The Buffalo Bills face a possible playoff-determining week this week as they play the Chiefs on Sunday and then the Dolphins on Thursday for a short week. The next two opponents are both direct competitors for a wild card spot and the Bills need to at least split the two games to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Bills have been in this position twice before within the past six years, and have faltered each time. One of the issues was coaching, but another was that the key positional players didn’t have either the leadership, or experience, of being in a playoff race and understanding of how each play could make or break their season. This year is different.
Firstly there’s Kyle Orton. Orton led the 2005 Chicago Bears to a berth in the NFL postseason starting 15 games that season and went 10-5. The position Orton plays, quarterback, is obviously the most influential position on the field in determining whether the Bills play in January or not. He has developed a connection with rookie wide out Sammy Watkins, and is better leading the offense than supplanted starter EJ Manuel, which is critical, as the season gets tougher.
Beyond the experience, Orton understands that the offense needs to produce and has righted the ship to a respectable level. It will be interesting to watch him continue to play strong as the weather changes and the Bills play some higher profile teams in December.
With the turning weather one can look at another key leadership figure in Brandon Spikes. The colder the weather, the hard it is to throw so this run defending linebacker will be further counted on by his teammates to show them the way to the playoffs. This is one reason why Spikes signed in Buffalo, the other was for an opportunity to stick it to his former employer. He missed his chance in October to beat the Patriots, but the final game in Foxboro may be a defacto AFC East championship game, or at least playoff preview.
Included with the obvious payback storyline Spikes has obviously been on playoff winning teams. He knows what it takes to get there because that’s all he has ever known. He will provide the defense a sense of aggressive urgency in their play to ensure that no opposing offense has the ability to dictate their will on the Bills.
A third player the Bills can look to for leadership is in another free agent import, Anthony Dixon. With the likelihood that Fred Jackson is still two weeks away from returning to the team, Dixon will be counted on as the lead back. It’s a first for Dixon as he was often the short yardage and special team maverick for the three time NFC Championship appearing San Francisco 49ers.
Dixon knows the look of a winning team, and judging from his personality will provide the passion needed to move his teammates to victory. It’s also a prime opportunity for the big back as he’s going to be the lead ball carrier for the first time in his career. There would be nothing more gratifying for him personally to not only solidify himself as more than just a complementary back, but also to run the team into January.
He’s stated on twitter on multiple occasions how much he enjoys proving doubters wrong, and this is the perfect time to do so.
There have been previous injections of playoff performers to the Bills roster, but none in the critical spots this version offers. It will be crucial for the these three free agent imports to spread their knowledge of winning in the second half of the season, and hope that it creates a new environment in the locker room; namely an atmosphere of winning and determination, instead of one looking to run the season out.