The new NFL season is almost here, and the Buffalo Bills finally have a reason to hope.
Actually, several reasons to hope.
This years Bills have a few big name acquisitions, and a few key re-signs that are huge reasons to "Bill-eve" this year. The signing of prized free agent almost goes without saying as the biggest move the Bills have made in free agency in the teams history. At least since free agency was introduced in 1993.
Defensive End Mark Anderson would have big a huge pick up for the Bills had they not signed Williams, but signing Williams may in fact have been the reason the Bills were able to acquire Anderson. With the drafting of Marcell Dareus in 2011, long-time DE Kyle Williams finally has help on the defensive line. Now, the biggest weakness of the Bills has, seemingly, become their biggest point of strength virtually overnight. If Mario Williams can stay healthy, he only played in five games last year due to a torn pectoral, the 2012 Bills threaten to have to sort of D-line that opposing offensive coordinators have nightmares about. Just look at the 2007 and 2011 New York Giants. Their line put enough pressure on the quarterback with just four rushers that the defensive backs could adequately cover their receivers. Good line pressure makes the secondary look like pro-bowlers. Also, the Giants won the Super Bowl in those years.
Mario Williams and Mark Anderson not only bolstered the defense, but also raised the profile of the team. Buffalo has never exactly been a destination team, but maybe it doesn't have to be. With a small market city like Green Bay, the Packers had a history of winning and an almost legendary status despite the frozen tundra and tiny town. The Bills have a known history of losing... four straight Super Bowls, all of those with an established core of Hall of Famers that were entrenched before Free Agency started. Signing Williams shows that there is some appeal to living in Western New York, and if a player is serious about playing football and not as concerned with living a rock star style off-the-field life, than the Bills might have what you want.
On a side note, with Williams hunting all the deer in town, there will be less to dodge while driving around town.
It remains to be seen how many kickers the Bills will go into the regular season with, but seventh-round pick John Potter is giving the coaching staff reason to consider keeping three. While that may seem like a shocker, Potter is perfect on his preseason kickoffs resulting in touchbacks. The logic behind three kickers seems sound however, when you take into consideration that the Bills opponents will have to start on their own 20-yard line and then need to go eighty yards against the D-line. Considering that it's about 85 degrees outside now, it is tough to predict how Potter will be able to kick the ball in the blustery Buffalo winter.
In addition to the upgrades on the D-line, the Bills drafted standout cornerback Stephon Gilmore to be a shutdown player. He looked the part while at South Carolina playing against near NFL quality talent in the SEC, but he will have to prove it against actual NFL players. But if the defensive line can get pressure on the quarterback like expected, than Glimore and Jairus Byrd, who lead the NFL in interceptions two seasons ago, should have plenty of opportunities to come up with turnovers.
The Bills also took a huge swing signing standout Stevie Johnson to a big deal. Johnson is known for his antics and an athletic outside presence, but has not really big considered a "big time" receiver. Johnson is a nice player who does go over the middle, but is known more for his big drops against the Steelers and for his touchdown celebrations. While the 15-yard penalty does hurt the team and was a big enough issue to cause head coach Chan Gailey to bench him for the remainder of the season finale, it is a good sign that Johnson gets into the end zone with enough frequency to cause a headache with his dances and t-shirts signs.
If Johnson can grow to be the leader he sounds like he wants to be in interviews, he can tutor the young receivers that the Bills have on staff this year. At times last season, the Bills offense showed signs of being a high powered passing power, but stalled out halfway through the year. The exact cause is not clear. There were rumors after the seasons of a rib injury to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but no one on the team will admit to that being the reason. Almost assuredly, game tape and preparation by opponents later in the season was, at the very least, partly to blame.
Another question is the durability of Fred Jackson, who was having an MVP caliber breakout year, but was injured late in the season. The question of his durability is somewhat answered with the quality of his backup in C.J. Spiller who emerged as a capable starting running back in Jackson's absence. With the knowledge that Spiller can spell Jackson when necessary, the Bills coaching staff won't have to place the ball in Jackson's hands as often, and in fact can have a legitimate dual threat backfield. Both backs are above average receivers out of the backfield and can even be set as a slot receiver to further confuse the opposing defense.
Other than the start of a new season, where hope springs eternal and everyone starts undefeated, the fans of the Bills really do have good reason(s) to hope.