|Rick Stewart/Getty Images|
|Linebacker Paul Posluszny's return has helped fuel the optimism in Buffalo.|
Safety Donte Whitner has already "guaranteed" the Bills will make the playoffs this season. That's a bold statement not only because they're coming off a 7-9 season, but because it's been eight years since they last played in the postseason.
Whitner's promise is no idle boast however. The Bills were somehow 7-6 with the 30th-ranked offense and 31st-ranked defense in the league last year before collapsing in the last three games, scoring only 10 points per game in those defeats. If second-year quarterback Trent Edwards can improve significantly after completing only 56.1 percent of this throws last year, and running back Marshawn Lynch can improve on a rookie year in which he rushed for 1,115 yards, the Bills could make some noise in the wild-card race.
Their defense should be bolstered by the addition of three-time Pro Bowl DT Marcus Stroud, who was acquired from Jacksonville for two draft picks to anchor a defense that was the worst in the AFC last year. That unit allowed 362.9 total yards per game and the 124.6 rushing yards per game it gave up was 25th in the league. Stroud was imported to stuff the inside runs and free up middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, who showed great promise in three starts as a rookie before a broken arm ended his season. Stroud may not be what he once was but he was a beast all summer and needs to continue that this fall.
New offensive coordinator Turk Schonert was the quarterback coach last year for an offense that was 30th in the league in total yards, passing yards, third down offense and red zone touchdown percentage. Schonert was promoted with the promise of opening things up a bit and installing a form of the West Coast offense that will make the most out of second-year quarterback Trent Edwards. Weapons to do it are in short supply but there is a young runner in Lynch and a difference-maker at wide receiver in Lee Evans so that's a start.
On the hot seat
Paul Posluszny. The Bills middle linebacker was the first rookie to start at that position for the Bills since Shane Conlan when he stepped right in last season before an injury cut his year short after three games. Now he's back with a better cast in front of him with Stroud and a better running mate in free-agent acquisition Kawika Mitchell. The free-agent linebacker from the Giants is 25 pounds heavier than Keith Ellison, who he is replacing in the starting lineup.
James Hardy is a second-round draft choice out of Indiana from whom much is expected. At nearly 6-foot-6, it is hoped he'll become a big target for Edwards, especially in the red zone where the offense was paltry a year ago. He can leap but his hands need work and so does his route running, but there will be opportunities to make plays as a third receiver.
Hard row to hoe
The Bills come off their bye week Oct. 12 with five straight conference games starting with one of the AFC's top teams, San Diego, then a three-week stretch against their three division rivals with two of the games on the road, followed by a Nov. 17 home game with Cleveland. By the end of those five weeks the Bills will know what they are.
Bills will be better than you think if ...
Rookie cornerback Leodis McKelvin can come in and have an impact in the secondary as well as on special teams. Buffalo allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete over 62 percent of their throws last year. That has to be reduced and McKelvin could be a big part of the solution.
Bills will be worse than you think if ...
Left tackle Jason Peters' holdout drags on into the season. Already lacking in depth, they would be without their one Pro Bowl caliber lineman, a guy who is presently only the third highest paid lineman on their team. His readiness to play is essential for the running game to be successful and for Trent Edwards to play at his optimum.