Sunday, September 9, 2012

Say hello to kickoff 2012. Or...

the Bills are a welcome panacea for the conundrum that is the NHL labor negotiations.

The NHL had some great momentum at the end of last season. The ball was really rolling for the league, but...the knuckleheads seem to be well on their way to bringing it to a halt with the impending lockout.

Was talking to a fan in Columbus, on who just started following hockey about a year and a half ago. She said that she was glued to the TV for the playoffs last season.

And just how many new fans felt the same way? My guess is that there are plenty more.

The NHL and the NHLPA need to get their act together.

The Buffalo Bills kick of the 2012 season in New Jersey with a game with the J-E-T-S, Te-bow Jets, and there's cause for optimism heading into this season.

Questions remain, as with any up and coming team, and predictions for the team range from 6-10 to 10-6 on the season.

Since hockey related news is hard to come by, a look at the Bills.

The overall schedule looks to be one of the easiest in the league. Once you get by the first nine games.

Six of the first nine are on the road including four of five surrounding the bye week. Also included in those first nine are two games against New England and a road game vs. San Francisco.

Beatable teams in the first nine are Kansas City, Cleveland, Arizona and Tennessee with the Jets and Houston as toss-up games.

Coming out of that stretch at least 5-4 would go a long way towards ending a 13-year playoff drought.

The team breakdown.

The Bills plugged quite a few holes this past off season, most of them on defense, which means they're going with the same offense that got off to a ruckus 5-2 start only to tank en route to a 6-10 record last season.

Injuries and lack of depth killed them last season.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is the general at QB. Whether he ends up being Patton or Custer is the big question.

There's no doubt he can run Chan Gailey's offense. He has the mental capacity to pick apart a defense but his arm strength and accuracy, at times, are question marks. Stretching the field is a necessity and hitting speedy 2012 draft pick TJ Graham will go a long way towards opening up the field.

One of the keys to Fitz being able to stretch the field will be the offensive line, especially rookie Cordy Glenn at left tackle. The line was decimated by injuries last season and seems to be fairly healthy to kick off this season. Gailey has always been able to hide flaws with his line so it will be interesting to see how he protects Glenn in the scheme.

RB Fred Jackson is healthy and CJ Spiller got some quality playing time last season after Jackson went down. Both those guys can catch the ball, whether it's Jackson coming out of the back field or Spiller lining up in the slot as a wide out. Jackson was having an All-Pro/MVP-type season last year before going down to injury. No reason to think that he won't do the same with a healthy offensive line in front of him.

Many clamored for the Bills to bolster their receiving corps in the off-season. They did not.

Stevie Johnson leads the group with Donald Jones as #2. Solid if unspectacular, with plenty of upside, define the WR corps. Add in Scott Chandler at TE and they could do some damage.

On defense the defensive line should strike fear into the opposition.

Mario Williams and Mark Anderson book-end former #3 overall pick Marcell Dareus and Pro Bowler Kyle Williams.

The secondary was bolstered by #10 overall pick Stephon Gilmore and the group back there should be solid, especially if the d-line can put pressure on the QB.

In the middle of the field, though, is a linebacking corps that could spell problems for the team. They seem average at best.

Will new Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt be able to hide their flaws like Gailey does with the offensive line? Bills fans better hope so.

The defense last season was weak and put the offense into tough situations throughout the year. And that's where Fitzpatrick got into trouble. Playing from behind is a recipe for disaster, and when you took out Jackson, as well as losing C Eric Wood, it's no wonder Fitz had 23 interceptions last season.

All-in-all, the Bills should be a much improved team. Fifty percent more wins this year would equal a 9-7 record and on the playoff bubble, and is something that should be achievable this year.

What it comes down to is how they fare in the first nine games. A 5-4 record should be a springboard to at least a 10-6 record and almost an assured playoff spot.

It all begins with the Jets today. A big test on the road to start off the season.

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