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Dec 11, 2016; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 Buffalo Bills will not be like the 2016 Bills

I’m not going to lie, the Bills season last year was a disaster. They finished third in their division with a 7-9 record with only win in the AFC East.

The injury bug hit them as they lost Sammy Watkins for half of the season. They didn’t have Shaq Lawson for the first 6 games because of a shoulder injury and lost second round draft pick Reggie Ragland to a torn ACL.

They missed out on the playoffs for the 17th season in a row, which is the longest playoff drought in the NFL as of right now. Overall, the Bills are giving football fans no reason to have hope for them this season. I’m here to tell you that you can keep doubting the Bills. But they will do better than you expect.

First step to success: Firing Rex Ryan

Ryan didn’t even last a full two years in Buffalo. He went 15-16 as the Bills head coach and was fired the week before the final regular season game last year. Last season, the Bills lost 7 games in which they scored 20 or more points. As a defensive coach, I would think that Ryan would have been able to utilize his coaching skills to stop an offense. But he failed.

The biggest example of this was when the Bills faced the Oakland Raiders in Week 13. The Bills took a 24-9 lead in the third quarter and never touched the end zone again. The Raiders scored 29 straight points and secured a 38-24 victory. This game was unacceptable and could have helped the Bills make a playoff push.

The last straw was the Bills losing to the Dolphins the second time. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi rushed for over 200 yards against the Bills in both meetings. And they didn’t lose to Ryan Tannehill, they lost to backup QB Matt Moore. The Dolphins beat the Bills 34-31 in overtime, which led to the firing of Rex Ryan and the Bills being eliminated from the playoffs.

Second Step: Hiring Sean McDermott

I would be lying if I said that the hiring of Rex Ryan by the Bills was a great move. After Ryan’s journey with the New York Jets and how it ended, I knew what the Bills were getting themselves into. When it was announced that they had fired Ryan, Anthony Lynn took over as the interim head coach for Week 17 against the Jets.

After the embarrassing 30-10 loss, I knew that there was no way Lynn would be hired as the next head coach. When a team fires a head coach during a season, they bring in someone to take control that is already on the staff to see if they have what it takes to lead a team. Lynn couldn’t get the job done. Granted, he did not have Tyrod Taylor starting, but fans wanted just a little spark of success with Lynn and he couldn’t do it.

Hiring Sean McDermott was the best choice for Buffalo. As the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers the past six seasons, he made the Panthers defense top 10 for 4 out of 6 season. He’s coached Luke Kuechly, arguably the best linebacker in the league, and Josh Norman, who is one of the top cornerbacks in the league.

McDermott is a defensive coach like Rex Ryan, but he runs a 4-3 scheme that Buffalo is successful under as compared to Ryan’s 3-4 scheme. McDermott is more of an under-the-radar type of person, which means he does not want attention on him or the Bills as a whole. He shows up to work and does his job. As a rookie head coach, McDermott most likely won’t have a breakout season, but you can expect to see the Bills more disciplined and determined to play than they were last year.

Third Step: Off season and NFL Draft

The Bills have had a very successful off season under the start of the McDermott era, especially through free agency and the draft. They released players like Aaron Williams and Corey Graham who are aging and battling injuries. They finally released Dan Carpenter who left Bills fans scared whenever he would go out to kick a field goal and restructured Tyrod Taylor’s contract.

In free agency, the Bills obtained players who will bring some sort of value to the table. Bringing in Mike Tolbert and Patrick DiMarco to increase the already #1 rushing attack with LeSean McCoy was a gutsy but smart move. They improved their secondary, not fully, but it looks better than it did at the start of the off season. Having Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer provides the Bills with potential starters, but depth as well.

They also added players like Ryan Davis, Jeremy Butler, Vladimir Ducasse, and Andre Holmes. Bringing in these players provides help at the Bills’ weakest positions and gives McDermott options.

Fast forward to the draft

I think the Bills had a very successful draft. In fact, I believe it was one of their best in years. They traded out of the #10 spot and acquired three draft picks, including the #27 pick from Kansas City and their first rounder next year. The Bills took cornerback Tre’Davious White, wide receiver Zay Jones, offensive lineman Dion Dawkins, quarterback Nathan Peterman and linebackers Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo.

They improved their secondary by bringing in White, who will come in with a chip on his shoulder. Zay Jones, who is underrated, will compete for the #2 receiver spot. Dawkins can easily take the starting right job position from Jordan Mills. And Peterman could see the field, if Tyrod goes down and/or does not come back next year. Milano and Vallejo bring depth for the linebacker position. The Bills filled the needs for their team as they bring in potential starters that can make an impact right away.

Final Step: Firing Doug Whaley and hiring Brandon Beane

After the draft, Doug Whaley was fired. He has been their General Manager since 2013. I think it was brave, but careless to not have anyone lined up as the next manager. Whaley’s only success in Buffalo was in 2014 when the team had their first winning season since 2004, but still failed to make the playoffs. Under Whaley, the Bills have drafted only one true superstar in Sammy Watkins, who has failed to live up the hype as the #4 overall pick in 2014. When McDermott arrived, there were questions of whether or not Whaley was coming back. Heck, these questions were being asked when Rex Ryan was fired.

Brandon Beane, who worked with Sean McDermott in Carolina should be successful in Buffalo. McDermott has worked with Beane the last six years in Carolina, which will make the workplace easier for them to see eye-to-eye. A big thing about Beane? He, along with McDermott, come from an organization that has been successful in recent years, which is what the Bills need now.