After a red-hot start to the 2011 season, the Buffalo Bills fizzled and finished with a 6-10 mark. Despite that and the fact that they haven't qualified for the playoffs since 1999, there is a sense of optimism in Buffalo heading into the 2012 season as there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
The Bills made some big moves this offseason as they re-signed wide receiver Stevie Johnson, signed defensive end Mark Anderson and signed the crown jewel of free agency on the defensive side of the ball, Mario Williams.
With those additions, a strong draft and a fairly easy schedule at first glance, there is a very real chance that the Bills could end the longest active postseason drought in the league.
Week 1 9/9: Buffalo Bills at New York 1:00 ET, CBS
Week 2 9/16 Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills 1:00 ET, CBS
Week 3 9/23: Buffalo Bills at Cleveland Browns 1:00 ET, CBS
Week 4 9/30: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills 1:00 ET, CBS
Week 5 10/07: Buffalo Bills at San Francisco 49ers 4:15 ET CBS
Week 6 10/14: Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals 4:05 ET CBS
Week 7 10/21: Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills 1:00 ET CBS
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: 11/04 Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans 1:00 ET CBS
Week 10: 11/11 Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots 1:00 ET CBS
Week 11: 11/15 (Thurs) Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills 8:20 ET NFL Network
Week 12: 11/25 Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts 1:00 ET CBS
Week 13: 12/02 Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills 1:00 ET CBS
Week 14: 12/09 St. Louis Rams at Buffalo Bills 1:00 ET FOX
Week 15: 12/16 Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills 4:05 ET FOX
Week 16: 12/23 Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins 1:00 ET CBS
Week 17: 12/30 New York Jets at Buffalo Bills 1:00 ET CBS
After facing one of the most grueling schedules in the league last season, the Bills will receive a nice reprieve in 2012. In addition to an AFC East schedule that features the floundering Miami Dolphins and a New York Jets team that appears to be on the decline, the Bills will have the benefit of taking on two of the weaker divisions in the NFL in the AFC South and NFC West.
Those two divisions combined to feature three of the worst teams in football last season in the Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams. While it would be unfair to call those games automatic wins this far in advance, they all look pretty good from the Bills' point of view.
The Bills' offense was quite promising last season as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the running back tandem of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller shined. The defense was a real issue, but the addition of Williams should help improve things on that side of the ball in a big way. When you take all of that plus an easy schedule into consideration, the Bills are in very good shape.
Most Pivotal Matchup: @ New England Patriots (Week 10)
The benchmark in the AFC East is the New England Patriots. Until either the Bills or another team dethrones them, that is going to be the case for the foreseeable future. The Bills took a big step toward competing with the Patriots last season as they broke a 15-game losing streak against them by beating them at home last year. However, the true hallmark of a winning team is getting the job done on the road.
Incredibly, Buffalo hasn't beaten New England in enemy territory since 2000, so it would be a huge boost to finally do so. The Bills really got the Patriots' attention last season when they completely dominated them offensively and picked off Tom Brady four times en route to a victory, but doing it on the road would be a true warning shot.
The Pats rarely lose to anyone inside the confines of Gillette Stadium, much less the lowly Bills. There is plenty of excitement and belief in Buffalo, though, and there seems to be a certain degree of confidence within the team after they beat the Patriots last season. If they bring that swagger with them to Foxboro, then they can score their biggest win in more than a decade.