Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 7/29/12
There is a good deal of optimism coming out of Bills camp this year.

The Bills made headlines this spring when they inked defensive end Mario Williams to the largest contract ever for a defensive player in NFL history.

This move, coupled with the signing of defensive end Mark Anderson and the drafting of cornerback Stephon Gilmore has many in Buffalo thinking playoffs.

Buffalo looked like a playoff team early in the 2011 season, as they started 5-2 including a dramatic comeback win over division rival New England.

However, the wheels came off soon afterwards, as injuries and erratic play led the Bills to drop eight of their final nine games. The team saw Shawne Merriman, Eric Wood, Terrence McGee, Kyle Williams and Fred Jackson all go on season-ending injured reserve during that stretch.

Likewise, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered an undisclosed rib injury in Week 8. He played through pain the rest of the season, but saw his play steadily decline under those conditions. Before the injury, Fitzpatrick had thrown 14 touchdowns to just seven interceptions and had a passer rating of 97.8. The rest of the season saw him throw 10 touchdowns and a whopping 16 interceptions for a measly 66.5 rating.

The common line of thought is that the true Bills were the healthy team that looked poised to make the playoffs through the season’s first two months. Bolstering this promising roster with a premier defensive player can only help the team reach its potential.

However, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The Bills clearly are not as bad as the team that literally limped to a 1-8 finish. However, they don’t appear to be as good as their hot start indicated either. The Bills have holes on the roster that have yet to be addressed. They also feasted on weak competition in the early going; the only team Buffalo beat all season that finished with a winning record was New England in Week 3.

The offense has two fantastic running backs in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. They will also have a strong offensive line as long as rookie Cordy Glenn lives up to expectations. However, the passing game has some question marks.

The team has little depth behind star receiver Stevie Johnson. David Nelson, Scott Chandler and Donald Jones are serviceable, but none of them truly strike fear into a defense. This cast would be helped tremendously if third-round rookie T.J. Graham can provide some explosiveness.

Likewise, Buffalo’s offense is held back somewhat by the limitations of Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a serviceable quarterback, but he is not elite by any means. At his best, he is capable of leading a team to victory, a fact evident in his five consecutive second-half touchdown drives in a Week 2 comeback win against the Raiders.

However, he has been prone to inconsistency throughout his career. At times he looks like a Pro Bowler, yet he comes into 2012 with a mediocre career passer rating of 76.5. Limiting turnovers is key for Fitzpatrick. He threw only 5 interceptions in the team’s six wins, but had 18 picks in their ten losses.

The main source of buzz surrounding this team is due to their improved defensive line, which added ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to the interior core of tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. This unit should be good, but comparisons to the beastly lines of the Giants and Eagles might be premature. Williams is a physical freak and a Pro Bowl level player, but he has not been as impactful of a player as some of the other stars at his position.

He does not create as many turnovers as Julius Peppers, and does not get to the quarterback as often as DeMarcus Ware or Jared Allen. Questions about his impact were raised this past season, as the Texans' defense excelled despite losing Williams after only five weeks to a torn pectoral muscle.

This is not to say Williams is not a good pickup; he is a very good football player who will make plays for Buffalo. I just don’t think he will single-handedly change the defense the way the rare elite players do.

Likewise, Buffalo overvalued free agent Mark Anderson. Anderson is coming off of a 12.5-sack season for New England. However, closer examination shows that Anderson’s sack total was inflated, as many of his takedowns came late in blowout wins, under circumstance that forced the opponent to pass.

The undersized Anderson is also a subpar run defender. He will contribute as a third down speed rusher, but will be in over his head if expected to be an every-down starter.

Buffalo is also counting on a rookie to shore up many of the holes in their suspect secondary. Even if Stephon Gilmore is the real deal he will likely take time to adjust to the speed and nuances of the pro game. Behind him are the inconsistent Terrence McGee and last year’s second rounder Aaron Williams.

This group will be aided by an improved pass rush, but needs to establish themselves, especially since they play the pass-happy Patriots twice a year.

Buffalo has improved their team with their key offseason pickups. However, this remains a roster with some holes that need to be addressed. Offensively, a lack of downfield weaponry will keep them from reaching their full potential.

On defense, the secondary will need to improve greatly on last season’s performance. Last season exposed this team’s lack of depth. While they are unlikely to encounter as many injuries as last season, this team does not have the capability to endure meaningful injuries to any of its top players.

Buffalo should improve its record for the second straight season, but the leap to the playoffs will be too daunting for this group. With another productive offseason, they could get there by 2013.

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