Aug 25, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams (94) sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the first quarter at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE
Are the Buffalo Bills ready to stampede through the AFC East?
I think the Buffalo Bills are poised to do big things this season. I also confess to thinking that I might have a case of offseason irrational exuberance, scooping up whatever stock Chan Gailey and Buddy Nix are printing like promissory notes on cul-de-sac homes in the exurbs.
The Bills signed Mario Williams to be the crown jewel of their new 4-3 defense and kept the check book open to bring in Mark Anderson for the other side of that line. Together they bookend a pair of very good defensive tackles in Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams. It is exactly the kind of front four that could give the de facto AFC East champion Patriots fits, just like the New York Giants .
More: Bills Offseason Report
Challenging the Patriots for division supremacy may be too much to ask. Riding one of Ryan Fitzpatrick's fluttering passes into second place in the division and an AFC Wildcard spot is a more realistic outcome.
To find out if way off base on the Bills, I talked to Brian Galliford at SB Nation's Bills blog Buffalo Rumblings.
What's been the biggest story line through camp and the preseason for the Bills?
Sadly, it's been the backup quarterback job; from Vince Young flaming out to the trade for Tarvaris Jackson, that's been the go-to topic. That speaks more to the struggles of Ryan Fitzpatrick than the actual issue itself, in my opinion. Fitzpatrick has not been expressly bad, but he's not done anything to quell the notion that he'll be the guy holding the team back in 2012.
The Bills had a -8 turnover differential in the second half of the season last year. Since the end of the season, that's been largely attributed to rib injury Fitzpatrick suffered in Week 8. Will that improve this year? And, more importantly, is Fitzpatrick healthy?
Yes, Fitzpatrick is healthy. That's not a concern. But Fitzpatrick takes chances with the football that the majority of quarterbacks do not, and he's not a terribly accurate thrower. It's fair to assume that he'll be a bit more careful than usual given the expected defensive improvements, but he'll always be a quarterback susceptible to having stretches where he's terrible.
They say not to put too much stock in preseason numbers, but Fitzpatrick's stats, especially a 48.8 completion percentage, look a little thin. Does that concern you?
Not especially. Fitzpatrick is a known commodity. Gailey knows how to mask his deficiencies. When the games count and the game plans are airtight, Fitzpatrick will fluctuate between efficient and outstanding, with stretches of ugly here and there.
Clearly the Bills see Fitzpatrick as a long-term answer at quarterback with a big contract extension. Beyond the first half of the season in 2011, has he inspired as much confidence from the fan base?
No. Fans generally like him because his style of quarterback is endearing - particularly after watching Trent Edwards for three-plus years - but his rough pre-season already has fans very worried about the backup quarterback spot.
I've been pretty high on the Bills through the offseason, in large part because of what they've done to improve the defense. Are the pieces in place to challenge the Patriots this year?
It would take something catastrophic on New England's end for that to happen. Buffalo can play competitive football with New England - they proved that last year - but the Patriots are a regular season machine. It's very difficult to envision them not winning the division comfortably.
Even if the AFC East title is out of reach, do they have the team in place to contend for a Wild Card spot?
As long as Fitzpatrick is more consistent, the defensive line can rush the passer and the team stays healthy, I see no reason that the Bills can't compete for a playoff spot. It's not a stretch at all.
Does Chan Gailey survive this season without a winning record?
The odds of that are very high. If something bizarre happened like they went 2-14 or the locker room fell into disarray, that situation may change, but Gailey seems safe as long as GM Buddy Nix is safe - and Nix is coming off of the best off-season in club history.
A more serious question, what's the latest on the renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium?
We're still awaiting a lease agreement. That's expected sometime in December. We'll know then for sure what the renovations entail, but the rumors right now say that $200-$220 million will be poured into the current facility.
What will happen to that team when Wilson passes away?
Wilson has remained adamant for years that the team will be sold to the highest bidder. Rumors that there is some clandestine group willing to buy the Bills from Wilson to keep them in Buffalo have existed for years, but those have always struck me as more wishful thinking than anything of substance.
Is there a legitimate concern that they could move?
Absolutely. But Mr. Wilson remains in relatively good health, and there are definitely prospective owners out there that want to keep the team in Buffalo, so when the inevitable happens, Western New York will still have a fighting chance.
Take us five years into the future. What will the Bills look like, players, coaches, record, etc.?
I'll offer only this: I hope that the ridiculous white collars on the new Nike jerseys are long gone in five years. Seriously, they're bad.