Last year the Buffalo Bills had a familiar record of 7-9. While I recognize the danger I may be putting my life into while saying this, that 7-9 record struck me as actually kind of impressive, and here's why: we didn't win a single divisional game. How many other teams won seven or more of their non-divisional games? Nine did, the Dolphins (7-3), Patriots (7-3), Ravens (7-3), Titans (9-1), Colts (8-2), Giants (8-2), Eagles (7-3), Panthers (8-2), and the Falcons (8-2). So of the ten teams that had seven or more wins out of their division only two didn't make the playoffs (and I think we all know which two teams). If we had won just half of our divisional games we might have also found ourselves in the postseason.
So what has changed since last season? Thanks to the acquisition of Terrell Owens our wide receiver depth is enviable. Our relatively young team has another year of experience under its belt. At the same time we've discussed ad nauseam the potential pitfalls of our re-tooled offensive line, our green quarterback and offensive coordinator, among other things. I tend to fall on the overly optimistic side of things when considering the upcoming year. With that disclaimer out of the way I'm going to come out and say it - I think our division is overrated. By that I mean I think the Bills stand a very good chance of winning half (or maybe even more if I allow my mind to really wander) of our divisional games next year and thereby improve our record with two or more wins.
Now before you write me off as insane I will admit that I think beating the Patriots will be a long shot at best and will take something of a miracle. This prediction is more focused on the Dolphins (a team one year removed from a 1-15 record) and the Jets (a team without a clear-cut favorite for quarterback). I remember last year when we were 5-1 heading into a stretch and people were actually saying that we were going to win three divisional games in a row! Imagine that! 8-1!?
Now look, obviously those people were 110% wrong, all I'm saying is where has the confidence gone? Is it really unreasonable for us to expect the Bills to win half of these six all important games? I mean right off the bat I'm going to say that we really should have won that game against the Jets last year (last minute fumble), sort of like we really should have beaten the Browns (last minute missed FG). Add to that the Jets will probably be starting a quarterback that just doesn't scare me and I think the only way we lose to the Jets is if we beat ourselves (kind of like we did the first game last year when Trent made at least 3 critical mistakes, so very possible). With the Dolphins I expect a fair amount of regression. 1-15 to 11-5 is very impressive, but I don't see them beating the Patriots next year, I don't see them winning 7 of their non-divisional games, and I don't see them beating us twice. At a minimum I think we can beat the Jets and the Dolphins once each and I don't think it's a stretch to see us getting another win or two in there somehow. In 2007 we beat the Jets and Dolphins both times and I just don't see enough change in either team to rule that out as a possibility for 2009, despite 2008. I think we've gotten more better than the Jets or Dolphins since 2007, if that makes any sense.
Now that's great and all but what will it matter if we also regress in our non-divisional games - we are after all allegedly playing more difficult competition. I don't buy it though, I think we could definitely win six or seven non-divisional games again and thereby finish the season in the 10-6 range, even though that may not be enough to make the playoffs. Games against the Bucaneers, Browns, Jaguars, and Chiefs are very winnable. Games against the Texans, Panthers, and Falcons could end up being toss-ups. I don't think it's crazy to say we could win one of the Saints, Titans, or Colts games.
When the team had confidence last year they were beating teams like the Chargers who were pretty good. We lost all that confidence in three consecutive losses to division opponents and ended the season 2-8. I think if we can stay in the hunt and stay confident we could pull off a couple upsets and finish 9-7 or 10-6. To do that I think divisional wins will be crucial though, without them we could be looking at a record considerably worse than last years. This team seems to play infinitely better with confidence and I think when they play their best they can compete with the best.
So have at it. Call me crazy (I probably am). Am I underestimating our divisional opponents? Am I overestimating the Bills? Or do some of you think that maybe we could pull something like this off? Lastly, is it sad that I'm hoping for a 10-6 season, probably not even enough to get into the playoffs? It seems like it to me.
Post Script: I've been reading for a while but this is my first post on this blog so I hope it turned out ok. I was still kind of just playing around with some of the features so it's, I guess, relatively amateur. My apologies.