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Bills look ahead after bye week


It's not the record anyone expected at the bye week. Not for Bills players or coaches. Especially not for Bills fans.

"Expectations are high," Head Coach Rex Ryan told the media seven weeks ago, before the season opener against the Colts. "We expect to win," he said.

After the first seven games the Bills have come up short versus the expectations, with three wins and four losses. But the meat of the season lies ahead. And that's what the Bills players and coaches will sink their teeth into when they return to work next week.

If the season ended today, it would be unusually early. But if it did, the Bills would be out of the AFC playoff picture. They are currently the eighth seed in the conference. But Buffalo is just one game behind the final playoff qualifier, the Steelers, who sit at 4-3.

The AFC has three unbeaten teams at 6-0, division leaders New England, Cincinnati, and Denver. The Colts lead their division at 3-4, and they're currently the fourth seed. Buffalo needs to take aim at the current fifth and sixth seeded teams in the AFC.

The Jets are the fifth seed, with their 4-2 record. That's only a 1 ½ game edge over Buffalo right now, and the Bills get two cracks at the Jets over the rest of the season. The sixth seed is Pittsburgh at 4-3, just one-game ahead of the Bills.

The key games left on the Bills schedule would seem to be the pair against the Jets, next week's game against Miami (3-4), at Kansas City (2-5) and Houston (also 2-5).

Even with the Patriots firmly in control of the AFC East at this point of the season, the Bills four remaining division games remain critical. And the Bills will play three of those four AFC East games in a 16-day span, starting next week against Miami. Two of those three are on the road.

The three divisional games will set the tone for the final stretch of the season, but Rex Ryan says there's more to be done than just win those AFC East matchups.

"We've got to win a hell of a lot more than just those division games," Ryan said last Sunday after the loss in London. "We won't talk about the three back-to-back-to-back. It's got to be the next one. That's the only way we're going to climb back into this."

Of course, Buffalo's slow start means they have to stack up as many wins as they can of the nine remaining games, regardless of the opponent. And last year's playoff show that it's not how you start the season, but how you finish that determines whether you're in the postseason tournament.

The Bills probably need to win seven of their remaining nine games to lock down a playoff spot. A 10-win season wouldn't guarantee the postseason, but it would make it likely.

Last year, six of the 12-playoff qualifiers finished with a better record in their final nine games than they did in their first seven. With the anticipated return of several injured starters, that kind of turnaround could be in the cards for the Bills.

Last year, four of the 12 playoff qualifiers had records of 7-2 or better in the final nine. (New England, Pittsburgh and Green Bay 7-2, Seattle 8-1).

After back-to-back losses, and the disheartening defeat at the hands of the Jaguars last Sunday, it's understandable that some Bills fans might be discounting their team's chances of breaking the 15-year playoff drought.

But with more than half of the schedule remaining, it's much too early to write off the 2015 season. That's likely to be the message when the players and coaching staff assemble next week, following their first break since the start of training camp three months ago.

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