NFL Nation: Buddy Nix

It has been a whirlwind offseason for new Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley. He spent the past several months on the road scouting for the NFL draft, and now Whaley is settling into his new position this week as Buffalo's general manager.

Whaley was officially promoted from within to take over for former general manager Buddy Nix and took some time Thursday to discuss his new position with the AFC East blog. Whaley has a big job ahead. The Bills have not been to the playoffs since 1999, which is currently the NFL's longest playoff drought.

Turning the franchise around starts at quarterback, which is a position Buffalo hasn’t had a long-term solution for since the days of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. This year the Bills have three players vying for that spot: rookie first-round pick EJ Manuel and veterans Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson. Whaley said he’s not afraid to go into the season with a rookie quarterback if that's how the situation plays out in training camp.

"My philosophy on quarterbacks has always been the same," Whaley told the AFC East blog. "The best guy plays."

There are also new challenges ahead for Whaley that he didn't have to worry about as assistant general manager. One of the biggest issues facing the Bills is the pending contract dispute involving Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, who is unhappy about getting the franchise tag. This will be Whaley's first big challenge as GM and a situation to keep an eye on with the Bills this summer.

“We want to keep our good players and Jairus is obviously a good player,” Whaley said. “We have an organizational goal not to negotiate in the media and want to keep it that way. But we will continue to negotiate with Jairus.”

The New England Patriots -- lead by coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady -- have been the mountain every AFC East team has tried to climb for the past dozen years. The Bills, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets consistently discuss closing the gap with New England.

Whaley spent 10 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and knows what it is like to consistently contend and win championships. Whaley added it’s his ultimate goal to eventually make the Bills the “Beasts of the East.”

There are two names that immediately come to mind when I think of Buddy Nix's tenure as Buffalo Bills general manager: Mario Williams and EJ Manuel.

Williams, who signed a $100 million contract in 2012, was by far Nix’s biggest free-agent signing. Manuel, a first-round pick in April's draft, is Nix’s most important draft pick. Until the fates of these two players are determined in Buffalo, it's difficult to fully gauge Nix’s impact in Buffalo.

Nix is stepping down as general manager Monday after three years with the Bills. It is a move that’s been in the works for months as Nix, 73, transitions to a less demanding phase of his career.

The tangible evidence so far doesn't look good for Nix. It's easy to point to Buffalo's 16-32 record during his three-year tenure. You can also look at Nix's failed hire of former Bills head coach Chan Gailey. Those are two clear blemishes on Nix's record in Buffalo.

Manuel and Williams could also be huge blemishes that would make Nix's run as GM in Buffalo a complete disaster. But if Manuel turns out to be a franchise quarterback who turns the Bills into a perennial playoff contender, and Williams plays up to his capabilities for the duration of his contract, Nix’s era in Buffalo will be viewed through a much brighter lens.

Until then, Nix’s three-year legacy with the Bills is still to be determined.
As expected, Buddy Nix is stepping down from his role as general manager of the Buffalo Bills. The team announced Monday that Nix will take on an advisory role in the front office. It is expected that Bills assistant general manager Doug Whaley will be promoted to the lead post.

This move has been in the works for several months as Nix, 73, transitions to a less-taxing phase in his career. Nix wanted to make sure he finished the 2013 NFL draft as the lead voice of the Bills and will now serve as a special assistant. Nix's final big move was to land former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel in the first round. Nix hopes he finally provided the Bills a franchise quarterback before stepping down.

Whaley is a bright, up-and-comer who has done a lot of work behind the scenes in Buffalo as assistant general manager. Whaley came from a winning program before joining the Bills. He spent 10 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and played a role in their Super Bowl victories after the 2006 and 2009 seasons.
E.J. Manuel Al Bello/Getty ImagesBuffalo's selection of quarterback EJ Manuel could be as defining as it was surprising.

Rookie head coach Doug Marrone has yet to coach in his first game with the Buffalo Bills. But just a few months into his regime, it’s easy to pinpoint how to gauge his overall success or failure in the NFL.

The Marrone era in Buffalo will be defined by Thursday's shocking selection of former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel -- no more, no less.

The Bills, led by general manager Buddy Nix, jumped out on a limb Thursday by making Manuel the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft with the No. 16 overall pick. It was perhaps the most surprising move of the first round, even after the Bills traded down eight picks with the St. Louis to get the player they believe is the long-term solution at the position. Buffalo also gained a second- and a seventh-round pick and swapped third-rounders with St. Louis.

It is no secret that the job security of head coaches is closely tied to their quarterbacks. Look no further than the AFC East.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick struck gold by drafting Tom Brady 13 years ago in the sixth round. As a result, Belichick and the Patriots have dominated the AFC East ever since and been to five Super Bowls, winning three. Belichick and Brady also are the all-time winningest coach and quarterback combination in NFL history.

On the other end of the AFC East spectrum, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is on the hot seat after 2009 first-round pick Mark Sanchez flamed out. Sanchez was the first pick of the Ryan regime, and both are on the hot seat in New York. Former Bills head coach Chan Gailey also was fired after last season, in part, because veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was a bust after signing a $59 million contract.

The Marrone-Manuel tandem could turn out either way for Buffalo. But if I had to take an educated guess before Manuel throws his first pass and Marrone coaches his first game, this decision has the potential to blow up in Buffalo’s face in three or four years.

The Bills have the NFL’s longest playoff drought at 14 years and counting. They have a history of drafting the wrong quarterbacks (J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards) and signing the wrong veterans (Fitzpatrick). That makes it extremely hard to trust that the Bills went against conventional wisdom and got this one correct.

Manuel comes with good physical tools. He's athletic, mobile and has solid accuracy. But there is tons of pressure facing Manuel as the first quarterback taken for various reasons.

By association, it's expected that Manuel will be the best quarterback from this 2013 NFL draft. Adding to this dilemma is Buffalo passed over Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who played for Marrone in college. It could only add salt to the wound for Buffalo if Manuel struggles and Nassib turns out to be a good quarterback when the Bills had the most intel with Nassib’s former head coach in the building.

West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley also were rated higher than Manuel by most experts. Manuel will be compared to those quarterbacks at the next level, too.

But the controversial decision has been made by the Bills and the time for second-guessing is over. It’s time for Manuel to get to work and live up to his billing as the top quarterback taken in this draft. Manuel will compete in training camp with veteran quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Tarvaris Jackson. Maybe the Bills will get a one-year stopgap from Kolb or Jackson -- at best -- but Manuel will have to be ready to play sooner than later. The Bills say they are not rebuilding and are strong in several areas. One of the biggest things holding Buffalo back is its quarterback situation.

The Patriots, with Brady, remain the gold standard at quarterback in the AFC East. The Miami Dolphins appear to be heading in the right direction with second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But New York and Buffalo have a lot of quarterback questions that were not answered in the first round.

The Bills have been looking for a franchise quarterback since the retirement of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. Manuel must develop into a franchise starter or it will set the Bills back for another three or four years.
Would the Buffalo Bills select a guard with the No. 8 overall pick in the NFL draft?

According to Bills general manager Buddy Nix, they may not have a big enough need to select that position in the first round of next week's NFL draft.

“Not at all. Not at all,” said Nix, according to the Bills website. ”I know people have said we’re taking one of those top two guards. Our roster in house is better than I think we get credit for especially offensive line. We’re pretty deep there. We’ve got six guards and we think a couple of them can play.”

It’s easy to point out guard as a need for Buffalo. The Bills lost their best guard -- Andy Levitre -- to free agency, as well as top backup Chad Rinehart. Also, Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper are considered two of the top guard prospects of the past several years.

In addition to praising Buffalo’s guard depth, Nix also talked up Warmack and Cooper this week.

“Now having said all that before you write that we’re not going to take a guard at N0. 8, it’s hard to pass up two players like the old boy at Alabama and the kid at North Carolina,” Nix said. “Both of those are great players, so you have to give that a lot of thought when they come up.”

It still doesn’t sound like Buffalo will take a guard at No. 8. But a week before the draft you cannot believe half of what you hear from teams. Anything could be a smokescreen.

AFC East free-agency primer

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» NFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Buffalo Bills
GENERAL MANAGER: Buddy Nix
HEAD COACH: Doug Marrone

Cap Status: The Bills do not have a ton of cap space compared to last year. But they have some flexibility and can still make a run at several players. Buffalo recently re-signed cornerback Leodis McKelvin and placed the franchise tag on safety Jairus Byrd, and those contracts will somewhat limit what the team can do this week. The Bills were among the biggest players in free agency in 2012 and spent a large chunk of their cap on $100 million defensive end Mario Williams.

Strategy: The Bills are very much a team in transition. They have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new defensive coordinator and potentially a new quarterback. Buffalo most likely will not look to free agency to find another quarterback. The Bills already have two veterans on the roster, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tarvaris Jackson. Adding a drafted rookie to the group makes more sense. Expect Buffalo to use its free-agent dollars at linebacker and wide receiver. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is installing a 3-4 scheme in Buffalo that relies heavily on solid, tough linebacker play. The Bills were 31st in run defense last year and the linebackers were pushed around too often. Buffalo also needs a No. 2 receiver to pair with Steve Johnson. The Bills let receivers David Nelson and Donald Jones walk in free agency and lack depth at the position. Buffalo continues to negotiate with starting guard Andy Levitre, but he could get interest from several teams in free agency and create a bidding war.

Miami Dolphins
GENERAL MANAGER: Jeff Ireland
HEAD COACH: Joe Philbin

Cap Status: The Dolphins have the most cap room in the AFC East. They began the offseason with more than $40 million available. However, recent signings of three in-house players -- receiver Brian Hartline, quarterback Matt Moore and defensive tackle Randy Starks -- have reduced that number.

Strategy: Miami still has plenty of room to make a splash this week. The Dolphins are the favorite to land former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, who could command about $12 million per season. The speedy Wallace could be the missing piece to a Dolphins passing game ranked 26th in the NFL last season. Miami also needs to address its situation at cornerback, tight end, safety and left tackle. The Dolphins are not expected to re-sign former No. 1 overall pick Jake Long. That leaves a big hole to fill at left tackle. The Dolphins could play 2012 second-round pick Jonathan Martin on the left side if they cannot find a better option in free agency. No. 1 cornerback and free agent Sean Smith also could leave Miami, which would create another major hole. Keep in mind the Dolphins also have nine draft picks, including five in the first three rounds. Whatever holes they cannot plug in free agency will be addressed in April's draft.

New England Patriots
GENERAL MANAGER*: Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio
HEAD COACH: Bill Belichick

Cap Status: The Patriots are in decent shape. Quarterback Tom Brady recently provided a big assist by signing a three-year, $27 million contract extension. The move reportedly freed up an additional $15 million in cap room over the next two years to keep New England in position to contend.

Strategy: The Patriots will not be the biggest players in free agency, but they have enough room to go after a few desired targets. Definitely keep an eye on New England's secondary. The Patriots need help at both cornerback and safety. They have already been linked to Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, who has a desire to stay with a contender. Belichick has an immense respect for Reed and the way he plays the game. New England also must address its in-house free agents, such as receiver Wes Welker, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and corner Aqib Talib. The Patriots do not get sentimental with their own players and are not afraid to let them test the market. New England runs the risk of losing all three players. But the Patriots refuse to overpay and are prepared to go to Plan B and Plan C for each scenario.

* The Patriots do not have a general manager by title, but Belichick has the final say on all personnel matters in New England. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio shares some of the GM duties with Belichick.

New York Jets
GENERAL MANAGER: John Idzik
HEAD COACH: Rex Ryan

Cap Status: The Jets have a very tight cap. Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum significantly mismanaged the roster the past couple of seasons by overpaying veterans and poorly restructuring contracts. This is the year the Jets pay for those mistakes.

Strategy: The Jets have a lot of needs but few resources to work with. The team already cut veterans Bart Scott, Calvin Pace and Eric Smith just to get under the cap. New York is not expected to re-sign Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry, 1,000-yard tailback Shonn Greene and starting tight end Dustin Keller because they will be too expensive. Idzik says he will field a competitive team in his first year, but that's an extremely tough task. The Jets have no choice but to look for bargain-bin options in free agency. New York's biggest needs are on offense. The Jets need help at quarterback but can afford only cheap options like David Garrard. They also need to add talented skill players at wide receiver, tight end and running back to support the quarterback. Don't expect the Jets to make much noise in free agency. New York's best option to improve this year is through the draft.

Chan GaileyAP Photo/John BazemoreTime may be up for Bills head coach Chan Gailey, left, and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
MIAMI -- Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick are likeable, smart and have good NFL experience.

However, Gailey is not the right head coach for the Bills and Fitzpatrick is not the right fit at quarterback. Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium continued to hammer that point home. After three awful seasons, it is crystal clear.

The Bills fell to 5-10 and cemented their third consecutive season of double-digit losses under Gailey and Fitzpatrick. The shame is this was by far Buffalo's most talented team in that span. But Gailey and Fitzpatrick continue to hold this team back. It's time for the Bills to stop spinning their wheels.

The success of any NFL franchise is closely tied into the success of its coach and quarterback. Buffalo has one of the league's weakest pairings. The Bills must cut ties with both. Getting rid of just one will simply stunt Buffalo's growth in 2013. Keeping both would potentially cripple the franchise. This was a no-excuse year for Gailey and Fitzpatrick -- and both fell flat.

After the game, Gailey looked worn down but said he's not thinking about his job security.

"No, I worry about getting better and playing to our abilities," Gailey said. "We haven't done it, and that’s my responsibility to get that done. We're not there."

Fitzpatrick's situation is easier to predict. The Bills signed him to a six-year, $59 million contract extension in 2011, and Fitzpatrick has been mostly a disappointment. He's 7-19 in his past 26 starts and entered this weekend with the third-most turnovers in the NFL the past two seasons.

Buffalo can save $4.45 million on its salary cap and $7.45 million in cash by cutting Fitzpatrick by the second day of the league year next March. If the Bills keep him, Fitzpatrick's total cap number will be $10.45 million next season.

Cutting Fitzpatrick appears to be a no-brainer. Bills general manager Buddy Nix already expressed the desire to upgrade the position via the draft or free agency.

Fitzpatrick threw for 240 yards and one touchdown Sunday. He lost a fumble in an ugly first half and threw an inexcusable interception at the goal line at the end of the fourth quarter with the Bills driving.

"The first half is as poor as we've played offensively since I’ve been here," Fitzpatrick said. "We made a couple plays but had a couple fumbles, false starts, a lot of different things you can’t have if you want to be a good football team."

Gailey's situation is a little more unpredictable. He recently received a public backing from Nix, but making a case to keep Gailey is becoming increasingly difficult.

Sunday’s game was pretty much on par with what we've seen in Buffalo's losses all year. The sloppy Bills had 11 penalties and four turnovers. The team looked underprepared and continued to make silly mistakes that are inexcusable this late in the year.

The Bills fell behind 24-3 after three quarters and were never in this game.

"If we score [at the end] and get the onside kick, it's a competitive game," Gailey said of the 14-point final margin.

The time for excuses is over for Gailey and Fitzpatrick. Three years is enough of a sample size to realize this is not right pairing for the Bills' organization.

The sooner Buffalo starts over with a new head coach and quarterback, the quicker the Bills can turn things around.

Bills can save by cutting Fitzpatrick

December, 22, 2012
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Starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick might be playing his final two games in a Buffalo Bills uniform.

According to the details of Fitzpatrick's $59 million contract extension, the Bills are in prime position to get out of this agreement after another inconsistent season.

ESPN.com's AFC East blog has learned Buffalo will save $4.45 million in cap space and $7.45 million in actual cash by cutting Fitzpatrick this offseason. Fitzpatrick is due a base salary of $4.25 million and an easy-to-obtain workout bonus of $200,000 in 2013.

However, the biggest litmus test will be a $3 million roster bonus Fitzpatrick is owed in March on the second day of the league year. If the Bills pay the bonus, Fitzpatrick's cap number jumps to $10.45 million next season, which would be suitable for a franchise quarterback.

Fitzpatrick is 18-30 as a starter in Buffalo and has the third most turnovers in the NFL since 2011. The Bills (5-9) must seriously consider this offseason whether he's the long-term solution. Buffalo already paid Fitzpatrick $21.25 million since signing him to an extension in October 2011. That included a $10 million signing bonus last year and a $5 million option bonus this year.

Bills general manager Buddy Nix publicly discussed upgrading the quarterback position several times in recent weeks. He does not sound like a general manager willing to stick with Fitzpatrick as his starting quarterback for $7.45 million next season.

Regardless of the Fitzpatrick decision, the Bills are expected to add a quarterback via free agency or the draft next offseason. One prospect to keep an eye on for the Bills is North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon, who is a player Nix personally scouted during the college season. Glennon is the 36th-ranked prospect by Scouts Inc. and might get some first-round consideration based on his pre-draft workouts.

Glennon was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's backup at North Carolina State early in his career. But Glennon took over for the Wolfpack his junior and senior seasons and threw for 6,702 yards and 62 touchdowns in two years.

The Bills will travel to face the Miami Dolphins (6-8) at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday.

Poll: Chan Gailey's future with Bills?

December, 10, 2012
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The Buffalo Bills lost another close game Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, 15-12. It was the fourth loss by seven points or fewer and again puts head coach Chan Gailey's future in question.

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Should Chan Gailey coach Buffalo in 2013?

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Gailey coached another poor game with several head-scratching decisions. Why didn't the Bills go for two when leading 12-7? Why did Bills tailback C.J. Spiller only get seven carries? Why do the Bills continue to let opponents hang around, which hurt the team once again?

This was expected to be a playoff year for the Bills (5-8), but it won’t happen. They will extend their postseason drought to 13 years.

Should it cost Gailey his job? This is the best team he’s had in Buffalo but failed to make the team reach its potential. The Bills have underachieved and Gailey is a major reason. He failed to use his best weapon (Spiller) most of the season and his in-game decisions as offensive coordinator can be baffling at times. He is 15-30 as the Bills' head coach.

Or does Gailey deserve another year? The Bills still have a chance to improve on last year's 6-10 record. If Gailey wins two of his last three games, he can say the team is getting better. Bills general manager Buddy Nix has publicly backed his head coach. Do you agree?

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on Gailey’s future with Buffalo. You can also share your thoughts in the comment second below.

Poll: Who is to blame in Buffalo?

November, 26, 2012
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The Buffalo Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999, and that streak will continue this season after Buffalo suffered a 20-13 loss Sunday to the Indianapolis Colts. The Bills are now 4-7 with virtually no shot of playing in the postseason.

SportsNation

Who is most to blame for the Bills' 4-7 season?

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So who is most to blame in Buffalo? This was supposed to be a magical year that went downhill quickly.

Is Bills head coach Chan Gailey to blame? Gailey is 14-29 in three years in Buffalo. This is by far the most talented team Gailey has coached in Buffalo. But poor strategy and baffling in-game decisions equals a 4-7 record.

What about general manager Buddy Nix? The Bills spent a lot of money and resources this offseason. But did Nix spend the money wisely? The $100 million Mario Williams signing was a disappointment early, but he’s coming around. Signing quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick last year to a long-term extension appears to be a mistake.

Speaking of Fitzpatrick, is he the biggest of the reasons? Quarterbacks get a lion’s share of the blame, and Fitzpatrick is the one under center. He is notoriously streaky and prone to turnovers. He has thrown at least one interception in six of Buffalo’s seven losses this year.

Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is the final choice. Buffalo’s defense is ranked 26th in the NFL and hasn’t gotten the most from its talent.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on who’s most to blame for Buffalo’s disappointing year in 2012. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.
General manager Buddy Nix ripped into the Buffalo Bills defense after allowing 97 points the past two weeks. That's understandable.

Williams
But there was one player on that defense Nix curiously stood up for on Tuesday: defensive end Mario Williams.

Nix said on a conference call Tuesday that "Mario actually plays better than people give him credit for." It was a curious comment, considering Williams was essentially shut out in two division games against the New York Jets and New England Patriots and has just 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks in five games. Williams also used a wrist injury as a reason why he admittedly has not played well.

Nix even realized Tuesday that he was sticking up for Williams.

"Not to defend him, he can play better," Nix said, catching himself. "We expect him to, but so can everybody else."

Again, the defense deserves a ribbing. But so does Williams. His lack of performance is as big a problem in Buffalo as any. A big contract brings big expectations -- and Williams is not living up to it through five games.

Nix is a straight shooter but you wonder if there was an underlying reason for publicly backing Williams. This is Nix's signature signing and publicly ripping Williams would be an early admission that this was a $100 million mistake.

It's way too early for that kind of admission. Williams is a very talented player who has yet to find his groove. Williams is certainly capable. But he needs to get going sooner than later to turn the Bills around.
Sanchez/WilliamsUS PresswireNew York's Mark Sanchez, left, and Buffalo's Mario Williams must step up this season if their teams are to live up to expectations.
Are the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets contenders or pretenders?

We are about to find out right away where each AFC East team stands when the Jets host the Bills Sunday at MetLife Stadium in the regular-season opener.

This is arguably the most underrated game on the NFL's Week 1 schedule. It involves two division rivals that finished with nonwinning records last season and face plenty of pressure to improve in 2012. The Jets are trying to prove last year's self-implosion was a fluke and that they are closer to the playoff team that recently made it to back-to-back AFC title games. The Bills, with a vastly improved roster, have outside hype and internal playoff aspirations for the first time in a long time.

It is the perfect measuring-stick game for both AFC East rivals.

"To get to where we want to be, we have to win games in the division," Bills tailback Fred Jackson told reporters in Buffalo this week. "We get a good test right out of the gate. We go out, go down to New York and try to get a win there.

"Without a doubt, we are excited about it. This is our chance to go out and prove what we felt this whole offseason."

The Bills feel good about this year's team. But can they beat the Jets?

New York has had Buffalo's number the past few years. New York is an impressive 7-1 against Buffalo in its last eight meetings. The Jets have won five straight against the Bills, who last won in this series in 2009.

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Are the 2012 Bills contenders or pretenders?

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In fact, Buffalo has been downright awful against the entire AFC East. The Bills are just 2-10 against division teams in two years under head coach Chan Gailey.

"They were better than us, but we gotta change that," Buffalo general manager Buddy Nix told the AFC East blog in training camp. "We hadn’t measured up in the two years we’d been here. Even though if we could’ve stayed healthy [last year] I thought we could've been in contention at the end."

If the Bills are legit this year, as some people think, they go on the road and pick up a huge win Sunday against the Jets, who finished 8-8 last year.

Likewise, if the 2012 Jets are legit playoff contenders, they must defend their home field against the Bills, who were 6-10 last season. The fact that New York has owned Buffalo the past four years should provide the Jets plenty of confidence. The Jets can get much-needed momentum by picking up a division win at home.

In many ways, New York or Buffalo can validate itself by winning in Week 1. It will be a nice statement that one of these teams has moved beyond its losing ways from 2011. The loser on Sunday will continue to face questions about being a pretender.

Much of New York's and Buffalo's success in this game -- and this season -- comes down to the quarterbacks. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and Bills counterpart Ryan Fitzpatrick have a lot to prove. Both have contracts totaling just under $120 million, and they have yet to show they are legitimate franchise quarterbacks.

About two-thirds of those responding to a recent AFC East blog poll think Fitzpatrick will have the better season. Fitzpatrick will be tested this weekend against a very good New York defense, while Sanchez must hope for better pass protection than he received this preseason against Buffalo's talented defensive line.

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Are the 2012 Jets contenders or pretenders?

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Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow also will have an impact in this game. But how much?

New York has been very coy this summer with its Wildcat packages. But the Bills did very well against Tebow and the similar read-option offense he ran with the Denver Broncos last year. Buffalo beat Denver 40-14 last December and pummeled Tebow. The quarterback completed just 13 of 29 passes for 185 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and was sacked four times.

The Bills are well-versed in the Wildcat. Interestingly, Buffalo quarterbacks coach David Lee introduced Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano to the Wildcat offense in Miami. The Jets have kept their package under wraps this preseason, but Buffalo should be one of the most prepared teams for the Tebow package that the Jets face all season.

"We'll see who out-executes the other," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said this week.

This is a no-excuse year for the Jets and Bills. I don't want to hear about injuries this season in Buffalo, and I don't want to hear about poor chemistry in New York. If any team in the AFC East besides the New England Patriots is a legitimate playoff contender, it's time for the Jets or Bills to prove it.

We will know a lot more about both AFC East teams following Sunday's game.

"I just want to have one more point than the Bills do and that's every week," Ryan said. "It doesn’t matter. The defense has to hold them to this. The offense has to score. We don’t care. It’s all about getting one more point than the opponent and that’s it. If that means we don’t score a touchdown and we still win, we’ll be happy and the Jet fans will be happy."
Unless you've been living under a rock or not reading the AFC East blog, you know the New England Patriots are expected to run away with the division in 2012.

But that doesn't mean the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins should just mail it in this year. In fact, Bills general manager Buddy Nix had some fighting words for the Patriots this week after a successful offseason in Buffalo.

"I think they oughta expect a lot of us. We expect a lot out of ourselves," Nix told the Toronto Sun. "New England, the AFC -- they don't scare me. I think we can compete with any of 'em, and our intention is to try to win the division."

That's a bold statement for Nix, who is leading a team that hasn't been to the playoffs in 13 years. But I can tell you from experience and being at Bills training camp this summer that this is a confident group. They feel the tide is turning in their favor.

Buffalo was the only AFC East team to beat New England last year. So the Patriots certainly will have their guard up in 2012.

Still, the Bills have a lot to prove if they are a legitimate threat to the reigning AFC East and AFC champions. Buffalo hasn't done much so far this preseason to inspire confidence that the team is ready to take over the Patriots. It will take a lot more than words for the Bills to claim the top spot this year.

Camp Confidential: Buffalo Bills

August, 1, 2012
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PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix and coach Chan Gailey are not afraid.

Both know this is a huge year in Buffalo. On paper, this is the best Bills team Gailey has coached and the best group Nix has put together. Many are expecting a playoff year from the Bills, who haven't made the postseason in 13 years.

This is new territory for Buffalo. For more than a decade, the Bills have been lovable losers. They finished 6-10 and last in the AFC East in 2011. But a stellar offseason has breathed new life into the franchise and created new expectations.

"We're not backing off from [expectations]. We expect to win and we expect to contend," Nix told the AFC East blog. "I think sometimes when you're afraid to say you expect that is because you're preparing yourself to lose. We're not afraid to say it. We've laid some groundwork for two years, and we're to the point now where we need to take the next step."

The groundwork included landing the top free agent not named Peyton Manning: defensive end Mario Williams. Buffalo also signed 10-sack defensive end Mark Anderson, re-signed No. 1 receiver Steve Johnson and drafted highly touted cornerback Stephon Gilmore and potential starting left tackle Cordy Glenn.

Buffalo did a great job putting a deep and talented roster together. The front office bought quality groceries. Now, it's time for Gailey and his coaching staff to cook a good meal.

"That's exactly right," Gailey said, responding to the metaphor. "That's my job: to get us to a winning program and playoffs and a championship."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
AP Photo/David DupreyMario Williams, the Bills' largest contract acquisition in franchise history, has some high expectations to live up to in his first year in Buffalo.
1. Will Mario Williams live up to top billing? Williams and Gailey have a lot in common. Both are under pressure to produce in 2012. But Williams is also under the microscope due to the $100 million contract ($50 million guaranteed) he signed in March, the biggest contract in Bills history.

With that comes the expectation of double-digit sacks and game-changing plays. That is what Williams does best, and he said he's "ecstatic" to wreak havoc in Buffalo this year. But Williams, a former Houston Texan, is returning from a season-ending pectoral injury and must stay healthy.

Williams certainly looks the part. He checked in at 292 pounds and is a mountain of muscle. He adds an intimidating presence to the Bills' defense.

In many ways, the Bills have built their defense around Williams. They switched back to a 4-3 scheme, which better suits Williams' strengths. Buffalo will plug Anderson in on the other side to take some of the pressure off Williams.

2. Will Ryan Fitzpatrick be consistent? Fitzpatrick’s career has been marked with inconsistency. He is one of the streakiest quarterbacks in the NFL, one who can get really hot or really cold at any moment. Fitzpatrick led the NFL with 23 interceptions last season.

Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee believes the streakiness is due to inconsistent fundamentals. Lee and Fitzpatrick worked extensively on mechanics this offseason to reduce the number of bad games.

"At this point I feel like it is easy to have better mechanics, but it is when you get into the games that it is really going to be the test for me," Fitzpatrick said. "And not just Week 1 through Week 5. It is going to be the whole season."

Fitzpatrick's streakiness was on display in practice Tuesday. On one play in team drills, he threw a beautiful deep ball to receiver Derek Hagan for a touchdown. Fitzpatrick then threw an interception into coverage on the next play.

By nature, Fitzpatrick is a gunslinger. But reduced turnovers will put the defense in better position and it could produce more wins for the Bills. A lot is riding on Fitzpatrick this season. The Bills recently gave him a $59 million contract, and it's time to prove he can lead a franchise.

3. Can Buffalo win in the AFC East? The biggest thorn in the side of the Bills has been their division rivals. Buffalo is just 2-10 against the AFC East the past two years.

The Bills can't quite put a finger on the reason. Part of it was inconsistency, part was lack of toughness. Another part was missed opportunities.

"They were better than us, but we gotta change that," Nix said candidly. "We hadn’t measured up in the two years we’d been here, even though if we could’ve stayed healthy I thought we could’ve been in contention at the end. I felt all along we could win nine or 10 games if we could keep everybody healthy. But we didn’t have a lot of depth anyway, and the ones we lost were our best leaders."

The gap between the New England Patriots and everyone else in the AFC East appears wide. No team outside of New England finished with a winning record last year. However, the Bills are confident they did enough this offseason to close the gap. Part of that confidence is due to splitting with New England last season.

"We still feel like we should win the division -- every team does," Gailey said. "Miami feels that way. The Jets feel that way. The Patriots feel that way. That's the goal going in."

Reason for optimism

Buffalo's defensive line should be one of the best in the NFL. Defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams are paired with defensive ends Mario Williams and Anderson. That's a lot of money and high draft picks invested in rushing the quarterback and winning in the trenches.

But the starting defensive linemen aren't the only quality players. Buffalo has a deep bench, led by backup defensive ends Chris Kelsay and Shawne Merriman and backup defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. The rotation along the defensive line should wear down many opposing offensive lines.

[+] EnlargeRyan Fitzpatrick
AP Photo/David DupreyStarting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has the position locked up, while Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen fight it out for the No. 2 spot.
"I feel like everybody on our defensive line could be a starter one way or the other, whether it is here or somewhere else," Mario Williams said. "Our competition level is extremely high. Every day we are pushed and we push each other. We hold each other accountable. I think that is the biggest thing."

Reason for pessimism

Buffalo is a team still learning how to win and is fighting plenty of bad history. As noted, it's been 13 years since Buffalo qualified for the postseason, a playoff run that was ended by the Music City Miracle.

It takes a lot of focus, maturity and consistency to win throughout a 16-game season. Past Bills teams lacked those traits. Once things went downhill, it was too easy for Buffalo to fall back into the "same old Bills" mentality.

Buffalo had a little taste of success last year. The Bills started 5-2 and were in first place in the AFC East. But things turned sour quickly and the losing snowballed. Buffalo lost eight of its last nine games and finished last in the division.

The Bills were the unexpected media darlings of the NFL for a couple weeks before things fell apart.

"You learn how to take that with a grain of salt, because it’s what you do on Sundays that count," Gailey said. "I hope we learned that lesson. I hope we learned not to let that affect our play and our thought processes in any way."

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Bills said they have a better plan for tailback C.J. Spiller this season. He was mostly ignored as a running back until starter Fred Jackson was put on injured reserve with a broken leg. But Spiller, a former first-round pick, is getting more carries in practice and looks sharp heading into his third season. He broke a couple of big runs in Tuesday's practice. Expect Spiller to get more carries this season, but it's still going to be a major challenge taking Jackson off the field.
  • The early reviews are in, and Gilmore looks legit. He's fluid and a good athlete. But perhaps the best thing about Gilmore, the No. 10 overall pick in the draft, is his competitiveness. Gilmore has lined up against Johnson, Buffalo's No. 1 receiver, at every chance in practice. The rookie wants to go against the best the team has to offer, and at times things have gotten physical between the two. Gilmore might already be Buffalo's best cornerback.
  • Speaking of cornerbacks, I would be surprised if longtime Bills corner Terrence McGee makes this team. McGee has been a leader and a consummate professional in Buffalo for nine years. But a youth movement at cornerback and many injuries could mean McGee's days are numbered. He's missed at least five games in each of the past three seasons. A season-ending knee injury forced McGee to miss 10 games in 2011 and he's still not 100 percent. He could bring leadership and depth to the secondary when healthy, but he may not get enough time on the field in camp or the preseason to show he's worthy of making the 53-man roster.
  • The Bills are definitely a bigger team. They have 23 players on their roster who weigh 300 pounds or more; at 292 pounds, just misses making the 300-pound club. Not all are going to make the team, but Buffalo has made it a point to get quality depth in the trenches.
  • I didn’t really see much separation between the backup quarterbacks. Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen are battling for the No. 2 spot, and the loser of this battle may not make the team because Brad Smith also is getting a lot of work at quarterback. Young and Thigpen made some good and bad throws Tuesday. This duel likely will be decided in the preseason.

The forgotten Bill: Kyle Williams

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
10:35
AM ET
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- Remember Kyle Williams?

The Bills defensive tackle was on an island in Buffalo not long ago. Williams was a stud on an otherwise thin defense. When Bills general manager Buddy Nix arrived three years ago, Williams was the only Pro Bowl-caliber defensive player to build around.

[+] EnlargeKyle Williams
Mark Konezny/US PresswireKyle Williams (95) is part of what is expected to be a strong Buffalo defensive line.
Fast forward to this season and Williams suddenly has become the forgotten Bill. Williams missed nearly the entire 2011 season with a foot injury, and Buffalo has beefed up its defense so much that you may not mention Williams' name until fourth on its defensive line.

"Nah, that doesn’t bother me; I don’t care," Williams told the AFC East blog. "I hope people talk all about them so teams can go [double-team] them."

Williams doesn't have the $100 million contract that free-agent defensive end Mario Williams has. Kyle Williams wasn't the third overall pick in the NFL draft like fellow defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Kyle Williams also didn't garner 10 sacks last year for the New England Patriots like new teammate Mark Anderson.

The Bills have made it a point of emphasis to build the roster from the inside out. It starts with the defensive and offensive lines, and that's where a lot of their high draft picks and free-agent dollars have gone.

"[GM] Buddy [Nix] and I both believe the game, a major part but not the whole part, is won in the trenches," Buffalo coach Chan Gailey said. "It is won on both sides of the line and who can control that part of the game. It's hard to find those guys. So when you get the opportunity to get them, you take that opportunity."

This is a boon for Kyle Williams, who says he expects Mario Williams, Dareus and Anderson will all help simultaneously take each other's game to the next level. If healthy, Buffalo could have one of the most dominant defensive lines in the NFL.

Kyle Williams said he is feeling good after foot surgery. He missed 11 games last season, while the Bills struggled defensively and finished last in the AFC East at 6-10.

"I’ve never been a guy who needed to be reminded of what I was blessed with -- to be able to play football for a living in Buffalo," Williams said. "So it was hard, especially when the team was going through a tough time. I know I could’ve provided some leadership and some play that would’ve helped on and off the field. So it was tough, but I’m excited to come back this year."

Kyle Williams isn't the most recognizable name on Buffalo’s defensive line anymore. But if he becomes the dominant defensive tackle that he was two years ago, Kyle Williams won't be the forgotten Bill for long.

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