At long last, the Bills are back!
Literally, of course, they’re back. The season starts today.
I’m much more excited about the figurative sense — they’re relevant again. Perhaps those tasked with running Buffalo’s most popular institution finally got tired of being upstaged by the Sabres and Terry Pegula’s free-spending ways, but this off-season Ralph opened the wallet and dropped some serious coin to revamp and revitalize his once-proud franchise.
I realize the inherent cynicism we all feel about the team still exists. Coming of age with Wide Right, those debacles against Dallas and the Music City Miracle ensures no one around here is a dewy-eyed optimist when it comes to the Bills.
But cynics be damned, this is our year to finally make the playoffs. A soft schedule against a slate of rookie quarterbacks and a stout defense should be the recipe for a post-season berth.
What I’m about to say is admittedly pathetic, but I would love nothing more than to watch the Bills claim a wildcard spot and get steamrolled by Pittsburgh in a road playoff opener. I’d be thrilled.
My precise prediction, as to and for the record: The Bills will finish second in the AFC East behind, of course, New England and end the year 10-6.
Yes, I think the Bills will log as many wins this season as their last two combined.
There are, of course, weaknesses. For those we must start with Ryan Fitzpatrick, our Harvard grad lumberjack of a quarterback whose facial hair prowess regularly outpaces his ability to throw passes caught by teammates and not opposing defenders. If the Bills are going to make the playoffs, Fitz is going to need more than his trademark killer beard. He’s going to have to throw far fewer than last season’s NFL-leading 26 interceptions.
An oddity that only a Buffalo fan could appreciate: I’m optimistic he’ll be more accurate this year for two reasons. First, with a better defense we won’t be playing from behind as much and he’ll have the luxury of not taking risks to engineer a comeback. Second, we’ve got a new quarterback coach. And Fitzpatrick admitted in the off-season that he’s never really had a coach who taught him the mechanics of throwing a football. Yes, that’s correct: No one ever taught the Bills’ starting quarterback how to throw a ball. If that isn’t a Buffalo thing, I don’t know what is.
Other weaknesses include a linebacking corps that is awfully unproven once you get past veteran stalwart Nick Barnett and a similarly unproven group of wide receivers. Stevie Johnson is a legitimate NFL star and David Nelson is a nice compliment over the middle, but for a team that runs as many plays utilizing five wide receivers, who are the other three? Unless you’re a training camp devotee, you probably don’t even know their names.
But there are strengths, too: If all goes according to plan, the Bills should be able to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Though there’s some inexperience on the offensive line, particularly with a rookie left tackle, the Bills last season still managed to led the AFC in yards per carry. Fred Jackson is the heart and soul of this team and teamed up with C.J. Spiller, the running game should help move the chains and keep the other team’s offense off the field.
And there is of course a newly fearsome defensive line that includes all star pass rusher Mario Williams, the $100 million man. The other off-season addition was pass rush specialist Mark Anderson, who the Bills stole out from under the Patriots in free agency. They already had the makings of a nice line with Pro Bowler Kyle Williams and a mountainous run-stuffer in Marcell Dareus. I pity opposing offenses when they have to decide who to try to block of that group.
So there’s my analysis of the 2012 Buffalo Bills. Like every season I am as confident as Charlie Brown lining up to kick a field goal that this is the year our Bills return to a formidable and fun football team.
Of course, we know how it ends for Charlie Brown ...
Anyway, go Bills!
Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.