It has been mostly fun and games on the field for the 2011 Bills. They have made the Ralph rock, winning all 3 games in Orchard Park including the stunning comeback against the Raiders and the even more stunning, long awaited win over the Patriots. The tough losses on the road to the Bengals and the Giants have pored a needed dose of reality on the fire of enthusiasm taking over Bills Nation. But the party atmosphere is now over. Between now and January 1st we will find out if they will be a playoff team. Between now and December 1st we will find out if they even deserve to be in the conversation.
Over a period of seven weeks the Bills will play exactly one game in the comfort of One Bills Drive. After the bye week they try to go to Toronto and win for the first time ever. It is also the first time a game in Toronto has ever meant anything more than marketing power for the regionalization of the franchise. To steal a phrase from the MLB All Star Game "This time it Counts". After the Skins game, they come back home to Wilson stadium for a monumental game against a Jets team with some momentum and a week to heal after their bye. You have to then wonder of the Bills front office did something to upset some people at the NFL because somehow a 4-12 team from a year ago was given the rare "3 straight on the road" quirk to the schedule. That includes a trip to Dallas, a spin down to Miami to see JP and the Dolphins and then a closer in Jersey against the Jets which will be the biggest game of the bunch.
Marv Levy used to say that tough times don't create character, they reveal it. What we see over the next 6 games will reveal a great deal about the football character of these Bills. The already porous defense comes into this stretch without their most dependable player, Kyle Williams. Listening to him talk this week makes you wonder when or if he will play this year. The Shawne Merriman experiment is now over, so its time to really see if one of these young guys (Moats or Sheppard) can really be an impact play. Plus the secondary might need to actually try to stop someone without having to get an interception.
I also have my concerns about the Bills offense. What Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson have done so far this year has been remarkable. But you wonder if it can continue at the same pace, on the road, against some very tough opponents. They have made a young and seemingly mediocre offensive line look spectacular. But the Eagles defense is not the Jets and he Bengals don't have anyone that plays remotely like DeMarcus Ware of the Cowboys. Plus the injuries to the wide receiver core are starting to leave them too thin and too slow at that key spot. If CJ Spiller develops in his new role it could make a huge difference.
I am not being negative about the Bills chances the rest of the way. In fact, I think it is the exact opposite. They have won 4 of their first 6 which means the games actually matter now. The Bills have played to a high level so far which means they have raised the bar and raised the expectations. If they can win the ones they are supposed to win, like Sunday in Toronto and split the tough ones (like the Jets) then we are going to have a December to remember. Now that is when it really gets fun.