Invariably, when any NFL front office and coaching regime finishes out of the playoffs and below .500 for three consecutive seasons, players and coaches will be under pressure to produce. The Buffalo Bills have ended each of their past three seasons with 7-9 records; unless the Bills - who have made bold moves this off-season to get better - approach playoff level, heads will roll in Orchard Park next January.
Plenty of the organization's members are facing high-pressure, do-or-die situations next season. Which ten have the most to lose? These guys.
10. MLB Paul Posluszny
Buffalo's defense needs to improve in 2009 - and as the de facto "quarterback" of the defense, Posluszny's responsibilities are of critical importance. Folks are quick to forget that he was starting his first full season at middle linebacker last year; that's not an easy task, yet Poz lead the team in tackles and was a hair away from making big plays on several occasions. If he picks up that extra half-step that only experience can provide, Paul should be ready to have a break-out season. The Bills could use it.
9. DE Aaron Schobel
The two-time Pro Bowl player has just seven sacks and one serious foot injury in the past two seasons. He's got some help in the form of first-round pick Aaron Maybin in the pass rushing department; now Schobel needs to go out and prove that he's not over the hill and can still rush consistently and effectively.
8. FS Jairus Byrd
If there's one thing the Bills' defennse needs outside of a better pass rush, it's a playmaker in the back seven. Remain skeptical all you want, but making plays is precisely what Jairus Byrd did in bunches at Oregon, and that's why he was brought in to Buffalo. The Bills are counting on him to contribute and produce as a rookie far more than folks realize.
7. WR Terrell Owens
He'll probably only be in Buffalo for one season, but with a lot to prove and as the centerpiece addition for a team taking a last-gasp shot at playoff contention, Owens has a lot riding on his shoulders. He, too, is out to prove that he's not suffering through a decline at age 35. He is the key to fielding a potent offensive attack this season - can he still produce at the level that turned him into a superstar?
6. SS Donte Whitner
It's been a weird off-season for Buffalo's defensive captain. Once viewed as the cornerstone piece of the Bills' defense, Whitner is now seen as an above-average starter that needs players around him to excel. With two years left on his contract, Whitner is playing to win, to preserve his leadership role, to make fans forget about his off-season arrest, and to seal a long-term extension.
5. C Geoff Hangartner
You might be hard-pressed to find a free agent addition on any team that faces a more daunting challenge this coming season than Buffalo's new center. Simply put, Buffalo has to... you know... win more than zero divisional games this season. They're not going to do that unless they can display some semblance of control on the line of scrimmage against the division's top-flight nose tackles. That's why Hangartner's here. He's got a large task (or several) ahead of him.
4. LT Langston Walker
Jason Peters is now an Eagle, and the Bills are rolling the dice by moving the massive Walker to the left side, a position he has rarely played in his career. Now the blind-side protector for a quarterback that has not yet been able to shake the "fragile" label, Walker will be facing perhaps the most brutal list of pass rushers one could possibly fathom next season. Get rid of that ball quickly, Mr. Edwards.
3. DE Aaron Maybin
Let's be blunt - Buffalo's pass rush has sucked for a while now, even with Schobel making two Pro Bowl trips. Maybin is by leaps and bounds the most talented pass rushing threat the team has employed in recent memory. Though he's incredibly inexperienced - even by college standards - the ultra-talented and well-spoken Maybin will be counted on to provide a pass rush and big plays in a division filled with outstanding quarterback talent.
2. Dick Jauron and the coaching staff
Obviously. Three straight 7-9 seasons have turned Jauron into the single most polarizing figure on the Buffalo sports scene. Not only does he need to turn this outfit into a playoff club, he needs to get off to a fast start - anything else and the fan base will turn on him faster than a Roscoe Parrish juke.
1. QB Trent Edwards
Shouldering the hopes and dreams of literally everyone else on this list, plus the rest of his teammates, the organization and the fan base, is Buffalo's third-year signal caller. I do not envy anything about Trent Edwards' job other than the outstanding pay and, you know, the whole playing in the NFL thing. The single most pressing issue facing this team is whether or not Edwards can be "the guy" that restores credibility and a winning culture to the locker room and on the field. In a quarterback's league, the Bills will sink or swim with No. 5.