The Buffalo Bills have not made the playoffs since the 1999 season. Their last appearance was the Music City Miracle, where they lost in a top five most ridiculous circumstance. They have the longest post-season drought in the NFL and the second longest drought of all the big four North American sports- behind only the Toronto Blue Jays, who haven't made the playoffs since 1993.
It's fitting that the Bills and Toronto are linked.
Buffalo hopes to end that playoff streak this upcoming season and they could very well be in the position to do so. Last season marked their first winning year (9-7!) since 2004. If not for the insanity from Chip Kelly and the Eagles, the Bills would likely be receiving more consideration for what could be considered the splashiest off-season.
Of course, this all stems from new head coach Rex Ryan, who doesn't know how to do anything quietly. The Bills kicked off the off-season with a blockbuster trade with Philadelphia, shipping linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Eagles in exchange for running back LeSean McCoy. Ryan loves a run-heavy attack, so McCoy will certainly receive his share of the attention.
The addition of McCoy was matched the with loss of C.J. Spiller, but it's easy to say that's a favorable exchange for the Bills. Buffalo has also managed to add receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Charles Clay to their 2014 first round pick Sammy Watkins, providing the Bills with one of the most explosive set of skill players in the league.
This method of team building is pretty much the opposite of New England's. The Patriots choose to build their offense through the trenches, while the Bills are hoping that line can develop and improve from their sub-par 2014 performance- and the addition of Richie Incognito probably shouldn't be counted as the glue to keep the team together.
Buffalo has also addressed their quarterback position, but it's unclear whether or not it's better or worse than last season. This offense will only go as far as the quarterback can take it, so the acquisitions of Tyrod Taylor and former Patriot Matt Cassel are possibly the most important pick-ups for the Bills since there's zero trust for 2013 first round pick EJ Manuel.
Cassel, for the record, hasn't shouldered a full load at quarterback since 2010. He could be a big improvement, but the recent past shows different results.
The Bills offense is clearly more talented than last season. The question remains whether the team has the capability to take advantage of their talent. New offensive coordinator Greg Roman does a great job of limiting turnovers and rushing the ball, which aligns well with Rex, but his offenses over the past four seasons with the 49ers have finished in the bottom four of passing attempts each season.
Buffalo has a whole bunch of toys. It doesn't look like their coaches or quarterback are in the position to use them.
If the Bills are to have success in 2015, it will come from their suffocating defensive play. The Bills were already the #1 defense in the league, with regards to points allowed per drive. Since 1999, only the 2012 Bears featured a defense better than the 2014 Bills and managed to miss the playoffs. 16 of the top 22 defensive teams over this time frame made the conference championship (three of the misses were the 01, 05, and 12 Bears).
Essentially, the Bills already had a team built to make and succeed in the post-season. Add in Rex Ryan and that defense is only going to get better.
Buffalo's defense will return ten of eleven starters (Kiko Alonso missed the season with a torn ACL), with only their strong safety departing. Their defensive line of Jerry Hughes, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Mario Williams is possibly the best in the league. Rex hasn't had these many quality players on defense in a long while, possibly ever, and his 2009 Jets were the 6th best defense since 1999.
The pieces are in place for the Bills to make the playoffs, regardless of how well their quarterback can play. So long as they limit turnovers and run the ball, two strengths of the offensive coordinator, then the Bills will have a chance to win every low scoring game.
The razzle dazzle of the Bills off-season distracts from their most important pick-ups: the coaching staff. The top quality skill players will help, but the coaching staff is perfectly selected to take this team into the playoffs. It remains to be seen if they have the ability to make some noise if they get there.
The Patriots should be prepared for extended slugfests twice a year and they really need to invest in their trenches if they wish to have success. The offense will find a way to produce, even though the Jets give Tom Brady fits with their pressure packages. The Bills are going to try and win in typical Rex fashion: interior pressure and rushing the football.
New England has to find a way to bolster a defensive line that ranked at the bottom of the league in stopping short yardage attempts, and they need to strengthen the interior of their offensive line. The loss of Darrelle Revis, while important, will be less noticed against the Bills than the loss of Vince Wilfork.
The Bills have theoretically closed the large gap between the two teams, but don't get caught up in the big name free agents. The Patriots are still ahead and will be prepared for their annual showdowns against Rex. Just don't expect the same blowouts that have traditionally come from the Buffalo games.