The preseason is mercifully over and this Sunday the games count as the Buffalo Bills head to Chi-town and take on the Bears. Two teams with high hopes, one team trying to end 14 years of futility. What will it take for the Bills to go 10-6 (or better) and break the string and finally make the playoffs? While a break here or there always helps, these five things must happen for the Bills to finally make the playoffs:
1. The defensive line must be a dominant force in the AFC. This is arguably the most talented front four the Bills have ever fielded. If the Bills are going to make the playoffs than these guys must stay healthy and channel their inner Fearsome Foursome, Steel Curtin or Purple People Eaters. Mario Williams needs to play again like Bruce Smith, Marcell Dareus needs to take the next step and remind everyone why he was drafted #3 overall and drawing comparisons to Warren Sapp. This defensive line will mask problems in the secondary, and turn most offenses into one-dimensional messes. If they don’t…then expect another 6-10 season.
2. Sammy Watkins has to play like he’s the offensive rookie of the year. Sammy has dazzled in practice and been almost non-existent in the preseason due to injury and erratic QB play. He needs to get this nagging injury behind him and dazzle on Sundays at Ralph Wilson Stadium like he did at St. John Fischer college. For the Bills offense to go anywhere he needs to draw favorable comparisons to Randy Moss as a rookie. If he does, then the offense (and the QB) are doing their part, and the Bills will win 10 games. If he gets lost in the shuffle or can’t get this rib injury behind him..than just expect more of the same from this offense.
3. Seantral Henderson needs to lock down the right tackle job. This kid is loaded with talent and has had a good preseason. But the regular season is not the preseason, and he’s going to be asked to block some of the NFL’s best. If he holds up and the offensive line is stabilized, than this offense will go a long way toward pulling their weight as part of a playoff team.
4. Stephon Gilmore needs to show up. The former #10 pick is getting very (very!) close to being labeled a bust. Gilmore needs to start, play 16 games, and show the signs of being a shutdown corner. If he plays as everyone keeps telling us he’s capable of, then this suspect secondary goes from being borderline bad to borderline pretty good. If he once again battles injuries and gives up a big play every other game, than this defense is screwed, and so are the Bills playoff chances.
5. The QB position needs to put up Cam Newton or Alex Smith-like numbers. Yep, regardless of who is playing QB (and I really don’t care) they need to combine for about 3,300 yards, 24-25 TD passes and no more that 12-13 interceptions. Hardly record breaking but, good enough to keep teams somewhat off balance, support the defense and open up the running game. Oh yeah, those are numbers that Kyle Orton has routinely put up in his career. Don’t get me wrong, I am pulling for EJ but, I am pulling for 10 wins more.
That’s it, these five things happen and the Bills are going to be pretty tough and probably make the playoffs as a wild card. These five things don’t, and expect less than 8 wins once again…it is just that simple.