Maybe Nolan Norwacki was on to something. According to one league executive...
The Difference Between 2008 and 2011
As Bills Nation bathes in the jubilation of ending the 8 year old losing streak to the Patriots, an intriguing statistic becomes relevant to Buffalo. The stat: NFL teams have a 76% to be playoff bound after going 3-0 (with significant increases with each win thereafter). With this in mind, we are both statistically in an excellent position to make the playoffs and gravely reminded that in 2008, we were a part of the 24%. Since 2008 is far too recent for any us to forget, the natural question that refuses to go away for most (non-bandwagon) fans is, what’s the difference between this 3-0 2011 team compared to our 4-0 and 5-1 2008 squad?
To accurately compare the two teams, I’ll start with the some of the downfalls that ended up derailing Buffalo in ’08.
Swagger At no point during that brief ’08 winning streak could I really say that team had it. In retrospect it seems obvious that a team lead by Dick Jauron would be lacking in this department, but at the time it was much harder to sense at the time
Quarterback We also faced a season changing injury when Trent Edwards suffered a concussion resulting from an Adrian Wilson pile-driver. I believe this killed Trent’s career, sending him on a downward spiral of “checkdownism”. He came back tentative, scared, unsure, and lacking a winning mentality.
Quality of Wins We were squeaking away wins against bad teams. Outside of the 5th win against the Chargers in which the power was turned off for the entire 3rd quarter (some fellow let his balloons run into the power transformers near the stadium), we were beating bottom-feeders like an Oakland team whose head coach was actively trying to get fired by attempting 70 yard field goals.
Fast forward exactly three years. How do the Bills compare in each of these categories?
2011 Swagger The Bills have to stop putting themselves in big holes early, but is any deficit too large to overcome? Being the first team in NFL history to win back-to-back after being down 18+ points is no trivial feat. This team can score with the best of them (actually, it is the best. Buffalo is the number one scoring offense through week 3). Our polished offense combined with poise when the going gets tough denies teams the ability to give us the “knock-out” punch. I am confident that Ryan Fitzpatrick can march us down the field for a score whenever the situation calls for it. After our offensive woes for most of the past decade, it’s a great feeling to finally have. Buffalo’s offense, and the franchise in general have a swagger that is completely new and unique to the 2011 edition of the team.
2011 Quarterback Is there any question anymore about the legitimacy of Ryan Fitzpatrick? He is tied for second in the league with 9 touchdowns, tied for fewest sacks at 1, and 7th in the league in QB rating with a staggering 103.5. Also, Fitzpatrick’s new ESPN QBR is 83.7, good for second in the NFL. Analysts claim this is more of an accurate representation of a QB’s play. This takes into play sacks, fumbles, 3rd down, and clutch behavior. Only Tom Brady is higher with a 85.3. No one else is even in the 80′s except for Tony Romo. ESPN believes this measures a bit more of the intangibles that don’t always show up. What’s more proof than having your top 3 be Brady, Fitzpatrick, and Romo respectively? Ryan Fitzpatrick just played himself into a contract, and instead of getting the usual Bills mid-tier contract, Fitzpatrick is going to demand money, a lot of money (read Topher’s featured article for more of an insight into this). If he keeps playing top of the league, he’s going to make himself be worth 10 million a year.
2011 Quality of Wins One of the biggest signs that we are ready for a new era is that we beat one of the NFL’s best teams THIS year. Putting aside our record against them, and their previous successes, I am way more concentrated on their team this year. According to many, the Patriots were Superbowl bound and a top 3 NFL team. Guess what? We beat them. This pushes us into the upper echelon of team, at least for now. Also, Oakland appears to be a very tough team, especially after yesterday’s punk job of the previously undefeated New York Jets.
In addition to not having the 2008 pitfalls, there are several more elements that indicate this 3-0 start is much more legitimate that the last one…
Coaching Our coaching has been on another level. I believe Thomas Chandler Gailey is our best coach since Marv Levy. When was the last time you noticed our coaching staff make half time adjustments successfully? Not get flustered when down big? I’m not sure I can, because it didn’t happen. Having a competent and confident coach does wonders for the team’s chances.
Chan Gailey gets the most out of his players at every position. For instance, what a great idea to keep Ryan Fitzpatrick in a spread formation. This neutralizes the fact that our offensive line is considered average. And how does he find these wide recievers? What did he see in Donald Jones that could replace Lee Evans? Apparently something most didn’t, because he’s developing into a deep threat. Chan saw something in David Nelson as well. Other teams were not giving the Florida product a shot. Much to our pleasure, he’s developing into one of the best slot receivers in the game. Finally, Chan also helped Steve Johnson catapult into the top 10 of NFL recievers. His route running is smooth, and despite sub-elite measurables, he consistently leaves cornerbacks in the dust. Matching these unheralded receivers with a coach like Gailey is going to be a win-win situation all year.
Fred Jackson How could I not mention the rise of Fred Jackson. We all knew he was a good football player, but did any of us think he could be a top 3 NFL RB? Right now he is certainly looking like it. He cannot be tackled, and his vision and elusiveness is the best in the NFL. His clutch runs and timely receptions make him as deadly as they come. And oh by the way, he’s fourth in the league in rushing. His only downfall is that he’s 30 and needs a new contract. Luckily he’s a young 30 having broken into the league late, and should be able to play at an older age than most backs.
Are any of these things we could say during the 2008 run? No, we were just all happy to be sneaking out slight victories, and holding on for dear life. We were heavily exposed once we started to play big teams. This team, however, is vastly improved in the areas that ultimately doomed the 2008 Bills, which bodes extremely well for the long term prospects of a playoff berth and beyond.
Celebrate with us, Bills fans, because this team is legit. I’ll be giving out BuddyNixon.com t-shirts at some point during a home game tailgate. Comment if you want one. I’ll find you. You can always find me cheering hard, flipping people into the stands behind me, and booing other fans in their away jerseys. Where does this take place, you may ask? The ROCKPILE.
 I keep hearing that coaching is overrated and that the players can “coach themselves”. Ask Jim Caldwell how that’s going. After losing Peyton Manning, that team cannot stay on track.
 I don’t think that anyone can be upset about getting a 4th round pick for Evans anymore.
Apropos of nothing, Vince Wilfork is the NFL’s Cheapest and Dirtiest player. Thanks for allowing us to run the clock out after your 15 yard misconduct penalty. Slamming Fitzpatrick’s head into the ground was classy. I’m assuming you wanted to hurt him? The Chris Villarrial, Jonas Jennings, J.P. Losman antics of old have blossomed in beautiful fashion. Get out of the league, you do it no good.