Buffalo has had enough of its building-for-another-year philosophy. Team owner Ralph Wilson said he wants to win now, and he's put his money where his mouth is. The Bills spent big to add talent to a defense that has had trouble containing the Patriots and Jets, and they now have one of the best defensive lines in the league, at least on paper.
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On offense, Ryan Fitzpatrick is back at the helm after throwing for a career-best 3,832 yards last season. He will have his favorite weapons with the return of wide receiver Stevie Johnson and running back Fred Jackson, both with new deals. Protecting Fitzpatrick was an issue in the past, but the new faces on the line should help keep him upright long enough to find his targets downfield.
Buffalo made the biggest splash by landing the top free agent on the market, defensive end Mario Williams, for a cool $100 million. Throw in former Patriots defensive end Mark Anderson (10 sacks in 2011) and the Bills now have a dynamic duo up front. The departures of cornerback Drayton Florence (released), offensive tackle Demetress Bell (Eagles) and wide receiver Roscoe Parrish (Chargers) should only cause minor concerns. Former "Dream Team" quarterback Vince Young gives Buffalo an insurance policy if something happens to Fitzpatrick.
Stevie Johnson remains one of the Bills' biggest threats.
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore (drafted in the first round) and Ron Brooks (fourth round) should improve a secondary that has struggled. Wide receiver T.J. Graham (third round) will see the field in spread packages. Behemoth offensive tackle Cordy Glenn (second round) has the size to wall off defenders on Fitzpatrick's blind side, while offensive tackle Zebrie Sanders (fifth round) and guard Mark Asper (sixth round) add depth. Outside linebacker Nigel Bradham (fourth round), and inside linebacker Tank Carder (fifth round) will compete for playing time. Kicker John Potter (seventh round) is a cheap insurance policy.
On paper, Buffalo has a relatively easy schedule and a good chance to improve significantly on its 6-10 finish last season. Their 2012 opponents had a 121-135 record (.473 winning percentage) in 2011 and only five teams with winning records are on the docket. After Buffalo's Nov. 11 match-up vs. the Patriots, six of the final seven games are against teams that finished last or next to last in their division in 2011.
The schedule makers gave Buffalo a chance to get back into the race late in the season with the home crowd behind them. Five of the final seven games are at home, or the Rogers Center (Toronto). For a team retooling from a disappointing 2011 finish (losing eight of their last nine games), playing at home, in the cold, against five warm-weather or dome teams, could bode well for the Bills.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Fred Jackson, running back. Jackson is the ground game, something quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will need late in the year. When the weather turns, Jackson can keep the offense moving.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Mario Williams, defensive end. He has yet to play a down for the Bills, yet his mere presence has opponents game-planning already. Williams adds the pass rush threat Buffalo has desperately needed.
WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...
Mario Williams and Mark Anderson earn their money by harassing Brady and company.