The Buffalo Bills are suddenly a hot pick to be the surprise team of 2008 as writers everywhere are proclaiming that this team could take the next step and finally reach the playoffs again. For Bills fans it’s hard to remember the last time their team was in the end of year tourney, as it’s been 8 seasons since the teams’ last appearance. With this in mind we’ll look at 8 players that could be the key to ending that playoff drought.
1. Trent Edwards – This is a given. The success of the Bills will begin and end with Trent Edwards. If he continues to improve on his performance from last year and pulls some games out with his arm then the Bills could easily be playoff bound. He seems to have a solid pocket awareness for a young player, as demonstrated by his sack per attempt ratio. This is especially the case when compared with Losman. Having said that he also plays more conservatively than Losman, and as the season carried on into winter his performance took a disturbing downward turn. Unless global warming happens at a very brisk pace expect snow and wind in Buffalo come December. Edwards better learn to play in these elements to win the crucial end of season games. It is late season losses in recent seasons that have haunted the Bills, let’s hope Edwards can change that.
2. Marcus Stroud – Success in football begins and ends in the trenches. Period. Last year the Bills line acted in the same manner as the turnstiles as you enter “The Ralph”. Stroud should make a huge difference clogging the center of the line. If he is healthy and plays like he has in the past it will immediately free up others on the line to stop the run and rush the opposing passer. It will do the same for the linebackers. Aaron Schobel and Paul Posluszny have to be very pleased with this acquisition.
3. Marshawn Lynch – Every young QB needs a strong RB to relieve some of the pressure and to make the offense a dual threat for their opponents. A tight end to control the middle of the field helps too, but it looks like we’ll have to count on Lynch for now. If Lynch can have a pro bowl caliber season then that will go a long way towards improving the offense to a playoff caliber level. He needs to become the dual threat that the team was expecting when it drafted him. It may not be fair to Lynch but fans are expecting the second coming of Thurman Thomas, and if they get their wish the offense will make huge strides.
4. James Hardy – I’m sure there are many that feel this spot belongs to Lee Evans, but for Evans to reach his potential once again he desperately needs someone to draw the attention of opposing defenses. Some have said that Roscoe Parrish is the key secondary weapon to scare defenses, but he has yet to come close to proving it. Hardy is big, fast, and at least at the college level he’s been a very productive scorer. More than anything the Bills have been lacking the big receiver to pull down passes in the end zone. If Hardy brings that element to this offense then we may finally see some explosiveness.
5. Donte Whitner – When Whitner was drafted there were gasps of dismay from Bills fans across the nation. But as time has gone by Whitner has proven to be a solid player and an emerging leader. He has definitely done more to solidify his defense than a player chosen before him by the Raiders, Michael Huff. With all of those things said this is the season for Whitner to become a true impact player for this defense. If he reaches his full potential and the other additions in the secondary play to their potential the Bills could be very difficult to pass against in 2008.
6. Paul Posluszny – While Whitner’s pick was viewed with skepticism Posluszny was considered to be a steal in the second round of the draft. Bills fans started to have visions of Shane Conlan dancing in their heads, especially since both players came from Linebacker U, Penn state. Unfortunately his early season injury tempered everyone’s enthusiasm. He is back to being healthy and it’s assumed he’ll immediately reclaim his starting job. If Stroud keeps the blockers off him he could be an impact player for this defense.
7. Lee Evans – Evans is still a very important player in this offense. In general when Evans has a big day The Bills seem to come away with their share of wins. He is a quiet leader who is still the lone proven game changing receiver on this team. The success of the offense could be determined to a degree by the chemistry formed between Edwards and Evans. Until they hook up for some big gains Edwards’ arm strength will continue to be questioned, especially with Losman and his shotgun arm on the bench.
8. Aaron Schobel – Looking back on the 2007 season it is hard to forget the blowout loss to the Patriots. In that game Tom Brady sat in the pocket long enough to progress through his reads more than once. It is imperative the Bills get pressure on the opposing QB this season. The Super Bowl showed what a good pass rush could do even to a great player like Brady. Schobel drives the Bills’ pass rush, and when he is off his game there is a noticeable lack of pressure on the opposing offense. If Schobel can hit double-digit sacks it will go a long way towards making this defense a force to be reckoned with.
The Bills are still in a very difficult division with an obvious favorite in the Patriots. Having said that, if these 8 players are at the top of their game for the whole season we may see playoff football in Buffalo once again.