The city of Buffalo has been waiting 13 years for a playoff appearance, not to mention 46 years for a Super Bowl win by their own Buffalo Bills. This year, though, the Bills could become a dark-horse contender.
I'm not saying that the Bills will win the AFC East, an AFC Championship and the Super Bowl this season. They won't. However, the pieces that Buffalo has put together in the last couple seasons are making it more and more of a contender in the competitive AFC East.
Buffalo made its offseason splash with the signing of Mario Williams, which solidified its defensive line. 2011 was filled with ups and downs for Buffalo fans. After a pleasantly surprising 5-2 start, Buffalo went on to lose seven of its last nine games, including a six-game losing streak that gave Bills fans the usual feeling of being in last place.
With a strong team overall, Bills fans are hoping for the same kind of play that happened in the first seven games of last season.
Usually in the NFL, schedules are almost identical from team to team. That may be the case, but Buffalo's out-of-division schedule seems favorable.
The Bills only play two teams that made the playoffs last season. Again, we're talking out of the AFC East. Obviously, the Patriots will continue their monopoly over the AFC East and NFL, and the New York Jets will be an AFC contender.
Still, when you glance at Buffalo's schedule, we're talking about teams that had horrific seasons in 2011. Teams like St. Louis, Jacksonville. Indianapolis, Kansas City and Cleveland. The rest of Buffalo's schedule is filled with teams who had mediocre 2011 seasons, like the Titans, Cardinals and Seahawks.
All the Bills can do is thank the NFL gods, but a weak schedule will only boost Buffalo's chances of being a contender this season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick? Fred Jackson? Steve Johnson? C.J. Spiller? These four guys have the potential to make the Buffalo offense explosive. The real questions are whether Fred Jackson can return to form after a season-ending injury last season and if Ryan Fitzpatrick can lower his interception rate.
We already know that when Stevie Johnson is in the open field, he can outrun almost anyone to the end zone. Buffalo threw the ball a lot more in 2011, as Fitzpatrick threw for 3,832 yards (24 TD, 23 INT) on almost 600 attempts, all career-bests. If you want a comparison, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers threw for 4,643 yards on 502 attempts, along with 45 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
For Buffalo to be a contender, Fitzpatrick will need to limit his interceptions to somewhere between 12-18. He turned the ball over way too much last season. With a stronger defense in 2012, an effective Fitzpatrick may be the key to Buffalo's success.
Still, this offense has the potential to be one of the better ones in the NFL. It's solid all around. There's no NFL MVP candidates, but there isn't a weak link anywhere.
For those that know the Buffalo Bills, you won't be surprised when I say that they have one of the best defensive lines in the National Football League. With the signing of Mario Williams, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, the Bills defense is a force to be reckoned with.
Along with Mario Williams, the Bills defensive line includes Marcell Dareus (5.5 sacks in all 16 games last season), two-time Pro Bowl selection Kyle Williams and Mark Anderson, who had 10 sacks with New England last season.
Even second stringers Shawne Merriman (44 career sacks) and Chris Kelsay (30 Career Sacks) are quality defensive linemen.
Don't just expect the Bills defensive line to be in opponents' backfields, but also expect many takeaways. 2012 first-round pick Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina) and Aaron Williams will be shutting wide receivers down, while safeties George Wilson and Jairus Byrd will roam the secondary. Don't forget a solid linebacker core of Arthur Moats, Kelvin Sheppard and Nick Barnett.
All in all, the Bills defense is what will make them a quality team in 2012. The offense can be explosive, but Fitzpatrick's inconsistency will need to be solved for Buffalo to return to glory. Buffalo fans should expect a 9-7 or 8-8 season, but anything higher won't be surprising.
You can reach Teddy Bailey on Twitter Here: