Though a lot of the blame can be placed on injuries to key players, Buffalo still needed to change things.
The defense ranked in the bottom half in most categories. Buffalo shifted its defensive focus by bringing in Dave Wannstedt as defensive coordinator and shifting to a 4-3, according to Rodney McKissic of The Buffalo News.
The offseason has also been an eventful one. Buddy Nix made a huge splash by bringing in this year's top defensive free agent, Mario Williams, and also signing Mark Anderson to expedite the transition to a 4-3. They also made defensive back Stephon Gilmore their first-round selection.
Buffalo has shown they're serious about competing this season, and expectations are running high.
Anything can happen.
So let's take a look at some reasonable goals for the Bills in 2012.
The Bills ranked just 26th last year in yards per game and 30th in points per game. With a switch to a 4-3 along with huge-free agent signings to make the Bills' defensive line one of the best on paper, defensive rankings should go up in 2012.
One of the big concerns is adjustment time in the new scheme, but that's probably overblown. Personnel isn't much of an issue; the aforementioned signings will help speed up the transition.
The only issue with transitions is Shawne Merriman's place in the new scheme. According to Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News, head coach Chan Gailey said Merriman, who's played 3-4 outside linebacker for most of his career, will move to defensive end, and that's only if he can get healthy again.
Competition favors a move up in the rankings as well. Buffalo plays the NFC West, and while it's getting more competitive, the Bills still seem further along in building a contender than teams like Seattle, Arizona or St. Louis. The trend with west coast teams struggling in the eastern time zone bodes well for the Bills' matchup against Seattle.
Buffalo's defense recorded just 29 sacks last season, tied with Indianapolis and Kansas City for third-worst in the league. Even though sacks don't tell the whole story, it does imply their pass rush struggled throughout the season.
Adding players like Williams and Anderson will certainly help, along with the change in scheme.
Most importantly, Wannstedt's philosophy for Buffalo's defense will rely on how well the front plays, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com.
The increased sack total will come naturally if Wannstedt's focus on the front's dominance prevails.
After extending Fitzpatrick for six more years, it seems the Bills have decided on a long-term plan at quarterback.
But Fitzpatrick will have to play with more consistency to keep it that way.
During the first half of the season, Fitzpatrick took pretty good care of the ball, throwing just seven interception in as many games. But in the latter half, Fitzpatrick more than tripled that number, eventually finishing the season leading the league in picks.
In retrospect, some of it may have to do with injuries; but spending another offseason with competition and trying to avoid a quarterback controversy should serve as enough motivation to work up some "Fitzmagic."
Health was an issue last year, and the same concern persists going into this season.
Kyle Williams and Fred Jackson were two key players the Bills lost to season-ending injuries, along with Shawne Merriman.
Marcell Dareus played the season with several injuries, according to Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News.
David Nelson told Doug Flutie on NBC Sports Network that Fitzpatrick was also playing hurt, after suffering a rib injury against Washington.
Their latest prize, Mario Williams, has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career as well, as James Walker of ESPN.com notes.
It's very difficult for a team to survive so many injuries at key positions; and expecting a team to stay healthy over the course of an NFL regular season might not be so reasonable. It'll take a stroke of luck, but if they manage to keep most of their key guys on the field, the reward will be great.
Every team's goal.
If another year under Gailey can help Fitzpatrick develop more consistency, and the defensive remodeling proves to be effective, the Bills look ready to compete for a wild card spot—or even the AFC East title.
The progress and changes in Buffalo make the playoffs seem less like a pipe dream, and more like a reasonable prediction.