Piggie backing off the "rivalries" post and the last one about being competitve in the season opener I think our problem last year was that after Tom Brady went down the Bills organization and maybe many fans didn't respect the other teams in our division enough and that maybe we didn't respect our own players enough as well, leading to our abysmal division record.
To win this year in the division I think we all have to realize, players and coaches included, that the AFC East is one of the best divisions in football:Dolphins - Despite his reputation as "noodle arm", Chad Pennington has to be respected this year. The guy is the most accurate passer in league history and last year became the only QB to throw for 3,500 yards and throw less than 8 picks. He also completed almost 70% of his throws. While he may not strike the big plays and score tons of points, he doesn't make mistakes, and in my opinion, the best way to win is to minimize errors. The Dolphins offense, especially Chad, does not make many of them. While I think their Wildcat will be a failure this year as teams will be ready, Ronnie Brown is now well removed from his knee surgery and he is a very good player. I also have enromous respect for Ricky Williams, who I still believe in his prime was one of the best running backs I've seen this decade. With Roth hurt I think Joey Porter and Jason Taylor on the outside will cause problems for Butler and Walker and we have to be ready for this. They upgraded their secondary which should make them capable of generating more picks if they produce a good rush, which they should. The Dolphins will be a very tough game home or away and we must approach them with a healthy understanding that they are a talented team.
Patriots - Not much to say here except that while we all know they should be respected as an elite team, respect and fear are not the same thing. I like our corners and going against TO, Lee and Reed should help us get ready for Moss Welker and Galloway/Lewis. While their running game is a good one, I'd rather let them try to beat us by eating clock and running in space then opening up big plays. The key to stopping the Pats is preventing the big play and we must approach the games against them that way. This will especially help us on Monday Night. On the big stage, if we can stay in the game by limiting big plays in the air, our team should get more amped and confident as the game goes on. On the flip side, I think the way we can beat them is by going for the big plays ourselves. Don't play scared and avoid the talent they have on the line and in the middle of their linebacking corp by throwing it up to the outside. Our receivers are better than their secondary but we should respect that their D-line and the middle of their 3-4 has more talent than most units in the league.
Jets - Despite the shaky play they are going to have at quarterback, the biggest thing we have to respect about the Jets is their offensive line, which is fast becoming the best in football. I won't pretend to be a defensive coordinator, but something has to be done to break the wall their capable backs are running behind. They blew us apart for large gaps on more than one occasion last year and that can not continue to happen. Stroud, Williams, McCargo, Spencer, and Poz have to step up here. I think our DTs are looking good but they have to be supremely conditioned to be able to hold up for four quarters and not let themselves get pushed back as the game wears on due to fatigue. This mainly falls on Stroud, whose age has to be countered by conditioning to stay strong late into games, and McCargo and Johnson, who need to hold their own when Stroud does get worn down during these games. Most importantly, Poz must take advantage if our DTs do hold up to get into lanes and make the tackles on first contact with the strong Jones and slippery Washington. On the flip side, Wood, Hang, and Levitre must NOT let Jenkins decimate our running game like he did last season. This is the key to winning our games against New York. We have to beat them on the ground, they are a running team chiefly, especially with Sanchez and Clemens under center, and if we win the possession battle and move the chains on the ground we will force Rex Ryan to put the game in the hands of his inexperienced and, at least for now, likely turnover prone QBs as opposed to letting his running backs take control. This will guarantee victory especially with our talented secondary.
Respecting our opponents is critical, we looked like we expected to win our division games after our fast start and that was ultimately our demise and fall from grace in 08. We play in a very very very good division. That said, what makes our division so great is that all four teams are highly talented and we have to respect ourselves in addition to respecting our opponents.
Our losing ways have led to a loser mentality in which we as fans constantly criticize our roster as not being good enough and I wonder if the coaches sometimes get the same feeling. This has to stop. Perception is a killer and in this league its based on wins, something we haven't had enough of. Just look at the Falcons. They had one magical season and everyone is suddenly in awe at their talent with Roddy White, Tony G, Turner and Ryan. But the fact is, they have just as many issues, if not more, at key positions than we do. Their defense has huge weaknesses and they lack depth on offense. I like our roster, as a whole, better than theirs. But the perception is the Bills are fielding a team with lesser capabilities. I don't buy it. Terrell Owens, Lee Evans, Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish, Stevie J, Hardy, Nelson, Rhodes, Lynch, Jackson and Trent are a group of skill players that should be the envy of many teams in the league. Our defensive personnel has guys who can play ball. Poz is a solid presence in the middle, Kawika makes plays all over the field, Stroud/Williams are tough and talented and our secondary is probably the deepest in the game. I trust Schobel to return. Our offensive line is a question mark but that shouldn't stop our coaches from utilizing our roster. We have to attack, attack, attack with this offense. Put the game in the hands of our running game when its called for and trust them to produce and let Trent take chances and get the ball to our weapons early and often. Make our opponents fear both aspects of our attack by stretching the field and throwing passes to all levels. Pound the rock and dump screens, use play actions when TO, Lee and Trent are clicking and make them pay for ignoring Reed/Steve/Nelson/Roscoe. In the redzone lets get defenses to fear our size mismatches by tossing the ball to Nelson in the corner of the endzone and using Hardy a lot when he returns healthy. This will give TO and Lee just enough room they need to be deadly. Inside the five we have the weapons to keep defenses completely guessing as to whether Marshawn, Jackson or Rhodes will get the ball (by having at least two of them on the field) on the ground or in the air or if we will toss it up for TO, Hardy, or Nelson. Reverses and end arounds to Lee and Roscoe should be on the menu as well. On defense lets get Maybin and Ellis (if the former gets on the field and if the latter makes the team) moving around from OLB to the line without being afraid to blitz them or Mitchell and trust them in coverage. Send Maybin in behind Schobel and cause havok on that side, I think Denney/Ellis/Kelsay can get through if offensive lines are scrambling. Let Poz call it as he sees it and direct our flow, trust McGee, who last year was the 5th best corner in the league for giving up big plays when he was targeted at only 0.9% of the time, while shifting safety help to McKelvin's side to allow him to feel comfortable and confident playing the aggresive style he covets. We may give up some gains to the youngsters side doing this but we also increase the chances of letting him make a key turnover, forcing other teams to make the crucial errors needed to win.
Buffalo has the talent to win this division, we just have to believe in our players and most importantly, the coaches have to as well. I think the changes and quirks we are seeing to both sides of the ball this off-season by the coaches is a good sign that maybe they are warming to this idea. We play in a very good division, the key to winning and making the playoffs this season is understanding our opponents and respecting them as each being a contender while simultaneously letting our talent have the opportunity to prove they too are worthy of respect.