The Bills entered the 2009 season with high hopes of reaching the playoffs for the first time in the last 10 years. Signing Terrell Owens in the offseason injected enthusiasm into a frustrated and disappointed fan base. That injection of enthusiasm, however, was short lived and has completely worn off thanks to a 3-5 record at the halfway point of the season.
Now, as the Bills get ready to embark on the final eight weeks of the year (and perhaps the final eight weeks of the Dick Jauron tenure) and with the dark cloud looming over the franchise as Buffalo stares down a decade without a playoff berth, it’s time to fish or cut bait in Orchard Park.
Whatever fate that awaits the Bills remains to be seen, but I caution those who view the Bills’ remaining schedule “ manageable” or even “winnable”. Make no mistake about it, this is a difficult eight-game stretch for a struggling football team. The combined 33-31 record of the teams left on the schedule is a bit misleading. If nothing else, this should be interesting to see if the Bills can even make it to their infamous 7-9 mark they’ve boasted the last three seasons. Something to chew on: with the Bills’ being the worst defensive run-unit in the league, they’ll face six of the league’s top rushers that rank among the top 20.
Week 10 @ Tennessee Titans. The Titans are living proof that in the NFL, the fall down the mountain is much easier the climb up. Last season, Tennessee started 10-0 and finished 13-3. This season, however, the Titans lost their first six games and failed to score at least 20 points in five of the six. The low point was a 59-0 walloping at the hands of New England. But coming off their bye week in Week 7, the Titans knocked off division rival Jacksonville to snap an eight-game losing streak dating back to last season. Last week, Tennessee secured their first road win of the year beating San Francisco. The Titans have one of the most exciting and best backs in football, Chris Johnson. The second year back leads the NFL with 959 rushing yards, 491 of those yards coming over the last three games.
Week 11 @ Jacksonville Jaguars. One question comes to mind about Jacksonville: who have they beaten? The answer is one contender and three of this year’s worst teams. Take away their win over Houston in Week 3 and the Jaguars’ other three victories came against Tennessee, St. Louis and Kansas City. Those three teams just mentioned are a combined 4-20 so far this season, and the Jags needed an overtime field goal to beat the Rams and hung on last week to survive against the Chiefs. That said, Jacksonville still presents a threat to the Bills because of running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 11. The Bills held MJD to just 17 yards rushing and 67 total yards in last season’s 20-16 win in Jacksonville.
Week 12 vs. Miami Dolphins. The last time the Bills and Dolphins met at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo dished out a 38-17 beat down of the fish back in 2007. Last year, however, the Bills laid one of their proverbial eggs up in Toronto, losing to Miami 16-3. Miami has won three straight games against Buffalo, including the first meeting this season in South Beach 38-10. It’ll be the last weekend in November, so here’s hoping the playing field will be covered in white and the temperatures will be somewhere in the low teens. Quarterback Trent Edwards has failed miserably to figure out the Dolphins defense ( 1 TD, 4 INT) the last couple of games and the Bills will surely see a steady diet of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.
Week 13 vs. New York Jets (in Toronto). The first Buffalo adventure had everyone in Toronto running towards the hockey rinks, as the Bills stunk it up against Miami 16-3. The second time around could look a lot like the first time as the Jets look to avenge a crushing loss to the Bills in overtime in Week 6, 16-13. The first meeting saw the Jets rush for 318 yards as a team, 210 coming from Thomas Jones. The Jets basically beat themselves in the first meeting, thanks to six interceptions, five at the hands of rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Odds are pretty good that Jets coach Rex Ryan will have his team fully focused on exacting revenge in the Great White North.
Week 14 @ Kansas City Chiefs. After four games, is it safe to say this is the game you feel most confident that the Bills can win? I’ll be the first to make that leap of faith. Though this game will be played at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs have made playing in Kansas City a bit more appealing to the visitors the last few years. Kansas City is one of three teams still looking for their first home win of the season. The Chiefs have scored the fourth fewest points in the AFC and only Cleveland and Tennessee have allowed more points on defense. Again, this game is the most winnable of the remaining eight left. Can the Bills avoid Cleveland debacle?
Week 15 vs. New England Patriots. 12 wins and counting for the Patriots over the Bills, a streak that stretches over six seasons. The Bills had the Patriots on the ropes in Week 1, but failed to deliver the knock out blow and as only Dennis Green could say, the Bills let ‘em off the hook. That was probably their best chance to beat New England this season. This time, Tom Brady won’t be rusty and it won’t be his first game back since suffering a season ending knee injury in Week 1 last year. If the Bills were to stop the Patriots from achieving their 13th straight win against them, it will surely be the high point in a year filled with many lows.
Week 16 @ Atlanta Falcons. A late Christmas present for the Bills or a lump of coal they find at the bottom of their stocking? However you view it, this could be the Bills’ biggest test not named New England. Atlanta has completely reshaped their franchise just a few years removed from their star quarterback, Michael Vick, going to prison and their head coach, Bobby Petrino, quitting on them with a few weeks left in the season to take the head coaching job at Arkansas. Now, Atlanta has Matt Ryan under center and with each passing week, he’s blossoming into the next great signal caller. It also helps to share the same backfield with Michael Turner, who leads the NFC with 10 touchdowns.
Week 17 vs. Indianapolis Colts. Whew! The Bills get a gift from the football gods and face the Colts the final weekend of the season. With the Colts sitting at 8-0, it’ll probably be another few weeks or so before they clinch the division and lock up one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoff picture. This game certainly tilts in the Bills’ favor is the Colts were to rest some of their starters. Here’s hoping we’ll see Jim Sorgi under center and Peyton Manning wearing the headset and holding a clipboard. If Colts head coach Jim Caldwell wanted to rest Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Dwight Freeney, I wouldn’t object either.