This article is part of our Team Previews series.
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
It's been 12 years since the Bills made the playoffs, but that streak is in danger. Last year's meltdown after a 5-2 start left a sour taste in fans' mouths, but the disappointment of 2011 seems like ancient history after an exciting offseason. This isn't a franchise known for throwing money at free agents, but the Bills made a splash by signing Mario Williams to a six-year contract that includes $50 million guaranteed, the most ever for a defensive player.
Williams should have no trouble as the Bills transition to a 4-3 defense, and will key a defensive line that figures to be one of the league's best. Defensive end/pass-rush specialist Mark Anderson was also acquired in the offseason, and the Bills return two monsters at defensive tackle in Kyle Williams and 2011 first-round pick Marcell Dareus. The rest of the defense looks to be on the upswing as well for new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt, with no real holes apparent and a nice mix of veterans and promising youngsters.
The offense lacks a true superstar, but plenty of key players return to a unit that started strong last season before the injury bug hit. Ryan Fitzpatrick was rewarded with a contract extension after a big start to the 2011 season, but struggled (10:16 TD:INT ratio) over the final nine games. A surprisingly good offensive line kept him upright, and Stevie Johnson had another 1,000-yard season. However, the passing game appears to have some limitations