Promise of youth backs up Whitner's guarantee Buzz up! James P. McCoy/Buffalo News Donte Whitner has guaranteed that the Bills will break their playoff drought in 2008. One day last week, I tuned into ESPN to hear what the NFL analysts had to say about the Buffalo Bills in their mini-preview of the league's teams. Steve Levy, the host, informed us "when you think of Buffalo you think of the three 'W's ? winter, wings and Whitner." At the time it was 85 degrees in Buffalo but Levy was still alluding to our overworked reputation for rough winters, a subject beaten to near death by the national sporting media for more than 40 years. The reference to Donte Whitner, the Bills' fine young safety? Whitner is moving comfortably into a leadership role in his third pro season but I suspect he is not yet a totally familiar name in the households of ESPN viewers. It turned out that what offended the ESPN crew was the temerity of Whitner to guarantee that his team would break its playoff drought in 2008. Whitner made the guarantee more than a month ago when he and his teammates were convening for offseason workouts. Levy's broadcast partner, ex-Washington and Denver guard Mark Schlereth, seemed outraged at the mere idea of Buffalo playing in the next postseason. "They're improved," he admitted, "but they're not a playoff team." It may have been moments like that that led Ron Wolf, the retired Packers general manager, to declare "sports were a lot more fun before there was ESPN." The Bills haven't qualified for the playoffs since the "Music City Miracle" heartbreaking loss in 1999. It will not be a cakewalk to crack that streak, but what is so outrageous about a young team leader such as Whitner guaranteeing a playoff spot to inspire his teammates? It happens all the time in sports. The Bills are improved, especially on defense, as a result of trades, free-agent signings, injuries that have healed and the drafting of cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Schlereth's case for Buffalo's vulnerability begins with "starting a young quarterback," as he put it. It is true that any team starting a second-year quarterback, even one who was so efficient a rookie as Trent Edwards was in 2007, leaves itself open to doubt. There are others beyond ESPN who point to Edwards' lack of a rocket arm. But Edwards has an important head start over most young quarterbacks: He started most of his team's games and he won far more than most kid quarterbacks do. His most important skills were great accuracy and intelligent, poised decision-making. The Bills were revived with Edwards at the controls. They made a solid stab at a .500 record. He was the quarterback on the all-rookie team. Some of the credit for Edwards' success goes to his quarterbacks coach, Turk Schonert. The fact Schonert is the team's new offensive coordinator seems as if it may be a plus for Edwards. Another plus is the front office's decision to secure their entire offensive line, which allowed Edwards to be sacked just 12 times among the 281 times he dropped back to pass. The only Olineman who hasn't received an extension or new contract is the best of the lot, left tackle Jason Peters, a Pro Bowl selection. It appears inevitable that he will be satisfied. As for the lack of a howitzer hanging from Edwards' right shoulder, some very good quarterbacks have succeeded despite the same handicap. Joe Montana comes to mind. The mandate for Edwards, in order for the Bills to reach Whitner's guarantee, is that enough of his passes reach Lee Evans this season. The drafting of James Hardy may help that situation. Meanwhile, there is an old truism in sports: Old teams get older; young teams get better. That should be acknowledged, even at ESPN. Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.