1) RYAN FITZPATRICK: Not exactly a household name on the NFL landscape, Fitzpatrick turned heads last season as the Bills quarterback. He amassed 23 touchdowns, 3,000 yards, and posted a QB rating of 81.8 in the fourteen games he started. Throw in the fact he accomplished this behind a patchwork offensive line plagued by injuries playing in a less than ideal climate for a passer, it is an impressive feat. There is no reason for Fitzpatrick to not improve on his breakout season after a full training camp and pre-season as the starter. After all, nothing enhances performance and confidence like job security.
2) STEVE JOHNSON AND LEE EVANS: Steve Johnson emerged as a playmaker and go-to-guy for Buffalo in 2010. The fourth year player out of Kentucky was given the chance to show what he can do, and he “ran” with it. With 82 receptions, over 1,000 yards, and 10 touchdowns, Johnson gave a boost to a stagnant offense. He seems to have a chemistry with Fitzpatrick that fits his gunslinger quarterback style perfectly. This chemistry can only improve. Career Bill Lee Evans, who put up career lows in every category last season, is expected to return to form after missing the last three games of the season with an ankle injury. Coach Chan Gailey says he plans to use Evans as more than just a deep-ball threat, which is an excellent idea because the guy is a proven playmaker with the ball in his hands. If both Johnson and Evans stay healthy, the Bills offense could become quite the air show.
3) CJ SPILLER WILL PROVE HIMSELF: I am utterly clueless as to why fans and analysts have come down on Spiller. He had only 74 carries last season, averaging just under four yards a carry, while missing two games with an injury. He provided several exciting moments as a kick returner, and also had 24 receptions for 157 yards. There is no way to fairly gauge Spiller’s production potential without giving him the chance to actually produce. There is a reason he was the ninth pick overall, it’s because he was the best player in the draft at that point, and considered by many the best back in the draft. If the Bills make a concentrated effort to get him the ball 15-20 times a game, whether by ground or by air, we will see the highlight reel plays he is more than capable of. Look for a breakout year from the former Clemson standout, as he will be a perfect compliment to workhorse starter Freddy Jackson.
4) THE DEFENSE WILL BE 100% HEALTHY: The list of injuries to the Bills defense last year is extensive: LB Reggie Torbor, LB Paul Posluzny, DE Dwan Edwards, DT Terrel Troup, DE Chris Kelsay, CB Terrence McGee, CB Leodis McKelvin, and SS Donte Whitner. The injuries hampered the progress of rookies Edwards and Troup, and at times made the defensive line look like a patchwork quilt. Players were forced to convert to different positions on the fly, and even with all the hoopla, the defense still performed well at times. The biggest problem was run defense, in which the Bills ranked dead last in the NFL. The lack of run defense made the job of the secondary twice as hard, as they were stacking the box, leaving corners and safeties in one-on-one coverage or on islands in a zone. The Bills reverted back to the 4-3 defense after beginning the season running the 3-4, which helped, but the ultimate problem was still the injuries on the D-Line. If everyone returns healthy this season, it will dramatically improve run defense and the pass rush, thus improving the performance of the secondary. Former pro bowler Shawne Merriman should also be a force at linebacker as he looks to salvage his career. Safety Jairus Byrd will benefit greatly from a healthy front seven, as he should return to the ball-hawking form of his rookie season(2009), in which he had 9 interceptions.
5) HEALTHY OFFENSIVE LINE: The Bills offensive line was a scapegoat last season unfortunately, even when it played well. Due to injuries, many players were forced to alternate to different positions. The returns of Demetrius Bell and Eric Wood, coupled with the promising play of Andy Levitre and Geoff Hangartner, will definitely improve the overall production of the offensive line. It isn’t so much the personnel as it is getting a group of five that execute well together, and avoiding injuries. A consistent lineup will be the key here for Buffalo, and look for Chan Gailey to already have an idea of who may be starting, so consistency and chemistry can start to be formed in training camp and preseason, which hopefully transcends into the regular season.