Mitchell, other vets will keep Bills focused (buffalobills.com)
The Buffalo Bills are 3-0 for the first time since 1992, and with an upcoming matchup against the St. Louis Rams, many fans and experts are eagerly awaiting the Bills' fourth consecutive victory to start the 2008 season. Comparisons are being made between this year's Bills team and great Bills teams of yesteryear, with 1992's Super Bowl runner-up the popular choice.
Boy, that makes me nervous. On all counts.
How crazy is it to believe that the Bills are on the verge of ending their franchise-long eight-year playoff drought? It's not crazy at all. Under the league's current playoff format, 77.4% of teams that start the season 3-0 make the playoffs (72 of 93 teams). Those are much shorter odds than the suddenly resurgent Bills have faced in years.
The Bills sit alone atop the AFC East for the first time since Week 2 of the 2003 season (immediately following their 31-0 drubbing of the New England Patriots on opening day). With Tom Brady out of the picture for the season, the Bills have a legitimate chance of winning the AFC East outright and have seized their early opportunities to prove their worth for such an achievement.
Things are looking up. But it's still far too early to start thinking about the playoffs. Why? As WGR 550 says, "Well... this IS Buffalo."
Case in point
Things were looking up in Detroit last season, too. At the half-way point of the 2007 season, the Lions were 6-2, atop the NFC North, and "giddy" would have been the best way to describe the mental state of Lions fans. Since that point, the Lions have amassed a 1-10 record and have fired their President/GM, Matt Millen.
"Well... it was Detroit."
Exactly! Detroit has admittedly had a far rougher go of it in their franchise's history than Buffalo has, but the premise remains the same - the Bills have had as many struggles recently as the Lions have, though our franchise has generally been thought to be much closer to "on the up" status. Last year's Lions team is the embodiment of "worst case scenario" when it comes to fast starts. Would it be surprising if the 2008 Bills turned into the 2007 Lions? Hardly.
My advice? STOP. Stop the comparisons, stop the predictions, stop the long-term views. Live in fear of getting too far ahead of ourselves and causing some sort of tear in the space/time continuum, where we'll end up watching the Bills squander their golden opportunity. It's happened before. (And please be aware that I'm not addressing anyone in particular... my goal is to slow down as many thought processes as possible.)
Bills taking it slow
Thankfully - mercifully - the Bills themselves are taking things one game at a time. Trent Edwards, immediately following the Bills' come-from-behind 24-23 victory over the Oakland Raiders:
"I honestly don't really care about the standings right now."
Head Coach Dick Jauron is taking things slowly as well:
"You'd certainly rather be 3-0 than 0-3. It is really early, though. The fast start is good but you just have to play through the whole thing."
Yeah, it's the company line of every undefeated team right now, but it's still comforting to know that the Bills are plugging forward business as usual. They're not getting ahead of themselves. That's due to the veteran leadership on the team. Guys like Marcus Stroud and Kawika Mitchell (pictured) have been here before; Mitchell even has a Super Bowl ring to show for it. Jauron is an incredibly important calming influence as well.
This is a young team, and it is absolutely essential that the veteran leaders - Jauron and his coaching staff and a handful of players in particular - keep the team grounded. There are 13 games left in the season, and things can go terribly wrong in an instant (just ask the Patriots). I'm not even comfortable enough with the Bills' fast start to feel confident that they'll come out of St. Louis with a win, especially after seeing their early performance against Oakland. This team is good and their potential is through the roof, but there's still so much that they can prove. To predict - even expect - a playoff berth at this point is riskier business than most imagine.
How to preserve a Bills fan's sanity
Here's my plan of attack as a Bills fan: take things one game at a time, just like the team. Don't get too far ahead of myself. Enjoy the ride - the Bills haven't been this exciting to watch since I was learning basic arithmetic in the second grade. It's a win-win formula. If the Bills end up going to the playoffs, I'll just be prolonging one of the best seasons in recent memory; if they don't, I'll have kept myself sane. If you feel the need to be brash about this team, no one can stop you. Just keep this caution in mind: the Bills haven't won anything yet.