- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Final Power Ranking: 25
Preseason Power Ranking: 30
Biggest surprise: Bills fans were almost ready to write off former first-round draft pick C.J. Spiller. The 2010 No. 9 overall pick didn't do much in his rookie season with limited playing time. This year, Buffalo tried to find ways to get him involved as a returner and part-time receiver and running back. But that wasn't enough. Spiller received a golden opportunity late in the season when starting running back Fred Jackson suffered a season-ending leg injury. Spiller showed explosiveness as an every-down back and set career highs with 561 yards and 5.2 yards per carry.
Biggest disappointment: Is Ryan Fitzpatrick the long-term solution at quarterback, and can he lead the Bills to a Super Bowl? The Bills believe that's the case after giving Fitzpatrick a six-year, $59 million extension in late October. The early returns weren't good. Fitzpatrick's play fell off after the big contract. He was 1-8 as a starter in his final nine games and had six multi-interception games in that stretch. Overall, Fitzpatrick set career highs for yards (3,832) and touchdowns (24). But he also set a career high for interceptions (23). Fitzpatrick needs to put an end to the streakiness and become more consistent in 2012. Expectations are higher now that he's officially the face of the franchise and a $10-million-a-year player.
Biggest need: Buffalo's defense needs a lot of help, as evidenced by giving up 49 unanswered points in the regular-season finale to the New England Patriots. But the Bills could most use a pass-rusher. They were counting on Shawne Merriman to be that guy. But at this stage in his career, he's not as explosive and too injury prone. Don't be surprised if Buffalo upgrades outside linebacker early in the draft or in free agency.
Team MVP: Despite playing just 10 games, Jackson is the easy choice for MVP in Buffalo. He was on pace for a Pro Bowl season, recording 934 rushing yards and an additional 442 yards receiving. Jackson was the biggest piece of Buffalo's offense. Despite Spiller's efforts, the team was never the same after Jackson went down. The Bills finished the season 1-5 following Jackson's injury. Buffalo said it would take care of Jackson this offseason. It will be interesting to see how the team handles the situation following Spiller's emergence and Jackson coming off a season-ending leg injury.
Free-agent watch: Keep an eye on receiver Steve Johnson in free agency. This is Buffalo's most polarizing offseason story. There are a ton of questions surrounding Johnson. Is he an elite No. 1 receiver? Does Johnson deserve $7-$8 million per season? Are his antics too much? What about the one-year franchise tag? The Bills can go in a lot of different directions. But Buffalo lacks playmakers at receiver and needs to find a replacement if the team lets its only impact receiver walk.
3dField Yates and Rich Cimini