Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. With Year 3 under head coach Chan Gailey and veteran player report day at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest daily installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 24th and Sept. 9th.
The absence from the postseason has been difficult for the players and long standing members of the organization to endure. It has been 12 long years of watching other AFC clubs finish ahead of them and qualify for the playoffs. Hope springs eternal every fall for the Bills, and there is a lot of new proven and promising talent that has been added to the roster. Still the question remains as to whether Buffalo can finally end its playoff drought in 2012.
The Bills hold the dubious distinction of having the longest current streak of non-playoff appearances. Buffalo's most recent regime has spent the last two years working to rectify that problem. General manager Buddy Nix and his personnel staff have fortified the roster with veteran difference makers and up and coming youth while also adding depth.
Meanwhile head coach Chan Gailey and his offensive staff has made definitive progress on the offensive side of the ball. Special teams under Bruce DeHaven finished 11th in the league last season, and new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is instituting what is expected to be a much more effective 4-3 scheme.
Add in the team's taste of success in the first half of last season when they got off to a 5-2 start before hitting the skids in the second half and most can see the potential is there for the Bills to finally turn the corner and reach the postseason.
"We've come a long way," said Gailey. "We don't have any kind of record to show that and that's our objective this year to show that. But I do believe we've come a long way as a football team, but you can't talk about it, you've got to go prove it."
Since 2004, an average of six new teams qualify for the playoffs each year. That proved to be the case last year with three new clubs reaching the postseason in the AFC in Cincinnati, Denver and Houston. The three others were in the NFC (Det, NYG, SF).
Players that have resided in Buffalo's locker room for several seasons truly believe 2012 is the season for the Bills to be one of those new playoff participants.
"This is only my second year, but I know guys like Kyle Williams who has been here for years has said, 'It's time. It's the year. It's the year.' And it truly is. We won't settle for complacent play. We won't settle for guys not running and finishing plays. This is our year."
At the end of last season's tragic slide out of playoff contention after a promising start, Ryan Fitzpatrick stated that the team was not ready to handle success. Their head coach believes they'll be better equipped to handle it this time around.
"Hopefully what we went through last year will help us," said Gailey. "But there's nothing that guarantees you'll handle success unless you've had success in handling it. I think our guys have a better understanding of what comes with success, how to deal with it, how to put it in a compartment and put it over there on the side and still get ready and go play the games."
Of course one of the major obstacles that the Bills have been unable to overcome in recent years has been injuries. They're a part of football and for the Bills they've been all too prevalent. Over the past five seasons Buffalo has averaged just over 15 players on injured reserve (15.4) and had 17 on the list in 2011.
"One of the reasons it hit us as hard as it did is we didn't have the experienced depth and then it was who got injured for us," said Nix. "It was our main guys."
With all those main guys back in the fold Gailey likened their return to the addition of an extra draft class. Fred Jackson, Shawne Merriman, Kyle Williams and Eric Wood were some of the main losses that are ready to return to the fold with Williams and Wood expected to participate right from the start in training camp.
Gailey has made it clear to his players that while the playoffs are most certainly a goal, there's a primary target that lies in front of it, namely the AFC East division crown, and Buffalo's GM agrees.
"I'll be honest with you I think we can be as good as we want to be," said Nix. "We've got good players, good coaches that work hard. I hear a lot of times, 'Well maybe we can be second and we can make a Wild Card.' I don't concede any of that and I don't concede anything to New England. I think we can win and our goal needs to be to win the division. Then you don't have to worry about whether you're going to be in or not. I believe we can compete for sure, and if we don't I'll be the most disappointed guy in Buffalo."
The players know the value of winning the division and how it would automatically punch their ticket to the postseason. New England is the perennial AFC East favorite, but Buffalo was one of just three teams to beat the Patriots last season. It leaves the Bills quarterback confident the team can truly contend this fall.
"We want to get to the playoffs. That's it," said Fitzpatrick. "I think we'll be disappointed if we don't get to the playoffs this year. That mentality and that expectation is something that's been a hope before and something we wanted to do, but I think last year was the first time we really expected it and were disappointed. To expect that this year and to know that anything else is a failure, that's our goal. We want to get to the playoffs and see what happens."