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26 August, 2016: Buffalo Bills offensive guard Richie Incognito (64) in action before a match between the Washington Redskins and the Buffalo Bills at FedExField in Landover, Maryland. (Photo By: Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire)
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Playoffs or bust a foolish narrative for building Bills

Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire
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Late last season, there was a report that Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula had told general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Rex Ryan that 2016 had better include a playoff berth or else both would be looking for new jobs.

That report was later refuted, but that sentiment is still hovering over the Bills as they prepare to begin the new season on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. While it depends who you ask, there are enough on-the-record comments from the players themselves that whether or not Pegula feels that way, the team believes that is what’s at stake for Ryan and Whaley.

“That’s the unspoken rule around here, that it’s playoffs or bust for us,” guard Richie Incognito told NewYorkUpstate.com. “We have to get there and this is the first step in the journey.”

Linebacker Preston Brown echoed Incognito’s statement, saying “Definitely that’s been our goal. It’s been a goal of this city for a long time. I think we’re the team to make it happen, but it has to be right now. It’s no better time than right now. We’ve got the pieces, we’ve got the quarterback, we’ve got the offense, now we just have to make it work on defense and keep guys off the field and see it work.”

While the NFL is undoubtedly a high-pressure league in which you won’t be around long if you don’t win, this is a pretty foolish approach to take for this particular team.

Ryan is going into just his second season as Bills head coach and his first attempt had mixed results as he worked to put his system in place. The Bills started decently, but had to finish the season with wins over the Cowboys and Jets just to get to 8-8, and even that left them in third place in the AFC East. The second-place Jets finished two games better at 10-6, but even they missed the playoffs.

Yes, the Bills believe they have the pieces in place to make a run, and it looks like they have their franchise quarterback in place in Tyrod Taylor. But anyone who watches the NFL regularly knows how things can go sideways in a hurry – just look at what happened to the Cowboys last season.

People can get hurt, a kicker can miss a chip shot field goal, a ref can make a bad call that costs you a game, and all of a sudden you fall short of the playoffs. Yes, the goal is always the postseason, but it’s possible to make big improvements, to show major signs of progress and still not go to the playoffs. A nuanced examination of the team as a whole should determine who stays and goes next season, not a blanket statement on whether or not you make the playoffs.

Continuity matters. Building a roster, perfecting schemes, creating chemistry on the field and in the locker room – all of those things can make a difference. The Bills have every right to get rid of Ryan whenever they want, but if you’re constantly churning coaches, systems and personnel, it’s going to be difficult to build something great.

Ryan, for his part, is wise not to buy into what would be a foolish narrative.

“It’s never about me,” he said. “But, you ask me, hell, I don’t believe that.”

Playoffs or bust a foolish narrative for building Bills

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