TORONTO - The road to the NFL playoffs for the Buffalo Bills doesn’t sound so daunting right about now, does it?
Beat all the remaining teams on their schedule with losing records and get a split with the New York Jets and the Bills will finish with 10 wins and almost be assured of their first playoff berth since 1999.
Of course, almost every Sunday we are reminded that nothing is nearly so simple in the NFL. The New Orleans Saints are the latest reminder of that, going to St. Louis as 13 1/2-point favourites on the weekend and losing outright.
That said, the Bills find themselves at 5-2 and in first place in the AFC East, a nice setup to enter the real guts of the season.
The Bills have played only one divisional game to this point, which has its benefits. That the young team has been able to put themselves in such a favourable position so early has built confidence to not only challenge for a playoff position, but potentially the AFC East title.
Depending on how you view the opposition, now comes the most difficult part.
Up next, this coming Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, is the New York Jets, a team that hasn’t exactly been a dominant threat so far this fall. But as a 4-3 divisional opponent coming off a win over the San Diego Chargers and a bye week, the Jets will be the farthest thing from a pushover.
The Bills are early one-point favourites, but can we ditch all that talk about coming off the bye week being a liability? It appeared to be the case prior to last week, but led by the Bills, the well-rested squads in Week 8 were a combined 5-1.
“We know it’s going to be a tough fight and (the Jets have) been tough every time we’ve played them,” Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said Monday in Buffalo. “But in order to do what we want to do in our division, we’ve got to beat the best going through them, the Patriots and taking care of the Dolphins.
“If you want to be playoff team, you’ve got to win games in your division.”
Three of them await in November. Two versus the Jets, one against lowly Miami mixed in with another crack at an NFC East opponent when the Bills travel to Texas to face the Cowboys. If the Bills can manage to go 3-1 over those four contests and enter the final month of the season that will feature three home dates, look out.
By the way, keeping AFC East opponents away from the Bills in the Toronto series seems to be a nice compromise to all involved. The Rogers Centre still gets its game, but given that the Ralph unquestionably provides one of the top home-field advantages in the NFL, a frenzy that always seems to get amplified when the opposition is the Jets, Dolphins or Patriots, whatever competitive disadvantage there may be in coming to Toronto is minimized.
So what to take from Sunday’s 23-0 white Washing-ton of the Redskins? Well, the pass rush that nailed quarterback John Beck for an incredible nine sacks did so against a weakened offensive line and a quarterback anxious to eat the ball, a combo the Bills might not see again for the rest of the season.
That said, Bills coach Chan Gailey said the Redskins weren’t necessarily the pushover they appeared to be.
“You hope that your team gains confidence from that, that your defence sees how well they can play,” Gailey said on Monday. “It’s been documented (the Redskins) weren’t at full speed, but let me tell you. they’re NFL players with an NFL team, they’re good. It’s not like they picked up some guys on the road to Toronto to play.
“(The performance) should create more confidence for our defence.”
Another encouraging quality of this Bills team has been the way they have responded to a loss. After failing to close out Cincinnati with a poor second half that resulted in their first defeat, the Bills returned to beat Philadelphia the following week. Falling to the Giants gave the Bills two losses in three weeks heading into the bye, heaping added pressure on the Toronto game.
“The character of this team is night and day different from last year,” Bills receiver David Nelson said. “You see guys hurting after losses. You sensed it on the plane back from New York, knowing we had to sit on that (loss) for two weeks. The guys had a different attitude about ‘em.”
And now they have the record and confidence to go with it.
DRIVE FOR FIVE
Thanks to their strong start, if the Bills can win five of these nine remaining contests, they should be bound for the NFL post-season for the first time since 1999.
Nov. 6 Jets at Bills
First of two this month vs. Rex’s boys.
Nov. 13 Bills at Cowboys
Tony Romo caught in a season headed for disaster.
Nov. 20 Bills at Dolphins
Fish should still be in full “Suck for Luck” mode.
Nov. 27 Bills at Jets
Gailey’s boys will need at least a split with Gang Green.
Dec. 4 Titans at Bills
Another chance to avenge Music City Miracle.
Dec. 11 Bills at Chargers
Likely to be toughest remaining road game.
Dec. 18 Dolphins at Bills
Always best to host Miami in a blizzard.
Dec. 24 Broncos at Bills
Denver will be long out of playoff picture by then.
Jan. 01 Bills at Patriots
Could this one be for the AFC East title?