In the 2011 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills were initially surprising. On their way to a 3-0 start, they became the first team in NFL history to come back from 2 consecutive deficits of 18 or more points. One of those teams was New England, who had the Bills on the ropes, 21-0, before eventually losing 34-31. After defeating the perpetual AFC East Champions, hopes were high.
The Bills lost a disappointing game to the Bengals, but responded with a win against an Eagles team that had super bowl aspirations. After a strong 23-0 shutout of the Redskins, and a tough fought loss against the Giants, the Bills seemed to be a real threat.
But a 5-2 start turned in to a 6-10 record that included 7 straight losses towards the end of the season. Many fans were left asking, "What went wrong?" Obviously, there were many factors that played in to the the disappointing finish, but one of the biggest impacts was surely the rash of injuries that struck the team. No team likes to blame injury for their performance. Outwardly teams profess that other players need to step up to fill the void left by those injured. While injuries may not be an excuse, it's clear that they are a major factor. In the 2011 season, The Bills decline seemed clearly linked with the injuries to several key starters.To start, I'll list the players the Bills placed on injured reserve:
September: WR Roscoe Parrish
October: LB Shawn Merriman
The majority of those players had key roles and contributions in the early part of the 2011 season. Losing that many players permanently makes a big difference. This doesn't include injuries that didn't result in an IR designation. Very few teams in the NFL were affected by injuries as severely as the Bills. As the Bills add talent to the team this year, it's worth keeping in mind that the teams improvement this year will come not just from free agents and rookie draftees, but from returning players who are healthy again.