The Buffalo Bills have a fact attached to them that they really want to drop – most seasons without a playoff berth. And after missing the postseason for the 12th straight year in 2011, the Bills enter 2012 with one mission, playoffs or bust.
Buffalo started last season on a tear, going 5-2 through the first 8 weeks. Unfortunately, the season went on a downward spiral when the Bills finished 1-8 in the final 9 games. And while the way the season ended was depressing for the team and the fans, it did reveal just what they needed to improve on the most, starting with the team’s inability to rush the quarterback.
The team aggressively addressed their defensive issues by going after the top free agent not named Peyton Manning, defensive end Mario Williams. Williams’ first and only visit was to Buffalo, and after three days, he signed a 6-year, $96-million contract with Buffalo. And just to top things off, the team went out and signed fellow defensive end Mark Anderson who is coming off a 10-sack season with rival New England.
When you put the additions of Williams and Anderson on a defensive line that includes 2011 first-round pick Marcel Dareus and pro-bowler Kyle Williams, you have a unit that could very well become a top-five defensive line in the NFL.
They then added cornerback Stephan Gilmore with the 10th overall pick in April’s draft to help solidify a secondary that had a knack for taking the ball away last season.
The real question mark on defense right now is the linebacking unit. The middle and weak side linebackers are seemingly set with Kelvin Sheppard and Nick Barnett manning the spots, respectively. The strong side position is still up in the air.
Right now, the team has third-year LB Arthur Moats in the starting spot, but that could change if Kirk Morrison impresses in the preseason.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bills have one of the top running backs in the league in Fred Jackson. Prior to suffering a leg injury last season, Jackson was leading the league in rushing, and was well on his way to a pro-bowl season. With his injury though, the team found out just what they had in C.J. Spiller who they took 10th in 2010.
Now with a two-running back system, and an offense that was near the top of the AFC before injuries set in on the team.
If QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and the offense can regain early 2011 form, and the defense can live up to the hype, the Bills may be something special in 2012. But as all Bills fans, including myself know, we can’t get our hopes up anymore.
2011 Record: 6-10
Key Additions: DE – Mario Williams – Houston
DE – Mark Anderson – New Endland
CB – Stephon Gilmore (Drafted) – South Carolina
QB – Vince Young – Philadelphia
Key Losses: T – Demetress Bell – Philadelphia
CB – Drayton Florence – Denver
WR – Roscoe Parrish – San Diego
Offense: Fred Jackson: Jackson is Mr. Do Everything for the Bills. He can run the ball, he can catch passes, and he can block. The offense seems to go as Jackson goes, and although he is 31, he is still an explosive player who will provide Buffalo with a spark in 2012.
Stevie Johnson: At the end of 2011, most people in Buffalo felt that Johnson had played his last game for the Bills after he was benched in the final game of the season after being benched for yet another excessive celebration penalty. The team was able to put his issues behind them and signed him to a reasonable 5-year, $36-million contract that will keep Johnson in Buffalo for years to come. Johnson is the only receiver in Bills history to have back-to-back 1000-yard receiving seasons.
Scott Chandler: Chandler is a player that feel doesn’t get enough credit. He was a waiver wire pick up for Buffalo last year, and flew onto the scene in week 1 for Buffalo after he caught two touchdowns. Chandler has been Fitzpatrick’s favorite target in training camp this year, and I can only expect great things from the Bills tight end in 2012.
Defense: Mario Williams: This one is obvious. The Bills signed WIlliams to the richest contract in franchise history in exchange for him to come in and be a catalyst for a franchise turn around. If Williams stays healthy, which is always a question for Bills players, then there is no doubt that he won’t have a tremendous impact in Western New York.
Marcel Dareus: When Buffalo took Dareus 3rd overall in 2011, he was taken with the expectations of being the cornerstone for the defense for years to come. After a successful rookie season, coaches and fans are expecting his production to increase in his second NFL season. If he can help improve one of the league’s worst run defenses, then I think most people will consider year two a success.
Jairus Byrd: In his third year with Bills, Byrd showed that he has become a complete safety. After getting nine interceptions in his rookie season in 2009, Byrd’s INT totals have dropped over the past two years, but that doesn’t mean that he’s been a disappointment. In fact, he’s become even more of an asset. Byrd has seen his tackle output increase year over year, totaling 98 tackles in 2011, up from 68 in 2010, and 33 in 2009. With Byrd entering the final year of his rookie deal, the team has some work to do to keep their best defensive back.
Coaching: It’s year three for Chan Gailey, and he has managed to increase the team’s win total by two in each of his first two seasons. He has the pieces in place to make a push, but if he can’t get them to play well together, then he may not get a fourth year.
Breakout Player: Scott Chandler: I may sound like a broken record, but I truly feel that Chandler will be one of Buffalo’s best players in 2012. He showed flashes early on last season, and I only expect him to get better and produce more in his second full season with the Bills. He’s become a safety blanket for Fitzpatrick which should mean more targets than before.
2012 Prediction: Buffalo’s front office has done its job to field a highly competitive team in 2012. To quote GM Buddy Nix, “it’s time” for the Bills to take that next step, and I believe they will move a step in the right direction in 2012. I think they improve on the field, but still fall short of the playoffs and finish 8-8.
Overview: While the end of the season is pretty “easy”, the beginning of the schedule is tough which makes it tough for the Bills. If they can stay at .500 or better in the first half, then they have a great chance to make the playoffs. It just all depends on if they can stay healthy and recapture some of that early 2011 magic.