In the National Football League, the turnover of playoff teams from year to year is astounding. Since the 2002-03 season, 64 of 132 teams who made the playoffs missed them the next season; for those of you counting at home, that’s over 48%, meaning that even if you made the playoffs the year before, you are just as likely to miss them the next year as make them. On the flip side, that means that in a typical year, fully one-third of last season’s playoff non-qualifiers will make the postseason this time around. As a fan of the Buffalo Bills, this fact is dangerously encouraging.
With the NFL still mired in its excruciatingly long offseason, fans and media alike have little substance to go on; therefore, the bulk of our collective opinion is based on nothing more than projection, prediction, and prognostication. As a Buffalonian, the offseason has become a comfortable tradition for me… I go through stages in the same order every time. Stage 1: Disgust, usually during and soon after the Bills-less playoffs occur. “The Bills are a pathetic excuse for an organization, and I’m sick of watching them get trampled week in and week out. I’m not even gonna care this year.” Stage 2: Anger, usually occurring during free agency and the Draft. “I could lead the Bills better than the collection of buffoons assembling this team. Ralph Wilson is a stingy, senile, old miser, and no one could put a winner on the field with his budget control. Why don’t any competent players want to come play in Buffalo? Oh yeah… I wouldn’t either.” Stage 3: Grasping for straws, occurring around July annually, when I miss football so badly it hurts. “Well, actually, the Bills could possibly get to 10 wins if this, this, this, this, and that happen…” Stage 4: Accepting my optimism as reasonable. “I think the Bills are gonna surprise people. Why doesn’t NFL Live even mention them? You heard it here first… we’ll see you in January!” Then September and October happen, and I’m already rounding the corner and heading into Stage 1 all over again.
The thing is, I don’t know why stages 3 and 4 even happen in the first place! All Buffalo fans have experienced the lion’s share of heartache and bitter disappointment when it comes to sports. You’d think this would lead towards unanimous cynicism, by which we could protect ourselves from the crushing fall from high expectations to abject failure. Only last season, the Buffalo Sabres gave us a fresh reminder of this anguish. After a vigorously aggressive offseason, the Sabres were getting some media attention as a leader in the Eastern Conference, and even a dark horse Stanley Cup contender. When April rolled around, however, they found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. There is a certain heartsickness that applies specifically to this kind of shortcoming… it’s like they teased you, raising your expectations, then personally let you down.
I am so afraid of the same thing happening with the Buffalo Bills this season. Kickoff is rapidly approaching, and the Bills are a hot topic of conversation. Many are saying that the Bills had the best offseason in the NFL. The Godfather of NFL writers, John Clayton, projects the Bills to make the playoffs as an AFC wild card. The team is nearly unanimously seen as a “sleeper pick” to make great strides this year. But even at my young age, I have seen too many promising seasons become November and December slumps, as my beloved Bills simply play out the string, and the only drama pertains to the next year’s draft position. Alas, I cannot help myself; this is shaping up to be the best Bills team we have seen in at least 10 years. Mario Williams, the prize of the free agent pool, somehow was convinced to sign on in Buffalo. Then GM Buddy Nix put together his second consecutive stellar draft, and re-signed several key pieces, and all of a sudden, the Bills look competitive again. Oh no… here we go… it must be July.
I feel like I’ve begun to text an ex-girlfriend that I haven’t gotten over yet. Imagine… things have failed between us numerous times, and she’s screwed me over more times than I care to remember, but I just stalked her profile the other day, and dayumm she’s looking good lately. So I just text to say “hey, what’s up?” Before I know it, all the old feelings are back and I’m believing that somehow, some way, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, things are going to turn out differently this time. And as it so happens, she’s single right now and starts saying all the right things – how sorry she is for her past actions, and how she’s a different person now and wants to give it another try – and before I know it, with friends and family shaking their heads at me, I’m at her mercy again, holding out hope that my irrational, one-way affection will somehow turn into a committed, fulfilling relationship. And if it fails and I get hurt yet again, there’s no one to blame but myself.
Don’t you wish you were a Bills fan?