31 Days, 31 Teams: Buffalo Bills
By Jeff Falconio
It's been ten years since the Buffalo Bills last reached the playoffs but after three consecutive 7-9 seasons the Bills are poised to end the decade-long postseason drought.
After finishing 2008 in the bottom half of most major offensive categories the Bills made a huge change by acquiring wide receiver Terrell Owens in the offseason. Buffalo is hoping the volatile playmaker will jumpstart a stagnant offensive that averaged just 21 points per game last year. The Bills did put up some decent numbers on the ground led by Marshawn Lynch. However, Lynch will miss the first three games due to a suspension. Fred Jackson will likely start in place of Lynch and Jackson is hoping to continue the success he had toward the end of last year, including a 136 yard performance in the season finale against New England. The Bills signed Dominic Rhodes in the offseason to further strengthen the running game. Trent Edwards will be under center again this year. In 14 games Edwards put up average numbers but will likely see an increase with Owens joining Lee Evans who was a 1,000 yard receiver in '08.
On defense the Bills have a good mix of youth and experience. Veterans Aaron Schobel and Terrence McGee anchor the defensive line and secondary respectively. Alongside McGee is youngster Leodin McKelvin and at linebacker the Bills have a rising star in linebacker Paul Posluszny. Other than Owens the Bills did not make a lot of noise in free agency but they did take advantage of the draft with two first and two second round picks. Their first pick, defensive end Aaron Maybin, should be a factor on a team that finished 14th in scoring and total defense.
Burning Question: Can the Bills get over .500? 7-9 seems to be the comfort zone for the Bills but with Owens in the fold the Bills should see better offensive production. The real questions will be how the Bills fare early without Lynch and if Edwards can get through the season healthy. The AFC East will be tough this year and the Patriots may not run away with it as they have in years past. While Buffalo may not have enough to win the division, they do have enough to match with the Jets and Dolphins. The Bills get a soft schedule early with five of the first six games against non-playoff teams from '08.
The Bills will be better than last year if: Every time he's found a new home Owens excelled in his first year. This time around Owens regains his reputation as one of the league's best receivers, opening up the offense for Evans and for Lynch. Jackson fills in nicely and upon returning Lynch again racks up 1,000 rushing yards. Buffalo cracks the top ten defensively, keeping Miami and New York in the bottom half of the division. With enough health the Bills could fight for a wild card spot.
The Bills will be worse than last year if: Though on good behavior, Owens continues to drop too many passes, a problem that plagued him in Dallas. Lynch cannot regain his form after missing nearly the first month and Edwards is again hampered by injuries. Posluszny takes a step backward while Maybin struggles to make the jump to the NFL. Though the Bills are adequate on defense, without firepower from Owens Buffalo goes back to a plodding offense that doesn't put up enough points, leading to a last place finish in the East.