AFC East: Will Buffalo Surprise?

Michael HefferonContributor IMay 26, 2009

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 28:  Langston Walker #68, Duke Preston #75 and Trent Edwards #5 of the Buffalo Bills wait to walk on the field before the game against the New England Patriots on December 28, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

The AFC East consistently proves itself to be one of the NFL’s toughest divisions.

With the return of a healthy Tom Brady, the addition of Terrell Owens, the Jets drafting the most hyped young quarterback in recent years, Mark Sanchez, and the return of Jason Taylor to the Dolphins, the 2009 season will be harder then ever. Brady and the Patriots, once again, figure to be at the top of the division, leaving the Jets, Dolphins, and Bills to battle it out for a possible wild card berth.

If Buffalo has any postseason plans, they will have to beat AFC teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans, as one of these teams will likely be a part of the wild card picture. In 2008, the Bills' fast start quickly faded following a 0-3 record in a three week gauntlet of AFC East opponents and they finished winless in their division. They can ill afford a repeat performance if they have any hope of returning to the postseason.

The Bills have the sixth toughest schedule in 2009, according to the strength of schedule rankings.  The ranking is based on the opponent’s 2008 record; it also has all four teams in the AFC East listed in the top 10 with Miami having the toughest 2009 schedule. A difficult schedule doesn’t automatically dash a team’s playoff hopes. In 2008, five teams ranked near the top in strength of schedule made the playoffs, including the eventual Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bills start the season with an early division test against the Patriots. In 2003, the Bills beat New England 31-0 to open the season only to finish a disappointing 6-10.

With all the hype surrounding the signing of T.O., the Bills' chances of competing in the division may rest on the free agent signing of center, Geoff Hangartner, who will be matched against Vince Wilfork and Kris Jenkins; two of the premiere tackles in football. In order for T.O.’s signing to matter, Buffalo has to keep Trent Edwards upright.

Looking at the schedule, strength of the division, and the numerous question marks surrounding the Bills; the playoffs don’t seem likely. If players like Aaron Schobel can stay healthy and Paul Posluszny matures into the play maker the team traded up to get in 2007, the team could be the surprise of the league in 2009.