This week the AFC East blog provides a preview and grades each team heading into training camp. A lot can change during the season. But this is how things look before each team takes the practice field for the first time.
We begin Monday with the upstart Buffalo Bills.
The Bills didn't do much to add to their 14th-ranked offense from last season. They made important moves to re-sign No. 1 receiver Steve Johnson and extended tailback Fred Jackson. However, besides the addition of second-round pick and left tackle Cordy Glenn, the offense looks about the same. Buffalo's strength is its running backs (Jackson, C.J. Spiller) and versatile offensive line. The key will be the consistency of the passing game. There are big questions about the No. 2 receiver in Buffalo. That competition is wide open between a trio of unproven players in Donald Jones, Marcus Easley and rookie T.J. Graham. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick also is a wild card. He's being paid like a franchise quarterback ($59 million over six years) but still has to prove he can be consistent over 16 games and lead a team to the playoffs.
Granted, this is a bit of a projection. Buffalo's defense struggled in many areas last year, particularly rushing the passer and pass coverage. But the offseason additions appear to have fixed those problems. The front four of Mario Williams, Mark Anderson, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus should be one of the top defensive lines in the NFL. But the foursome must stay healthy. Buffalo also needs young corners Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams to learn on the job fast. A coaching and scheme change was needed in Buffalo. New defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is implementing a 4-3 defense that better fits the team's personnel.
This is an area that is hard to gauge. Have coaches been unsuccessful in Buffalo due to lack of talent or was the coaching really lacking? The Bills have rarely been big players in free agency. Previous regimes also didn't draft well. By the time the season began, Buffalo's coaching staff didn't have much to work with. This is the best Buffalo team on paper in a long time. If the Bills have another losing season, many fingers will point to the coaching -- and deservedly so.
Buffalo has good locker-room chemistry and a roster full of players with something to prove. The Bills did not unravel internally last year when things went bad. There was no infighting and finger pointing like with saw with the New York Jets. I think that goes a long way to turning the program around. Coach Chan Gailey also has something to prove after his abrupt firing with the Dallas Cowboys. This is a hungry group all around.
The Bills are a team on the rise. The question is how fast this group can put everything together. Buffalo has many strengths across the board and not as many weaknesses as last year. Expectations haven't been this high in Buffalo for a while. There are no excuses for the Bills. It’s time to produce.