, they could also lose to just about anyone this year. I do think they have a much better chance of FINALLY ending the playoff drought than the 2008 team did, for the following reasons:
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick > Trent Edwards & J.P. Losman
Fortunately, the Bills will not have this goober behind center, ready to fuck everything up.
Two seasons ago, I thought the only differences between Fitz and Edwards were that Fitz had some chemistry with T.O., and would occasionally throw long incompletions/interceptions, rather than short incompletions/interceptions. Holy shit do I appear to be wrong.
To be fair, Edwards was actually having a decent season, until the Bills went to Arizona, and Edwards suffered a near-fatality at the hands of Eugene Wilson. Some like to say that he was never the same after that, but the truth is, he simply revered to what he was before; a crappy game manager that took no risks and infuriated everyone by doing shit like checking down for a 3 yard dump off on 3rd and 14. Fuck Trent Edwards. The Bills drafted him because he was recommended to short-term GM Marv Levy by the late Bill Walsh, despite not winning a single game his senior year at Stanford. Oh, and he wasn't accustomed to playing in cold climates. *sigh*
That last caveat also pertained to the man Edwards took the job from, USFL superstar J.P. Losman. A "WTF?" pick when it was made, Losman could throw a pretty long ball once per game, but other than that, made TRENT FUCKING EDWARDS look competent. Think about that.
Back to Fitz. There's something about him. Whether it's his intelligence (hey, did you know he went to HARVARD? I wonder why no one ever mentions this), or the fact that he doesn't appear to piss himself under the slightest bit of pressure like his two predecessors, The Amish Rifle has captured the imagination of Bills fans like no one since Doug Flutie. This is nice, but not particularly impressive, since his competition is Rob Johnson, Alex Van Pelt, Drew Bledsoe (who was awesome for his first eight games in a Bills' uniform, after that...not so much), Losman, The Immortal Kelly Holcomb, and Brian Brohm. That's a boat-load of fail right there, so the bar is pretty low, but Fitzmagic has done well this season, and had some moments when he got settled in the last half of last season.
2. Chan Gailey > Dick Jauron
Gailey starts off on the right foot by having a pulse. Jauron was a human gargoyle on game day, who reacted the same way to a game winning TD that he would to a terrible turnover; a polite clap. One of the more infuriating things that came out of the Bills' nose dive in 2008 was their "everything is OK" attitude, which they kept up until the very moment they were officially eliminated from the playoffs. When the Bills were under Jauron, and they played a top-tier team, they didn't except, or even hope to win, they hoped to be competitive. Under Gailey, they act like they expect to win. That is a huge difference, and why the Bills have been able to overcome deficits against the Raiders and Patriots. Jauron's Bills would have folded their tents and gotten killed. These Bills look like they will fight to the very end.
3. The offensive line isn't totally craptastic.
A big part of the Bills' failings this past decade-plus is that their offensive line has been consistently awful. This year, the offensive line has been holding up wonderfully, opening holes for Fred Jackson and buying time for Fitz, who has had a couple games already where he hasn't been touched. Also, the line is not committing penalties like they used to. If I were to go back and find game logs from 2008, I'd say at least 20% of possible big plays were wiped out by a flag. I still wait for one every time there is a big play on offense. It's a tough habit to break.
4. The defense is getting turnovers.
The defense is giving up an assload of yards, and has a tough problem in getting off the field on third down, but turnovers can cure a lot of ills. The Bills have forced a league-high 16 turnovers, including 12 interceptions. The Bills had 11 INTs all last season. They are also getting these turnovers at key times in the game. Forcing a fumble on the opening kickoff in Kansas City. Stripping Run DMC when they couldn't stop the Raiders and needed another way to come back. Getting picks off Brady at the end of the first half, and with the Pats up 24-17 and driving. Getting picks on the first two Eagles' drives to let the offense give them a lead, then getting one on the last Eagles' drive to keep the lead.
5. They have already done better in the AFC East than they did in 2008, and should get more wins from there.
The 2008 Bills went 0-6 in the division. That, more than anything, killed their season. They already got the monkey off their back against New England. Miami is looking terrible, and the Jets are having a big letdown. It's not set in stone (like I wrote earlier, they can lose to anybody), but I wouldn't be shocked to see them sweep Miami, and earn splits with the Jets and Pats. That gives them a respectable 4-2 division record, and with the wins they already have, a total of seven. They would only need to split the other six games on their schedule to make it to 10 wins.
With that said, there are causes for concern...
1. Will they read their press clippings?
The Bills are doing a great job so far of keeping an "us against the world" and "no one believes in us" attitude going. However, the one game they were almost unanimously picked to win, they lost. This could be a problem if they continue to win games and start becoming favorites. There is a swagger developing with the team, but if they somehow think they can just turn it on when they need to, then they are dead wrong. They are not THAT talented.
2. Aside from the turnovers, the defense kinda sucks.
The yards the Bills give up can, and will turn into more points if they continue to do it. They will not get 4-5 turnovers every week to mask their deficiencies. The run defense has improved somewhat, as they still give up big plays. The pass rush is almost non-existent (where did Kyle Williams go? He was their breakout player on defense last year, and hasn't been heard from at all this year). Shawne Merriman has done jack shit since the first preseason game. The secondary is terrible. Leodis McKelvin in particular is cover-your-eyes bad. He continually gets beaten for big plays. If someone gets burned, it's probably him. This also blends in with the crappy pass rush, as quarterbacks are having all day to stand back and dissect the secondary.
3. The wide receiver depth is taking a big hit.
Donald Jones is out 4-6 weeks with an ankle injury. Roscoe Parrish already had his now-yearly season-ending injury. The receivers have had issues with drops, including Stevie Johnson. Naaman Roosevelt was cut after the pre-season and now he's the #2 receiver. They do not have a real deep threat, so they are going to have to dink-and-dunk like the Patriots usually do. That's great if you're the Patriots, not so great if you're the Bills. They are going to need some production out of Brad Smith and the tight ends, who seem largely invisible outside the red zone. David Nelson has proven to be a pleasant surprise, and will probably become Fitz's favorite target.
4. They don't seem to know what they have with The Underrated Fred Jackson.
Ever since The Underrated Fred Jackson has started to shine, the Bills have been trying to find someone to replace him. He got some starts a few years ago after in injury to Marshawn Lynch, and was very productive. Since then, they tried to make Lynch their #1 back, then when that didn't work out, they drafted CJ Spiller. I'm not ready to call him a bust yet, since he seems to be doing a lot better this season when he gets in there, but Chan fell in love with Spiller last preseason and tried starting him, and that move bombed terribly. The Underrated Fred Jackson has been awesome this season, showing that he can do it all. He can run, he can make catches out of the backfield (which they will really need now, as evidenced by Sunday's game against the Eagles), and he can block. However, The Underrated Fred Jackson is growing irritated with the fact that he isn't making nearly the amount of money a #1 back that is as instrumental to a team as he is should make. They will need to lock him up, or he will go somewhere else if given the chance. Probably to New England, just to fuck with us.
They also have gotten into trouble the last couple games when they get too pass-heavy when protecting the lead in the second half. They barely ran in the second half against the Bengals, and promptly saw the defense wear down. Sunday, they were letting Philly back into the game as they made it 31-21. Bills get the ball, and promptly throw two incompletions and allow the only sack of the game. They cannot continue to do this, because the defense is bad enough to let teams come back on them.
I would love for everything to work out for Buffalo this season. There is genuine excitement over the team for the first time in a long time. With their issues, I am not expecting a trip to the Super Bowl, but ending the playoff drought would be nice, especially with their brothers the Sabres looking like a force in the NHL this season.
I look forward to contributing to Armchair Line Backer this season. Hopefully I'm not losing my mind as the team goes in the tank.
NOTE: I edited this slightly to make the section about the team forcing turnovers coherent, since part of that paragraph got lost in the Springfield mystery spot.