Here we go. Time to jump into the fire. I, like so many other Bills fans, am looking forward to this season like no other in a looong time. I've followed all the discussions related to a potential playoff season and I have dicided to offer a slightly different look at our chances. Hope you enjoy the read and offer your own insights.
1. By far the most important key is the play of Fitzy. When I see him play I see a QB who is tough, reads defenses well and is a fierce competitor. When he throws the ball on a zip line, with as much velocity as he has, he is good. Close to 70% good. That gets you to the playoffs. His best throws are over the middle or to the right. He prefers the slant to a straight over the middle pass. If he throws as hard as he can he can throw a 30 yard slant pretty well. When he is asked to put an arc under the ball or throw an out or fade to his left, not so good. OK, so much for his physical abilities (in short form). The key to a productive Fitz year is keeping his self-confidence in the second half of the season. So far, he has shown a real tendency to lose his moxy as the season progresses. Then his QB rating goes in the dumper. And I don't relate this primarily to personal injuries. It is a huge factor and no one can predict the outcome. So there is a fair amount of hesitancy in predicting win totals. Self confidence is the great unknown when talking about Fitz.
2. Physicality. One of the major considerations Buddy Nix has had while building this team is having players who can seriously knock heads with the physical teams (Pats, Jets, Giants and others). Especially after the Giants game last year I thought we got a little beat up on the field. We need to develop a take no prisoners attitude as a team and beat up on the other team. That usually starts with dominating the line of scrimmage. Defensively I think we're there. Offensively I'm not so sure yet. I'll believe it when I see it. When we are able to at least play even with the physical teams, I will know we are on the way.
3. Defensive gel. To make a serious playoff push the D needs to play well together. Our young CB's (Gilmore and Williams) especially need to gel with the rest of the team. It usually takes time for that to happen so we'll see. If they can begin to gel early on, so much the better for the whole team.
4.Health. This goes without saying but there are a few key people who qualify here. On offense that person is Eric Wood. He has a commanding presence out there and that presence is needed if our offensive line is to protect Fitz and open FJ and CJ lanes. Obviously Fitzy is vital too. If he goes down it's lights out for us. On defense I see Barnett and Gilmore as essential players. Our line will be fine. If our key people stay healthy we have a playoff chance.
5. Schedule. This years schedule is favorable to a playoff push, but only if we can come out from the first four games in good shape. To me that means 3-1 and that means the first game at the Jets is all important to a fast start and to set the tone for the season. I hope this team comes out of the gate with fierce determination and puts a hurt on the Jets. We have a good shot at starting 3-1 with a win at the NJ swamp. Games 5 thru 9 are brutal. Most of the remaining games look winnable to me if Fitz still has his moxy and we are not too beat up. If we get to game 5 at 2-2 the playoffs will be a tough uphill road.
If I had chosen one more key it would be that Gailey has to call an offensive game plan that plays to our strengths (no deep fade to the left on 3rd down), is not experimental and keeps the chanis moving.
Some more random thoughts:
On the subject of Stevie/celebrations, why is a sack dance or great defensive play celebration never called?
Why does an offensive guru like Gailey have such a black hole in his brain in the use of a tight end?
I don't worry about Cordy. Mark Anderson has been described as the Steve Johnson of DE's in that he has a large repertoire of moves, is very creative and makes his moves up play to play. Cordy already handles the bulk of rushers (like Kelsay). With game experience he will be fine. I would expect a rookie with 14 college games at LT to still be learning the position.
I'm in the camp for putting McKelvin against the other teams slot receiver so he can play with his eyes to the ball. It might be the only way he stays in the league. I'm worried about our CB's ability to handle the load (other than Gilmore). Am I the only one who thinks either McKelvin or McGee will not make the final cut? I also think if Gailey could he would cut both of them. If McGee's was a full patella tendon tear, that is not a one year heal. More like 2 years. Similar timing to a full achilles tear.
One more. If I were Gailey I would play CJ much more often. If not in the backfield then as a receiver. He is just too good to sit out. To me, he is one of our best receivers. It was so great to see him blossom last year.
Oh yeah, one more. GO BILLS!!!