GLS Preview: Buffalo Bills

When was the last time the Buffalo Bills were good? Seriously, think about it. I actually can’t recall. I remember being somewhat excited about the team in the early part of the 2000s, when Drew Bledsoe was brought in to save a franchise trying to revive itself after going 3-13 in 2001.

In three years with Bledsoe at the helm, the Bills had just one winning season (9-7 in 2004). That’s also the only winning season the franchise has had in 11 years. And the resulting 11-year playoff drought will almost surely continue in 2011, because this version of the Bills doesn’t appear to be any better than the one that went 4-12 in 2010.

I don’t enjoy constantly deriding the team down the street, but what choice do I have? This is a franchise that, despite having over $30 million in cap space, let two quality defensive starters — linebacker Paul Posluszny and safety Donte Whitner — walk in free agency. Their replacements, Nick Barnett and nobody, are downgrades.

Their top offseason acquisition: former Jets reserve receiver and wildcat specialist Brad Smith. Hooray?

2010 in a nutshell: The Bills settle for only four wins in their worst season since 2001. Still, that doesn’t feel so bad considering that the team started the campaign with eight straight losses. Stevie Johnson and Kyle Williams emerge as stars, but top pick C.J. Spiller disappoints.

Three predictions for 2011:

1. Tyler Thigpen will start at least four games: No disrespect to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is one of the NFL’s best dudes. But despite what homer local sportscasters will tell you, he’s not good enough to consistently start in this league. He isn’t a bad decision maker and makes the odd great throw, but he makes too many bad ones to deliver as a starter. Thigpen, who the team signed as a free agent, served under Bills head coach Chan Gailey in 2008, his best season as a pro. The 27-year-old has a better track record than Fitzpatrick does as a starter.

2. Marcell Dareus won’t save the run defense, but he’ll make them better: I’m quite excited about what Pro Bowl-caliber nose tackle Kyle Williams will do with No. 3 overall pick Marcell Dareus lining up next to him. Those two could make up an exceptional duo up front for years to come. The problem is that the Bills gave up a league-high 4.8 yards per carry in 2010, and the losses of Posluszny and Whitner won’t help. No one’s criticizing this team’s secondary (they had the third-best pass defense in the league last season), but Buffalo still has lots of work to do with the front seven.

3. Shawne Merriman won’t save the day: I’m not buying into the talk that Merriman is about to have a big bounce-back season. The guy is done. He’s a 27-year-old in a 37-year-old’s body. He’s already missing training camp practices due to “leg soreness,” which just sounds like something old people deal with. There’s no way Merriman makes it through the 2011 season without missing several games due to injury, and he proved in 2009 that, even when suited up, he’s simply not the same player anymore. I don’t hate the small financial risk that Buddy Nix took on a guy with such a notable past, but I wish the Bills had protected themselves with more depth at outside linebacker.

The final word(s): The Bills are significantly less talented than the Patriots and Jets and probably remain a step or two behind the Dolphins. They’ll be better on paper than they were last season, but only because that 0-8 start warped the numbers a bit. They aren’t a four-win team, but they also aren’t an eight-win team. This season, the key will be the improvement/emergence of guys like Dareus, Spiller, Aaron Williams, Jairus Byrd and Stevie Johnson. I’m guessing they finish 6-10.

Comments (8)

  1. The only thing making existence as a Dolphins fan passable is that the Bills have been so bad.

    That said… I’d rather have Fitzpatrick than Henne. FML.

  2. The Bills are young team with weapons and potential. Of course they aren’t making the playoffs this year but if you don’t see the progress that is being made, you are blind.

    How you could actually value a guy like Poz over Nick Barnett is amazing and dumb.

    Fitz will start all of this year unless he gets injured. You have to follow this team in order to understand their new way of running things. Fitz is their leader and nothing is going to put hime on the bench this year.

    Merriman won’t save the day but the addition of Dareus, Merriman, and Barnett will make this defense better if not in the middle of the pack.

    Their offense isn’t great but has the potential to be good this year with all the weapons they have and the spread offense they use a lot.

    Last year they were a 4-12 team. This year they should win 6-8 games but I expect a lot of improvement.

    Next year is a year they could possibly make a run at the playoffs.

    And to the Dolphin fan stepen, I don’t know how one playoff season in the last 8 years has you looking down on the Bills. You guys should probably do better than split 11 of the last 22 games versus the Bills if you wan to look down on us. Especially since we are showing signs of getting better while you guys are staying put.

  3. “How you could actually value a guy like Poz over Nick Barnett is amazing and dumb.”

    Poz: 26 years old

    Barnett: 30 years old

    Poz: Former Bills defensive MVP and team captain coming off a 151-tackle season.

    Barnett: Has ended two of the last three seasons on injured reserve; coming off a season in which he lost his starting job in a 3-4 defense.

    Poz: Fetched a massive six-year contract worth $7 million per season with $15 million guaranteed on the first day of free agency. Buffalo tried and failed to retain him.

    Barnett: Received little to no interest on the market before settling for a three-year contract worth $4 million per season with one of the crappiest teams in the league. The Packers had little to no interest in retaining him.

    The two aren’t even on the same level at this point. Take off the rose-colored glasses, Mike.

  4. Nice article, albeit a little too critical of a team that just changed nearly every member of thier organization minus the ownership.

    First off, when were the Bills good? Maybe you’re too young to remember that from 91 – 94, it was the Buffalo Bills that represented the AFC in the Super Bowl, four years in a row. A feat that has never happened, before, or since that historic dynasty.

    Second, Pozlusny and Whitner quality defensive starters? Sure, Poz has the 3rd most tackles in the NFL, but he can’t stop the run and he can’t fall back into pass coverage, so where is his quality? Those tackles came when he had to chase down running backs and receivers for 5, 10 yards. Barnett is not only an upgrade (a minor one I’ll give you), but he’s got the veteran leadership qualities that Poz didn’t have and will never have.

    And I can’t even believe Whitner made that list. A 1st round high pick and he’s amassed as many interceptions as he has years of play. Jarius Byrd blew his stats out of the water with his rookie year, and despite only having one pick last season, he stills has twice as many as Whitner. Tight ends were burning us for years and that all lies on Whitners shoulders.

    Thigpen. Alright, he put up some great stats with the Chiefs, but remind me how many games Thigpen actually won? He started 11 games and won exactly one of them. I don’t doubt his skills, but to say that he’s going to outplay Fitzpatrick is pure ridiculousness.

    Yeah, our defense is hurting, but only the RUN defense. People seem to forget that during the 2009 season, we had the second best pass defense in the league, only behind the Jets during Revis’ crazy season. We still have all those pieces in place (minus Whitner, but George Wilson, even at age 28 is much better), AND the Bills transitioned to a 3-4 last year, the hardest transition in football.

    I agree that Merriman’s not the “savior,” but he was never touted to be. We brought him in for cheap, and if he’s doesn’t work out there’s the door. The Bills staff is “hoping” he can be what he used to be, but I’ve never seen one article claiming that Merriman’s coming in to save that defense. Even Gailey continually says “we’ll see,” on Merriman’s progress.

    Yeah maybe the Bills are less talented than the Pats, but the Jets and Dolphins? The Jets have some talent on the defense, but the offense stinks and Sanchez couldn’t make to 20 TDs with Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller, AND LT in the backfield? Sanchez is the most overrated player in all of NFL and the only reason why he’s even relevant is because Ryan loves him so much for some reason. Stafford only played in 3 games last year and still threw nearly half as many TDs as Sanchez.

    Good prediction on the 6-10 record though. The Bills do have a tough schedule this year, but if we can stay healthy I think we’ll be able to turn some heads and earn ttat respect we’ve lost the past decade.

    As for the Dolphins fan, are you really even comparing the Bills to the Dolphins? You’re offense is in shambles and you have one of the worst fan bases in the country. You had one playoff run in 8 years, and that was only because Parcells had to step into help out. He even jumped ship after a year or two.

  5. Ya have you check WHO Poz signed with? The Jackonsville Jaguars, really? A team that won’t even be in Jacksonville in 5 years. He took a massive contract because A) the Jackonsville Jaguars are a horrible organization so it’s no surprise that they’d way over pay for someone like Pozluzny, and B) he’s a selfish player who claimed he wants to “win” and stay in Buffalo, but took the biggest paycheck he could get. The Giants also offered him a contract sheet, but he neglected to go to Jacksonville because they offered more. Now who do you think is in a better position to win, New York or Jacksonville? I’ll let you add up the rest from there.

    And crappiest team in the league? We started the season with Trent Edwards, so mark those as losses. With Fitz, we won 4 games, came back from a 20 point deficit against the Bengals, and took the Chiefs, Steelers, and Ravens all to OT, two of the three teams mentioned won their divisions, and one went to the Super Bowl. The Bills were two field goals and a dropped pass away from a 7 win season.

    I don’t know the color of ignorance, but you should definitely take those glasses off yourself.

  6. I don’t recall referring to the Bills as the crappiest team in the league… But I have a hard time imaging many would disagree with me calling them ONE OF the crappiest teams in the league.

    Did you actually read the entire preview? Like the part where I do mention that no one is criticizing the secondary and the pass defense? I also never suggested that anyone has proclaimed Shawne Merriman to be a “savoir.” I simply predicted that he won’t be one. There’s a big difference there, so remove your back from against the wall.

    All that matters is this: Posluszny to Barnett is a downgrade, and a 4-12 team is only slightly better this year than it was last year, if at all. That’s my opinion, which I’m paid to give. I think they’ll win six games, which is an improvement, and I do think there are bright spots, but every bad team inevitably has bright spots. It’s called “potential” and it’s one of the most evil words in sports.

    I love Bills fans…

  7. Not going to argue anything other than “The 27-year-old has a better track record than Fitzpatrick does as a starter.” Now, that isn’t stated as an opinion and it’s totally untrue. He’s 1-11 as a starter.

    Other than that it’s a good read. I think you like Poz and Whitner way more than I do, but I guess we’ll have to see how the D looks without them.

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