BY DAN BEGNOCHE
Their schedule for this upcoming season may help facilitate that goal, as the Bills will face five first-year coaches, and nine out of their 13 opponents failed to tally a winning record last year. Buffalo will face a number of strong rushing attacks next season, and it will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt’s switch to the 4-3 will fare.
AFC Opponents (Home)
Jaguars: At 5-11 last year, Jacksonville heads into Buffalo with new head coach Mike Mularkey, who coached Buffalo to their last winning season in 2004. Though the Bills may be looking forward to facing the worst-ranked offense of last year, they won’t be looking forward to facing a healthy Maurice Jones-Drew, who led the league in rushing.
Titans: Chris Johnson’s commanding offensive performance in their Dec. 2011 meeting was too much for the Buffalo run defense, a small highlight in Johnson’s season last year. If Johnson is consistent and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck healthy, the Titans are always a threat, especially with a defense that statistically doesn’t allow many points against.
Chiefs: Buffalo has won the last four of five meetings against the Kansas City, including a 41-7 embarrassment in the season opener. Despite their record, the Chiefs finished 2011 strong, however, with wins against Green Bay and Denver, and if Kyle Orton (currently a free agent) or someone else can get on the same page as their strong receiving corps, they could easily be back on top of their division.
AFC Opponents (Away)
Texans: With perhaps the strongest running back tandem in the league in Arian Foster and Ben Tate, Houston will be looking for vengeance this season after a disappointing playoff run. And if Matt Schaub returns to full form, Buffalo will have its hands full with an offense that was putting up more than 27 points per game on average.
Colts: Lots of question marks here. Will Peyton Manning be back? Will Andrew Luck (if drafted) be an instant starter? How will first-year coach Chuck Pagano fare in his new position? Last year’s 2-14 team would be a great match-up for Buffalo on paper, but too many possibilities coming into this season leaves this one up in the air.
Browns: After a deplorable 4-12 season, Cleveland finds itself in the same boat as Indianapolis: Who’s going to be behind center? Currently there’s Seneca Wallace, who took over for a concussed Colt McCoy in Week 13, and talks of a potential RGIII draft pick. There are also questions about the health and return of running back Peyton Hillis as well. The Bills have only beaten the Browns six times in their 17 meetings, but if Cleveland can’t get its act together, this year’s meeting might add one to the win column.
NFC Opponents (Home)
49ers: San Fran proved last season that a solid defense can get you pretty far into the postseason. And the late-season chemistry between quarterback Alex Smith and tight end Vernon Davis (not to mention Michael Crabtree) should definitely scare their opponents in ’12. The 49ers shut down a lot of good rushing attacks last year, so expect Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and the offensive line to have their hands full.
Cardinals: Arizona will be looking to make some changes as well for the 2012 season, but more likely to its offensive line than its quarterback situation. Winners of seven of their last nine last year, the Cards’ line gave up the second-most sacks in the league (54) and the sixth-most QB hits. The Bills were near the bottom in both those categories defensively, and coupled with Arizona’s hard-nosed style the past few years, this may be a tough ‘W’ to capture.
NFC Opponents (Away)
Seahawks: Seattle has been mentioned in potential Peyton landing spots, but GM John Schneider isn’t completely sold on trying a quick fix at quarterback, according to the team’s website. With improvements made on both lines and the stellar year of Marshawn Lynch, who finished with more than 1,200 yards, Seattle may be satisified with building around quarterback Tavaris Jackson. This should be another toss-up match for Buffalo, especially given Seattle’s defensive prowess last year.
Rams: Even with the second pick in the draft, it’s hard to imagine a turnaround for St. Louis in 2012. There are question marks in way too many places (wide receiver, o-line, quarterback) to envision a winning record, but with Jeff Fisher at the helm, you never know. One thing they do have going for them is their ability to keep opponents off the scoreboard, and of course, Steven Jackson, who, if healthy, is one of the best ground-and-pounders out there.
Follow AFC East Daily @AFCEastDaily