By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
It's not only ok to think it, it's ok to say it out loud; the Buffalo Bills will make the playoffs in 2012 and stretch their season into 2013. Take it to the bank.
Sure, it's easy to get swept up in the excitement of the Bills rather stunning signing of the top defensive player on the free agent market, but the optimism in the case of Mario Williams is warranted. Not only is he that good, but his presence will make everybody around him better, and what had been a weak spot for an upcoming Bills team is now a strength.
No, one player doesn't make that big a difference, as I actually felt like the Bills would be in playoff contention anyway in 2012 if they could somehow avoid the injuries that set them back in 2011. Some of the injuries, like broken ribs for qb Ryan Fitzpatrick, weren't even known, but the absence of key players like Fred Jackson, Kyle Williams, Eric Wood and others brought the Bills back to reality after their 5-2 start.
The Bills have had other big news signings of course, like Jim Kelly's parade in 1986 and later Drew Bledsoe's arrival in 2002, but neither of those compare in one very important way with the signing of Super Mario. Kelly had no real options once the USFL folded, and since the Bills had drafted him in the first round of the '83 draft he was their property. Then gm Bill Polian ignored Kelly's pleas to ship him out west, and that turned out pretty well for Buffalo and for Kelly. Bledsoe also didn't have a lot of options after he'd lost his starting job to Tom Brady in New England, and his arrival in Buffalo looked good mainly because the Bills didn't have anybody that could even throw a spiral.
Williams? This guy had options, and plenty of them. Buffalo's relatively low profile actually worked in its favor, as Williams said after signing his 6-year deal worth nearly $100 million. He was already familiar with other NFL cities showing interest, but was intrigued by Buffalo, in large part because Buffalo showed such genuine interest in him.
Because his visit stretched into 3 days, it was widely assumed it took that long for the Bills to convince Williams that Buffalo wasn't a bad place to hang out and play football. Williams made it clear he liked so much of what he saw and heard right away that his mind was all but made up before the Bills even talked about money. Luckily, we weren't in the middle of a snow storm, which can happen in March, but I'm not sure it would have mattered. Not only was Williams impressed with Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix and CEO Russ Brandon and the assistant coaches, but defensive tackle Kyle Williams did some selling, as did Kelly, who as we all know has gone from a reluctant Bill to the cities' top salesman.
The Bills proactive pursuit of Williams, with the blessing of 93-year old owner Ralph Wilson, who was unable to make it to Buffalo for the signing, was more than refreshing.
Buffalo has had its knocks, and Lord knows we're too sensitive about most of them - who cares what Tom Brady thinks about our hotels? - but we also know that once you check it out and talk to some people who've actually lived here and know what we have it's not so bad at all. Quite the opposite, actually.
Hey, I'm not guaranteeing the playoffs in 2012, but I am going on record as saying I think they will break the 12 year drought at long last. If I'm wrong, I'm sure I'll be reminded of it, but with any kind of good health at all, the 2012 season is going to be a whole lot of fun if you're a Bills fan.