4 Reasons Buffalo Bills Are Primed to Take the AFC East
The AFC East has another contender in the Buffalo Bills.
After breaking out during the first half of the 2011 season the Bills regressed and ended the season with six wins.
The Bills made the biggest splash in free agency in 2012 in an effort to transform their defense. With the continued development of their offense the Bills finally have the pieces in place to make a run at the AFC East title and a playoff berth.
Can the Bills return to the playoffs for the first time since 1999 or will they flame down the stretch?
Here are four reasons why this Bills team has a chance to dethrone the Patriots and win the AFC East.
The Bills Have a Revamped Defense That Will Put Pressure on the Quarterback
The Bills landed the biggest free agent not named Peyton Manning.
Mario Williams comes to Buffalo and instantly changes the Bills defense. Williams is the best pass-rusher the Bills have had since Bruce Smith retired. Every team that plays Buffalo in 2012 will have to put together a game plan to stop Williams.
The Bills also signed DE Mark Anderson, giving them two defensive ends that can rush the passer. Anderson is more of a risk than Williams, but he racked up 10 sacks with the Patriots last season and got stronger as the year progressed.
While the contracts will be difficult to live up to, Williams and Anderson join veteran DT Kyle Williams and second-year DT Marcell Dareus, creating a potent four-man front that can get pressure on the outside and up the middle, making them impossible to stop.
If the defensive line can put the pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the Bills will become a legitimate threat to win the AFC East.
The Bills Have an Underrated Offense
The Bills offense developed into a formidable unit in 2011.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for more than 3,800 yards and has solidified his connection with diva receiver Steve Johnson, who had his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. Fitzpatrick led the team with big wins to start the 2011 season and showed he wasn’t a fluke in 2010.
C.J. Spiller has started to look like the versatile weapon the Bills drafted in 2010 by nearly doubling his production in his second season. Spiller has added another dimension to the Bills offense, giving Fitzpatrick a reliable check-down receiver.
The receiving corps has continued to develop behind breakout seasons by receiver David Nelson and TE Scott Chandler. Combined with Johnson, and the Bills now have an arsenal of weapons for Fitzpatrick to throw to.
If Fitzpatrick can learn from the mistakes he made in 2011, then the Bills will be able to challenge for the AFC East title.
Besides the Patriots, the AFC East Is Wide Open
While the Patriots may still have a stronghold on the AFC East title, the Bills are nipping at their heels.
The Patriots have several holes on defense and have shown they can be defeated by strong 4-3 defenses that can rush the passer, something that the Bills can now do. The Jets and Dolphins have had success in recent seasons, but both teams are on the outside looking in.
The Jets are a locker room disaster and with the trade for Tim Tebow they may have made things even worse. In addition to the locker room issues, Mark Sanchez has failed to take the next step needed to lead a team, and the defense took a step back from the elite unit it was the previous two seasons.
The Dolphins peaked when they implemented the Wildcat offense a few years ago but have flamed out since. Until they land a reliable starting quarterback or their defense becomes elite, they won’t win more than six games.
The Bills will be the second-best team in the division and with a few clutch wins will challenge the Patriots for the division.
Fred Jackson Is an Elite Running Back
Despite getting injured last season, Fred Jackson had a breakout year and gave the Bills an elite offensive player. Before getting hurt, Jackson was on pace for more than 2,200 yards of total offense, more than league-leader Ray Rice ended up with for the year.
There was a silver lining to Jackson’s injury. C.J. Spiller stepped in and developed during his absence. The development of Spiller combined with Jackson give the Bills a dynamic duo at the running back position in 2012, taking pressure off Fitzpatrick.
At 31, Jackson may be old in running back years, but because he can split time with Spiller he will stay fresh throughout the season. Jackson also hasn’t experience the pounding that most running backs in the NFL have since he didn’t become a starter until 2009.
Also, the development of Jackson and Spiller is important to the Bills' success because they can run the ball consistently keeping opposing offenses off the field and taking pressure off the defense.