Is this the year that the Bills make the playoffs for the first time since 1999?
From the free agent signings of defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, to bringing back key free agents like Steve Johnson, Kirk Morrison, Bryan Scott and Scott Chandler, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the Bills chances in 2012 to become a playoff caliber team.
One concern I had in looking at the 2012 schedule is that the Bills are facing some of the best defenses in the NFL this year. From the 2011 season, eight of the Bills 16 games are going up against a defense from last year that finished no lower than No. 11 in the overall defense rankings. Those defenses are: Houston (No. 2), San Francisco (4), New York Jets twice (5) , Jacksonville (6), Seattle (9), Cleveland (10) and Kansas City (11).
That means that Steve Johnson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, and the other complimentary pieces will need to step up to turn the Bills into playoff contenders.
When you analyze the 2012 schedule from a big picture perspective, there are some major reasons for thinking that the Bills will be having a better record in 2012. Those reasons are as follows:
1) The Bills are facing each of the worst eight overall offensive teams from the 2011 season. Starting from No. 32 (Jacksonville) and working our way up from there, St. Louis (31), Indianapolis (30), Cleveland (29), Seattle (28), Kansas City (27), San Francisco (26) and the New York Jets (25). Other NFL offenses on the Bills schedule that aren't exactly powerhouses: Miami (22), Arizona (19) and Tennessee (17). That schedule should allow an already improved Bills defensive unit to thrive in 2012.
2) The Bills are only facing three teams that made the playoffs in 2011: New England, San Francisco and Houston. With two games against New England, that means that out of the 16-game schedule, only four games are against 2011 playoff teams, 12 games are against non-playoff teams. That fact again helps out the Bills chances in 2012.
3) The two divisions on the Bills 2012 schedule, the AFC South and the NFC West are two of the divisions from a top to bottom comparison that are easier to play.
4) The Bills defense catches a break in the 2012 schedule. The Bills only face one top 10 passing attack in New England and only two top 10 rushing attacks in Houston and San Francisco. But on the converse side, they face seven passing attacks in the bottom 10 in 2011: Jacksonville, St. Louis, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Cleveland. They also face four bottom 10 rushing attacks from 2011 in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Arizona and St, Louis.
Considering all of the above factors, the Bills schedule favors them making a strong playoff push in 2012. I realize that I predicted the Bills to go 13-3 in my weekly predictions of the schedule, but they could just as easily go 10-6, which might be good enough to get them in to the playoffs as well. Should be an exciting year.