The Buffalo Bills are looking like contenders to take the AFC East this season. The Pats will give them a run for their money if Matt Cassell continues to play passable football. The New York Jets are not that good. They won 4 games last season and the 38 going on 39 Brett Favre is not going to propel them to 10 wins by himself. And the Miami Dolphins well....maybe next year.
Part of the reason for Buffalo's early success this season is due to the contributions of newcomers and new faces in new places for the Bills. Some of these newcomers are making an immediate impact on the Bills and some will emerge as the season continues.
The New Guys (Difference Makers)
Marcus Stroud: Well I suppose I should start with the 6'6" 310 pound elephant in the room. Marcus Stroud is playing at an extremely high level, much like the Stroud who went to 3 pro bowl just a few seasons ago. He is tearing up the middle of offensive lines and is demanding double teams, opening up more opportunities for DT Kyle Williams, DT Spencer Johnson, DE Chris Kelsay and pro bowl DE Aaron Schoble who are already benefiting from Stroud's presence. The Bills are 5th in total defense right now and 11th in stopping the run and Stroud is a huge (literally and figuratively) reason for that.
Kawika Mitchell: The Bills LB core was decimated by injuries last year. I mean when John DiGiorgio is arguably your best healthy LB you might be in trouble. Kawika Mitchell is a big reason that the Bills LB core is much improved this season. A healthy Paul Posluszny who should be a huge star in this league (led the team in tackles before he was hurt last season) is another reason. Mitchell brings a Super Bowl ring from the G men to the locker room which should motivate Buffalo's young team.
Spencer Johnson: Hasn't made as big of a splash as Stroud or Mitchell but a solid DT who will help keep the DT rotation of himself, Stroud, Williams and John McCargo fresh.
James Hardy: The 6'6"ish 210 pound is just what the doctor ordered for the lack of touchdown epidemic that struck the Bills last season. He proved that he can be a big red zone threat last week with his leaping touchdown grab. He isn't picking up the playbook as fast as the Bills had hoped but Josh Reed is playing solidly at the 2nd WR spot (as he has for a long time) so the Bills aren't worried. Look for Hardy to begin contributing more and more as the season goes on and in a year or two look for him and Lee Evans to be an outstanding 1-2 punch, that is, if Evans gets his contract extension this season, which is looking more promising every day.
Leodis McKelvin: ...is not going to make an immediate impact on defense (due to the consistent play of Jabari Greer). However, could McKelvin make arguably the best special teams in the NFL better? I think so. The Bills already have 2 great return men in Roscoe Parrish and Terrence McGee and McKelvin joins these two men to produce an extremely dangerous return game. McKelvin will see more action on kick returns in the upcoming weeks in order to give McGee more rest from playing CB (at a very high level). Leodis is a home run threat every time he touches the ball on special teams.
Here are a couple guys who have been with the Bills and have shown up for them early in the season:
Ashton Youboty: Youboty was on the verge of getting cut in training camp and now is the starting Nickle CB, playing in front of the 11th overall pick in McKelvin. He is starting to come into his own after some unfortunate events hindered his first couple years in the league.
Fred Jackson: Now, Jackson's play doesn't surprise me but it may surprise some people who don't follow the Bills. Jackson is second on the team in receiving yards and he is the backup RB. Jackson provides Buffalo with a great 1-2 punch out of the backfield with Marshawn Lynch. Jackson is a fast and fun player to watch that not many people know about.
John Wendling: This second year guy has made a big impact on Special Team thus far this season. Special Team coach Bobby April is using Wendling's insane jumping ability to attempt to block field goals. Insane jumping ability? look.... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0P-22hhrW4
Keep An Eye On Them:
A few players that could make a big impact down the road for the Bills and in seasons to come:
Derek Fine: A rookie TE who was looking good in training camp and preseason before he hurt his thumb. At 6'3" 247 he has the size to be a good TE and has nice hands. Keep an eye on him.
Steve Johnson: There's just something about this rookie out of Kentucky that I like. Watching him in training camp, it looks as if he has a great work ethic and he forced the Bills to keep 6 WRs on their roster to make room for him. Keep an eye on him.
With the addition of new faces and improved play from some older players the Bills are not only a threat to go to the playoffs, but possibly go deep into the playoffs. As it stands right now, I like them to win the AFC East.