2007 Season Previews
OT Langston Walker, G Derrick Dockery, DT Darwin Walker, CB Jason Webster.
QB Trent Edwards, RB Marshawn Lynch, RB Dwayne Wright, TE Derek Schouman, DE C.J. Ah You, OLB Paul Posluszny, S John Wendling.
RB Willis McGahee, FB Daimon Shelton, WR Andre' Davis, OT Mike Gandy, G Chris Villarrial, G Tutan Reyes, OLB Takeo Spikes, MLB London Fletcher, CB Nate Clements.
Offense This Year: No one's giving the Bills much of a chance. Some of ESPN's talking heads recently discussed how horrendous Buffalo's offseason was, projecting them to have one of the top five picks in the 2008 Draft. Many of the mock drafts across the internet have the Bills in the running for Brian Brohm, Darren McFadden, Jake Long and Calais Campbell. Everyone's doubting them. Then again, no one really talked about how hot they were at the end of the year, when they finished 5-4, scoring an average of 22.9 points per game the final seven weeks of the campaign. And that was not simply smoke and mirrors; Buffalo beat the Jets and Jaguars, and nearly knocked off the Colts, Chargers and Ravens.
The main reason for the Bills' late-season surge was the dramatic improvement of J.P. Losman. During that seven-week span, Losman completed more than 65 percent of his passes four times, tossed at least two touchdowns the same amount and compiled more than 230 yards thrice. In November and December, Losman threw 13 scores to only eight picks. It took him a while, but Losman has become a legitimate starting quarterback in this league.
One of the best players in the NFL that no one talks about is Lee Evans. The fourth-year wide out recorded 82 receptions, 1,292 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in 2006. He notched those numbers with a struggling quarterback the first two months of the season, and finished really strong, including a 265-yard performance at Houston on Nov. 19. It's just too bad Evans doesn't have a legitimate No. 2 wide out by his side; Peerless Price, Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish are as mundane and mediocre as it gets. Losman could also use a decent, pass-catching tight end. I have no idea why Marv Levy didn't sign or draft one.
Another Bill who will help Losman is rookie running back Marshawn Lynch. I'm often skeptical of first-year players, but Lynch seems to have the talent to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing plateau, which is something Willis McGahee failed to do in 2006. Even if Lynch isn't as great as all the draft gurus project him to be, he still should have a fair amount of success behind Buffalo's stout and deep offensive front. The line, led by left tackle Jason Peters, is as biggest and meanest the NFL has to offer. Lynch will have tons of running room on the left side, as Peters and guard Derrick Dockery will pave the way. Newly signed Langston Walker is an upgrade over Terrance Pennington at right tackle, and should definitely help decrease Losman's sack total of 47.
Defense This Year: Although I think most of the media is wrong about their assessment of the Bills, I can't really blame them for thinking and speaking negatively. After all, Buffalo lost three key players on defense - Takeo Spikes, London Fletcher and Nate Clements - but really didn't do anything via free agency to fill those holes.
Sure, Clements is gone. The 49ers gave him 5.6 trillion dollars, so the Bills had no shot at matching that deal. I still would have franchised Clements, even though this would have created an Asante Samuel-type situation, given that Marvy Levy promised Clements he wouldn't place a tag on him. But that's history. What is Buffalo going to do at the cornerback position? Well, one of the few moves they made was sign Jason Webster, who will start across from the underrated Terrence McGee. Ashton Youboty, last year's third-round pick, should see more action as a reserve, as will Kiwaukee Thomas and Jabari Greer. Has Buffalo's cornerbacking corps gotten worse with Clements gone? Of course. Is it as horrible as everyone is making it out to be? Definitely not.
As I mentioned earlier, the linebacking unit was also hit by free agency. While Buffalo did nothing except spend a second-round pick on a replacement, I'm pretty confident the team won't suffer much of a setback. The selection I'm referring to was that of Paul Posluszny, who would have been a top-10 prospect if it wasn't for a knee injury he suffered about 18 months ago. Posluszny wasn't 100 percent last season, but he definitely will be come Kickoff Sunday. He's currently penciled in as the starting middle linebacker. Angelo Crowell, who is two seasons removed from 119 tackles, will start at strong side. Meanwhile, the weak side looks to be occupied by Keith Ellison, who was drafted in the sixth round a year ago. Ellison started six contests for Buffalo, and the coaching staff seems to like him. He notched 65 tackles as a rookie.
The rest of the stop unit that limited opposing offenses to 19.4 points per game has remained intact. The defensive line is led by Aaron Schobel, who collected 14 sacks in 2006. At the other defensive end position, Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney combined for 11.5 sacks in what seemed like an effective rotation. If Schobel, Kelsay and Denney keep putting a good amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, safeties Donte Whitner and Ko Simpson should experience an increase in interceptions. As rookies last year, both were effective, but obviously inexperienced. Whitner and Simpson will be even better in 2007.
One problem the Bills had was their inability to stop the run; they were ranked 30th in that category last year. While injuries and a pair of rookie safeties can be blamed for that awful statistic, I have no choice but to look at the defensive tackle position. Larry Tripplett was largely ineffective, and first-year Kyle Williams simply was overmatched at times. The Bills drafted John McCargo with a first-round pick in the 2006 Draft, but he was hurt the entire season, so it remains to be seen if he can be an improvement over either Tripplett or Williams. Buffalo signed Darwin Walker, but it looks like he'll be let loose soon.
Schedule and Intangibles: Kicker Rian Lindell had another great year, converting 10-of-12 attempts from beyond 40 yards. ... Brian Moorman nailed a whopping 33 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line and still maintained an average of 43.6. Very impressive. ... Terrence McGee and Roscoe Parrish have returned a combined five kickoffs or punt returns for touchdowns the previous three seasons. ... This may sound odd, but Buffalo is nearly unbeatable in October and November home games. Maybe the cold, dark, gray, windy afternoons at Orchard Park have something to do with it; they were 3-1 last year in such contests. ... Talk about unfair: The first half of Buffalo's season looks like this: Denver, at Pittsburgh, at New England, Jets, Dallas, Baltimore, at Jets and Cincinnati. Someone in the league scheduling office must hate Levy.
Additional Reading: Endless Banter coming soon.
Positional Rankings (0-4 stars):
Divisional Rival History:
Miami Dolphins: One of the rare rivalries where the better team almost always wins. Buffalo has claimed five of the past six battles.
New England Patriots: Domination. The Patriots have won 12 of the last 13 meetings.
New York Jets: Although the visiting teams each won last year, this is a home-dominated rivalry; the host has claimed seven of the past nine.
J.P. Losman: Lacking receivers with talent beyond Lee Evans, J.P. Losman won't put up huge numbers.
Projected Stats: 3,300 passing yards. 21 passing TDs. 125 rushing yards. 1 rushing TD.
Projected Fantasy Points: 309.
Marshawn Lynch: My pick to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Marshawn Lynch is already the starter and will have the luxury of running behind one of the largest offensive lines in the game.
Projected Stats: 1,400 rushing yards. 150 receiving yards. 11 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 221.
Robert Royal: Not really much of a factor in fantasy football.
Projected Stats: 225 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 40.
Lee Evans: One of the top wide outs in the NFL, Lee Evans caught 82 passes for 1,292 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He's averaged eight scores throughout his career.
Projected Stats: 1,325 receiving yards. 9 total TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 186.
Roscoe Parrish: Disappointing. I don't expect much improvement.
Projected Stats: 450 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 63.
Peerless Price: Should have never left Buffalo the first time around.
Projected Stats: 400 receiving yards. 3 TDs.
Projected Fantasy Points: 58.
Rian Lindell: An excellent kicker in fantasy football, Rian Lindell is 20-of-25 from beyond 40 yards the past two years, including 5-of-5 from 50-plus.
Projected Stats: 26-29 FG (3-3 50+). 36 XP.
Projected Fantasy Points: 127.
Buffalo Defense: Like the Jets, Buffalo has a solid defense but just doesn't put up the numbers you want in fantasy football. Worth starting against Miami (Weeks 10 and 14), Washington (Week 13) and Cleveland (Week 15).
Projected Fantasy Ranking: Spot-Starting Defense.
Analysis: Unlike 99 percent of all football fans living outside of Buffalo, I don't think the Bills are going to finish with a losing record. I think they're an extremely underrated team. Unfortunately, they have one of the toughest first-half schedules I've ever seen. If they start 2-6, they might not be able to climb out of that hole.
Projection: 8-8 (3rd in the AFC East)
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