The Staggering Anatomy Of The Buffalo Bills Playoff Drought

With the trading deadline behind us and the stretch run ready to begin in baseball I can finally turn my attention to NFL training camp.  Next week will be the first week with live games as the pre-season schedule kicks off but the past few weeks have been all about training camp around the NFL.  Expectations have been set and they are quite high in the usual places like New England and Green Bay.  In Buffalo expectations have been heightened by the arrival of former #1 pick Mario Williams and the retention of several of their own key players.  It’s been 12 years since the Bills have been in the playoffs and breaking down the numbers shows exactly what this Buffalo Bills team is up against.

Jim Kelly, who was the last Bills starting QB to win a playoff game, has been in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame for a decade

The 12 year playoff drought is the longest active streak in the NFL, 3 seasons ahead of the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders who each have 9 year droughts.  They also have the 3rd longest active drought since a division title at 16.  I’m sure Bills fans wouldn’t mind seeing that record continue if the prior one is snapped this year with a wild card berth.  16 is also the number of years since their last playoff victory, a win over the Miami Dolphins in the wild card round of the 1995 playoffs.  They hold the 4th longest playoff drought in that category, which is pretty impressive since two of the teams ahead of them (Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals) were both in the playoffs last season.  If Bills fans want to aim higher than a simple playoff berth then they can beat these current active streaks as well – they are tied with the Chiefs for the 6th longest championship game appearance drought at 18 seasons (although 1 ahead of their rival Dolphins whose drought stands at 19).  They also have the 9th longest Super Bowl appearance drought, also at 18.  Surprisingly that is only the second shortest drought in the AFC East behind New England who is at 0.  The Dolphins have gone 27 years and the Jets 43 since their last Super Bowl appearances.  They are also one of 9 teams who existed at the advent of the Super Bowl that have yet to win it (Arizona, Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Diego, Tennessee/Houston).

Barring injury Brian Moorman will have played 192 games for the Bills without a playoff appearance by the end of the season

Then there are the individual players.  The Bills signed punter Brian Moorman as an undrafted free agent after the 2000 season, the 1st year of the Bills current playoff drought.  Moorman has played in all 176 of the Bills regular season games since then.  That is the most regular season games for an active player in the NFL to play on the same team without a playoff appearance.  That is also the 3rd longest active streak for most regular season games without a playoff appearance for any player in the NFL.  Of the two players ahead of Moorman on that list #1, linebacker Takeo Spikes, played 47 of his 203 career games with the Bills from 2003-2006 and #2, kicker Rian Lindell, has played the last 136 of his 180 career games with the Buffalo Bills.  He is one of 4 players on the Bills who has played more than 100 games without a playoff appearance along with Moorman, defensive end Chris Kelsay (138) and cornerback Terrence McGee (115).  And you can add the 16 games that they will play this year to their totals as they will obviously not secure a playoff berth before the end of this season.  Adding in those 16 games will put defensive tackle Kyle Williams 1 short of 100 games played without a playoff appearance.  Here’s hoping that game #99 is a charm for big Kyle.

The Bills finally seem to have the team that can get into the mix and put together a serious playoff run.  As you can see from above they have an uphill battle with history if they are going to climb that mountain.  There is a lot of bad history to eradicate and only 16 games to do it.  We’ll see if the 2012 version of the Buffalo Bills has what it takes to finally re-write that history.

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Buddy Nix is changing the blueprint in Buffalo

The Buffalo Bills announced a 5 year contract extension for WR Stevie Johnson today.  Johnson will get paid $36.25 million over the contract that will keep him in Buffalo through his 31st birthday.  Johnson’s 5 year agreement comes a few months after the Bills signed both QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and DT Kyle Williams to 6 year contract extensions.  They also signed starting RT Erik Pears, K Rian Lindell and LS Garrison Sanborn to 4-year extensions last month.  Last season they extended DE Chris Kelsay and SS George Wilson to multi-year deals as well.  Why is this news?  Because the Buffalo Bills have long been notorious for not keeping their players beyond their rookie contracts.

Fitzpatrick and Johnson will anchor the Bills offense for at least the next 5 seasons

Astoundingly the Bills have signed only 1 first round pick to a second contract since 1997.  That was WR Lee Evans who was traded to the Ravens two years into his 4 year extension.  11 players – RB Antowain Smith, CB Antoine Winfield, DE Erik Flowers, CB Nate Clements, T Mike Williams, RB Willis McGahee, QB J.P. Losman, SS Donte Whitner, DT John McCargo, RB Marshawn Lynch, and LB Aaron Maybin – were all cut, traded, or signed away in free agency after being drafted in the first round by the Bills.  Their track record hasn’t been too much better with players that were late round picks that they developed on their own either.  Late round gems like CB Jabari Greer and DT Pat Williams were lost in free agency.  T Jason Peters, a perennial Pro Bowler in Philadelphia now, was traded away when the Bills would not meet his salary demands.  Long story short is that this has been a franchise that has been spinning their wheels for over a decade.

That’s why Stevie Johnson’s re-signing was significant.  As mentioned before, Stevie is the 6th starting player re-signed by the Bills since Buddy Nix took over as GM in early 2010.  There were 6 starters in the Bills starting lineup last opening day with contracts expiring at the end of the year.  Only two, T Demetrius Bell and TE Scott Chandler, remain unsigned.  Buddy Nix said at his introductory press conference on New Year’s Eve in 2009 that he wanted to “draft ’em, develop ’em, and keep ’em here.”  So far he has been true to his word.

Williams' 6 year deal will pair him with fellow DT Marcell Dareus for the next half decade

For the first time in what seems like ages the Bills won’t enter draft weekend simply trying to fill the holes that they opened up by losing players in the off season.  It’s all about building depth, which is what good teams do on draft day.  It’s something that the Bills haven’t done in over a decade.  Now they can also go into the summer and start negotiating with the next batch of pending free agents which includes RB Fred Jackson, G Andy Levitre, and FS Jairus Byrd.  They no longer have the stigma of a team that doesn’t keep their players.  They no longer have the stigma of a team that doesn’t go the extra mile to build a winning team.  Will it finally start equating to wins in Buffalo?  Maybe, maybe not.  One thing that is certain is that they seem to be up there swinging and it’s definitely better to go down swinging then to go down looking.

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My AFC East First Half All-Pro Offense

A lot of people like to do a list of their mid-season all-stars to feel self important and I am no exception.  This is my All-AFC East Team – 11 starters on offense, 11 starters in a 3-4 defense, and 4 special teamers.  Today will be the offense and kicker and tomorrow I will unveil the defense and punter.  Here is the AFC East First Half All-Pro Offense (1st team write up, second team in parenthesis)

Quarterbacks

  • 1st team – Tom Brady, New England Patriots (212 of 321, 2,703 yards, 20 TDs, 10 INTs, 66.0 comp. %, 100.0% QBR) – It’s been another banner year for Pats QB Tom Brady.  He hasn’t been efficient as he has in years past, including last year when he had an unreal 36/4 TD/INT ratio.  But his stats for the first half of the year are as gaudy as anyone’s in the league and he’s leading a Patriots offense that is one of the best passing attacks in the league.  He’ll be in the MVP conversation at the end of the year again
  • 2nd team – Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills (170 of 260, 1,930 yards, 15 TDs, 9 INTS, 65.4 comp. %, 92.3% QBR) – Fitzpatrick has emerged as the Bills’ long term answer at QB, a stature made official with a contract extension signed two weeks ago.  Fitzpatrick is once again on pace to put up numbers that only rival that of Jim Kelly and Drew Bledsoe in the past twenty years for this Bills franchise.

Running Backs

  • 1st team – Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills (150 car. for 803 yards, 5.4 avg., 6 TDs, 1,194 total yards) – Jackson is far and away the best halfback in the AFC East.  He’s already got 1,194 total yards halfway through the season, which is on pace to eclipse O.J. Simpson’s single season Bills record.  He’s also on pace to crush his previous career high for rushing yards in a season.  He is the workhorse behind a potent Bills offense and like Brady will be a candidate for NFL MVP at the end of the year.
  • 2nd team – BenJarvus Green-Ellis (108 car. for 452 yards, 4.2 avg., 5 TDs, 501 total yards) – Green-Ellis narrowly beats out Reggie Bush because he’s been more in touches (and scores) and Shonn Greene because he is more consistent in average per carry.  Green-Ellis is the workhorse in a Patriots offense that uses many different pieces.

Fullbacks

  • 1st team – John Conner, New York Jets (7 car. for 26 yards, 3.7 avg., 1 TD, 35 total yards) – Conner is emerging as a top fullback in the league this year.  He’s been by far the most versatile fullback in the division this season, contributing in the rushing, passing, and blocking games.
  • 2nd team – Corey McIntyre, Buffalo Bills (No stats) – McIntyre hasn’t been utilized as a ball-handler in the Bills offense this year but he is a physical load.  He is a grinder who opens up huge holes for Fred Jackson in the short yardage and goal line situations and Brad Smith in the wildcat formation.

Wide Receivers

  • 1st team – Wes Welker, New England Patriots (66 cat. for 960 yards, 6 TDs, 42 1Ds) – Welker has been off the wall this season and is on pace for his best season to date.  He is one of Tom Brady’s security blankets and is virtually impossible to cover with Brady throwing him the ball.  Oh, and he’s a free agent at year’s end so don’t look for him to slow down any time soon.
  • 1st team – Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins (46 cat. for 644 yards, 2 TDs, 31 1Ds) – Marshall edges out Stevie Johnson for the second WR starting spot on my team.  He’s made headlines for what he’s said off the field so for this year but what he has done on the field has been nothing to sneeze at.
  • 2nd team – Stevie Johnson, Buffalo Bills (42 cat. for 523 yards, 4 TDs, 28 1Ds) – Johnson was edged out by Marshall for first team honors but makes a fine first receiver off the bench.  Johnson is one of the best route runners in the league.
  • 2nd team – David Nelson, Buffalo Bills (35 cat. for 402 yards, 3 TDs, 19 1Ds) – Nelson beats out Deion Branch for the last WR spot on the team with a bit more consistency.  Nelson has seen fewer targets but has more receptions.  Nelson’s hands are as sure as anyone’s in the league and as such a big target he gets to balls that other receivers can’t.

Tight Ends

  • 1st team – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots (44 cat. for 596 yards, 6 TDs, 34 1Ds) – Gronkowski is a beast in the passing game, plain and simple.  He is versatile, he can block and catch, but he is most dangerous in the middle of the field where his big body and athleticism make him incredibly difficult to defend.
  • 2nd team – Dustin Keller, New York Jets (29 cat. for 436 yards, 2 TDs, 21 1Ds) – THE AFC East tight end pool is deep with Aaron Hernandez and Scott Chandler also getting consideration but Keller is just two big a part of the Jets offense to overlook.  He is their best receiver through the first half of the season.

Tackles

  • 1st team – Jake Long, Miami Dolphins – Long’s Dolphins might only have one win but Long is still among the best left tackles in the game in 2011.  Reggie Bush’s 4.9 yards per carry would help speak to that.
  • 1st team – Wayne Hunter, New York Jets – Hunter is probably not the best tackle on his team (see below) but he is the best right tackle in the division with Sebatian Vollmer splitting early time with rookie Nate Solder.
  • 2nd team – D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets – Ferguson is definitely not a high first round disappointment for the Jets, playing again at a extremely high level while guarding Mark Sanchez’s blind side.
  • 2nd team – Sebastian Vollmer, New England Patriots – Vollmer has been plagued by health problems and has dealt with the emergence of fellow right tackle Nate Solder but is consistent as ever when he’s in there.

Guards

  • 1st team – Andy Levitre, Buffalo Bills – Levitre has been a monster this season for the Bills.  He’s done all that’s been asked of him, including kicking out to left tackle the past two games for the Bills’ injured tackles.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked just twice in those two games.
  • 1st team – Brian Waters, New England Patriots – Waters was a great veteran pickup by the Patriots just before the start of the regular season.  Waters has stabilized a line that was inconsistent at time for the Pats last season.
  • 2nd team – Logan Mankins, New England Patriots – Mankins is having another great season, just not one as good as Andy Levitre’s up in Buffalo.  Mankins is the anchor for the Pats offensive line.
  • 2nd team – Vernon Carey, Miami Dolphins – Carey has not skipped a beat moving inside from right tackle to right guard this year, playing at his usually high level and being a beast in the run game.

Centers

  • 1st team – Nick Mangold, New York Jets – Mangold missed a few games earlier this year due to a high ankle sprain but he is by far the best center in the NFL when healthy.  He is dominant virtually any time out there.  He was sorely missed during his injury, a huge blow to the Jets offense
  • 2nd team – Eric Wood, Buffalo Bills – Wood is playing at a Pro Bowl level in his first season back at his college position.  He would probably  a 1st teamer if he was in any other division, or Mangold wasn’t in his.  He might be the best pull center in the league.

Kickers

  • 1st team – Nick Folk, New York Jets (12-13 FGs, 23-23 XPs, 50 long) – Folk has been the most consistent kicker in the division, only missing once and being 2 out of 3 from over 50 yards out.
  • 2nd team – Rian Lindell, Buffalo Bills (13-15 FGs, 25-25 XPs, 49 long) – Lindell has had his usual consistent season with 13 makes, including a game winner against the Patriots.  Unfortunately he will miss the next 4-6 games for the Bills with a shoulder injury.

Defense tomorrow

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Thoughts on Bills/Redskins

So Week 8 is in the books, a week away from the official halfway point of the NFL season and the Bills are 5-2 and sitting pretty in a tie atop the AFC East.  Clearly the Bills are one of the surprise teams of the season, if not the surprise team.  The Bills had their annual home away from home game in Toronto on Sunday and for the first time in the four year venture came out on top by a score of 23-0.  Here are some thoughts on the game:

  • Let’s start with Marcell Dareus.  The man is a beast, plain and simple.  You can tell at this early stage in his career that he is going to be one of the best.  Not many guys can say that they can single handedly take over a game in only their 7th game as a pro.  Dareus did just that yesterday.  Even if it was against an inferior opponent in the Redskins Dareus was flat out dominant.  4 tackles, 2.5 sacks and constant pressure on the pocket all game.  If the Bills get more of this the defense will be one of the better ones in the league by the end of the year.
  • Speaking of the defense and their 9 sacks, give credit where credit is due – the Bills cornerbacks finally played a complete game and it showed up front.  Florence, McGee, and McKelvin are all above average cover men and their performances should show more than they have for the first 6 games.  A little pressure goes a long way but at the same time it’s hard to make a hot read with a guy like Dareus bearing down on you when the corners don’t let receivers get a clean break off of the line.  This unit is crucial to the success of the Bills in the second half of the season.
  • The Redskins run game was stopped cold thanks to a smothering defense, again led by Dareus.  It will be interesting to see if that carries over to the Jets game.  The Jets once vaunted run offense has been disappointing thus far this season and the Bills will be smelling blood after their dominant performance this week.
  • There is not much more that you can say about Fred Jackson that hasn’t already been said.  The guy is a bona-fide MVP candidate.  He may be the most complete back in the NFL right now.  That’s saying something for a guy who just turned 30 prior to the season.  He’s got 721 rushing yards and 353 receiving yards through 7 games, giving him a whooping 1,084 yards from scrimmage through the first 7.
  • The newly minted man Ryan Fitzpatrick showed a bit of rust early but brushed it off to to finish with a good day overall.  He was an efficient 21 for 27 for 262 yards, 2 TD, and INT and the team’s first lost fumble of the season.  He didn’t have to do too much and overcame some bad turnovers early.
  • People have been heaping praise on top of the Bills offensive line all year and yesterday’s game was a prime example of why.  They were missing both of their left tackles, Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston.  They asked Andy Levitre, who has been a Pro-Bowl caliber player at left guard to kick out to left tackle and inserted back-up swing guard Chad Rinehart into the left guard position.  The unit didn’t miss a beat.  The Redskins recorded only two sacks, both in the 4th quarter when Fitzpatrick just held onto the ball rather than risk a bad pass.  This unit has been, and continues to be outstanding despite the malignation that is suffered in the preseason.
  • Nobody ever tell George Wilson that he isn’t one hell of a football player
  • Rian Lindell has become so automatic that you are shocked when he misses, so much so that there is not a doubt in your mind that he is going to hit the next one.
  • Again, kudos to Chan Gailey for being the exception to the rule once again and getting his team ready to play after the bye.  Teams are only 8-10 coming off of the bye this year.
  • Finally we must talk about a bit of karmic justice.  Two years ago, prior to the 2010 season, the Bills were at a breaking point.  They had not been to the playoffs in 10 seasons at that point and had just run through a cavalcade of colossal disappointments at the quarterback and head coaching positions.  Owner Ralph Wilson had seemed to have had enough and showed an interest to opening up his wallet to a big name coach to come in and oversee the operation.  The team first turned to Mike Shanahan, who had been fired by the Broncos the year prior after a long and fruitful run in Denver.  Shanahan took an interview and then casually brushed the Bills off, waiting for Daniel Snyder to offer him the moon to come to Washington, where guys love to go when they want to get paid.  The Bills had to settle for an also-ran, Chan Gailey.  Well on Sunday that also-ran and his team handed Mike Shanahan the first shutout of his long and illustrious coaching career.  If that’s not a sign that the football gods are on their side, I don’t know what is.

It’s a big week ahead, the biggest game of the year to date takes place this Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium when the Jets come to town to take on the Bills.  This one will tell us a lot about where we will go from here.

Twitter @ErikVenskus