Rest of AFC East leaving Bills behind

That speck in the AFC East's rearview mirror is the Buffalo Bills.

And, no, objects are not closer than they appear.

Given the circumstances within the division and looming labor uncertainty, it's possible the Bills will have to wait until 2012 to have a reasonable shot at the playoffs.

The Bills went into the 2010 offseason a distant fourth to their three divisional opponents. The New England Patriots are defending champs. The New York Jets reached the AFC Championship game. The Miami Dolphins won the division in 2008.

Those were the facts before offseason maneuverings commenced. After the various signings and trades, Buffalo is lagging even more.

The Bills clearly are rebuilding, and that's OK. They should have embraced that concept years ago. Instead, they treaded below mediocrity, failing to reach the playoffs 10 straight seasons.

As it shapes up now, the Bills would be a miracle playoff team. They not only would need to drastically improve, they'd also have to pray at least two proven AFC East teams crash.

Then there's the serious possibility of a lockout in 2011. Some predict the labor battle could wipe out the season.

The Bills have made some prudent decisions in revamping their front office. They promoted Buddy Nix to general manager and brought in Pittsburgh Steelers pro personnel coordinator Doug Whaley to be assistant GM. Nix hired Chan Gailey as head coach, perhaps not an inspirational choice, but a solid one.

Nix stated from the outset his approach to improving the team would be through the draft. That's the plan he has followed. Their biggest free-agent signings were defensive lineman Dwan Edwards and offensive tackle Cornell Green. They've made no trades. Buffalo is the only AFC East team that does not know who its quarterback will be.

Other AFC East teams have done the opposite, acquiring star veterans that make them better immediately and widening the gap between them and Buffalo enough to make it a three-team division in April.

The Jets have improved on both defense and offense: adding back LaDainian Tomlinson, receiver Santonio Holmes, cornerback Antonio Cromartie and perhaps outside linebacker Jason Taylor.

Miami traded for receiver Brandon Marshall and signed inside linebacker Karlos Dansby.

New England has done little more than re-sign its own players, who happen to be pretty good: nose tackle Vince Wilfork, running back Kevin Faulk and right guard Stephen Neal among them.

Buffalo fans should be optimistic about the new leadership. Nix and Gailey have done nothing yet that contradicts their master plan. They've given no reason to be disheartened about their long-range vision.

But the rest of the AFC East sure has made it tough to expect any Bills thrills for a while.