Itís that wonderful time of year again Ė you can feel it in the air.
For most people this means the sounds of sleigh bells, people singing Christmas carols, a meal of Christmas goose and sharing gifts with friends and loved ones.
For Bills fans it means the sound of cheering football crowds, people singing the Bills Shout! Song, a meal of wings and weck and sharing Sunday afternoons with friends rooting for the Bills.
Suddenly thereís a feeling of the playoffs in the air Ė that certain excitement that gives you a bounce in your step and an unwavering sense of optimism.
As hard as Iíve been on the Bills this season, Iím very happy to see them winning and in the hunt. Iíve missed watching a few games in recent weeks, but I have followed the team via the Internet (check out that Bills Daily site Ė itís good). I Tivoíed the Cleveland game Ė I may actually get to watch it sometime.
Itís funny how cynical Pollyannas can be. Contrary to what some of my readers believe, I do not secretly root against the Bills to have something to write about. While I know my absence from Bills Daily mysteriously corresponded with the Bills winning streak, it is not because I am unwilling to write good things about the team when they are doing well.
Truth be told, my absence can be explained by the birth of my two children on December 6th. My daughter has been home for almost two weeks, but my son remains in the hospital recovering from major heart surgery performed before he was even 48 hours old. As you can probably guess, the Bills have fallen to the back burner recently as Iíve had to focus on the excitement, chaos and stress of my current situation.
Perhaps Iím just excited about being around a new daughter, some very good progress in the health of my son, the outpouring of support Iíve received from people both familiar and unfamiliar or just the excitement of the holiday season, but I am genuinely happy about the Bills.
How can you not be excited about a team with a terrific, big play defense? A team with the best special teams in the NFL? A team that has found an identity and has been pulling it all together? A team with solid contributions from both rookies (Lee Evans and Willis McGahee in his ďrookieĒ season) and free agent acquisitions (Takeo Spikes, Sam Adams)?
I believe that the Bills will continue their winning ways and take both the San Francisco and Pittsburgh games. The Bills are certainly a stronger team than the 49ers Ė losing that game would be a major meltdown for the team. Pittsburgh is a better team, but itís likely they wonít have anything to play for in week 17 leaving them ripe for a meaningless loss.
So where does 10-6 leave the Bills? Possibly an AFC wild card spot, but more likely looking at a winning record and a having a reason to hold their heads high as they clean out their lockers on January 3rd.
Lest you get too caught up in the current Bills excitement, remember that the Bills are on the outside looking in at AFC opponents Jacksonville and Baltimore by virtue of losing those two contests earlier in the season. A 10-6 record is an accomplishment and in most years that will get you into the playoffs. If the Bills were in the NFC they would certainly go to the post season. Unfortunately, the Bills are in a very competitive division within a very competitive conference. They have a 5-6 record in the AFC - 3-3 in their division Ė not the type of numbers that are going to win you many tiebreakers.
Ultimately I believe the Bills season started and ended in week 1 against Jacksonville. Had they prevented any one of 3 4th down conversions on the final drive, had they batted down a 44 yard pass on the last drive, had they prevented a touchdown on the last play of the game it would be the Jaguars sitting at home in January. The Bills didnít do any of those things, and I see Jacksonville winning the final AFC playoff spot.
The Bills are hot right now, but unfortunately the playoffs are determined on the entire season, not just the last 7 games. Itís hard to think that a team playing so well right now, a team going 10-6 would be shut out of the playoffs, but thatís what happens when you donít win the games youíre supposed to win earlier in the season.
Be happy, Bills fans Ė weíve come a long way and have much to be happy about. If we donít make it past week 17 donít be too disappointed. All I ask is that you be realistic. Iím a happy guy right now and even I am not ready to believe that this team is going on to great things this year. Just wait until 2005 Ė weíre going 16-0 and winning it all.