May 29, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams (94) during organized team activities at Ralph Wilson Field House. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE

2012 NFL Preview: Buffalo Bills

Our tour of NFL teams sticks to the AFC east, heading north to the Buffalo. The Bills have been one of the league’s bottom feeders for what feels like almost forever, ever since Jim Kelly retired. Their last winning season, and their only one in past 12 years, but the 2004 season under the leadership of QB Drew Bledsoe.

To help me make sure I get my facts right (for once) I’ve enlisted the help of Bradley Andrews from BuffaLowDown.

Biggest Team Need Heading Into Offseason: Pass rush

Key Free Agents Retained: WR Stevie Johnson, TE Scott Chandler, LB/S Bryan Scott, G Kraig Urbik

Key Player Additions: DE Mario Williams, DE Mark Anderson, QB Vince Young

Key Players Leaving: OT Demetress Bell (Eagles), WR Roscoe Parrish (Chargers)

Quick Thoughts on Draft: GM Buddy Nix did a great job. First-round pick CB Stephon Gilmore will help right away. Massive OT Cordy Glenn was a steal at the #41 pick. He has the inside track to start at LT. Third-round WR T.J. Graham is a speedster, but he’s raw. The Bills really needed a deep threat, though, so he’s worth the risk.

Quick Thoughts on 2012 schedule: The middle of the Bills’ schedule is rough: between weeks 4-10 the Bills have two games vs. the Patriots and games at Houston and San Francisco. If the Bills are still in contention in Week 11, the end of Buffalo’s schedule is about as easy as it gets in the NFL: vs. Miami, @ Indy, vs. Jacksonville, vs. St. Louis, vs. Seattle, @ Miami, vs. NYJ. There are no gimmes in the NFL, but the Bills really have a chance to close strong and make a playoff push.

Most Interesting Roster Battle: Wide receiver. Superstar Stevie Johnson and reliable David Nelson are on the team, and it’d be shocking to see the rookie Graham get cut. After that? Anyone’s guess. Donald Jones, Marcus Easley, Naaman Roosevelt, Derek Hagan and Kamar Aiken will battle for 2-3 spots.

Biggest Strength Heading Into 2012: The defensive line. New additions Mario Williams and Mark Anderson will be huge for a team that had no pass rush last season. At tackle, Kyle Williams – who missed all last year with injury – is one of the best tackles in the NFL when he’s healthy. The other tackle (Marcell Dareus) was the third pick in last year’s draft and showed some real promise as a rookie. This group will be tough.

Biggest Weakness Heading Into 2012: The Bills are strong at safety, but the rest of the defensive back seven is a question mark. The Bills have a lot of unproven talent at linebacker at cornerback. There’s potential, but it’s worrisome.

Biggest Question Still To Be Answered: Ryan Fitzpatrick. Is he a franchise QB? Or a disaster the Bills have sunk a lot of money into? If he’s good in 2012, this is a playoff team.

2012 Prediction: If the defensive line meets expectations and Fitzpatrick plays well, the Bills will be very competitive. 10-6 and a wild card bid would be a really nice step forward for the franchise.

The Bills’ biggest need heading into the offseason was the pass rush, so they broke the bank to acquire Mario Williams. It’s tough to argue with that. I do think they paid too much, but when you turn a major weakness into a strength in one transaction, complaining about the price tag  seems like splitting hairs.

The problem I see with this roster is at the QB position. The Bills gave Fitzpatrick a huge contract after he got off to a hot start last season, and then he promptly regressed back into being a mediocre player. If the Bills are going to compete this season, they need the Fitzpatrick from the first 6 games, not the one from the last 10.

One thing the Bills can do help Fitzpatrick, is to feed the ball to their pair of talented RBs. Fred Jackson is perhaps the most underrated runner in the league, and CJ Spiller is an excellent receiver out of the backfield, as well as a decent runner himself. If the Bills can keep their running game going to not force Fitzpatrick to have to win games for them, they will surprise a lot of teams in 2012.
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Tags: Bills Buffalo Bills Mario Williams Ryan Fitzpatrick

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