|Spiller has high expectations for the Bills in 2012. (Getty Images)|
We'll soon arrive at a point (or perhaps we're already there) where it'll take less time to identify those teams that didn't proclaim their Super Bowl readiness during the offseason. For now, we'll dutifully document each instance here if for no other reason than posterity. We've mentioned it before, but this is the time of year where hope rules and every team is undefeated. Which explains why the Eagles' DeSean Jackson and the Dolphins' (!) Karlos Dansby think their teams are headed to the championship game.
And that brings us to running back C.J. Spiller, who also has high expectations for the Bills in 2012.
"We split with New England. We had the Giants on the ropes. We are close to being a Super Bowl team," he told NFL Sirius XM Radio on Thursday (via NFL.com). "We have to protect the ball."
Spiller wasn't smacking his gums so much as speaking matter-of-factly about Buffalo's chances based on recent history. The fog of a long season might obscure what the Bills accomplished through the first two months of 2011: they started 5-2 before the wheels came off, losing seven in a row and eight of nine to finish at 6-10.
There are any number of explanations for the collapse, from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick battling a rib injury for most of the year to losing running back Fred Jackson, the team's most dynamic player, in November. Both are now healthy, and the Bills have been busily bolstering the roster in recent months.
The team won the Mario Williams sweepstakes, and he'll join the incomparable Kyle Williams, former first-rounder Marcell Dareus, veteran Chris Kelsay and free agent Mark Anderson along what should be AFC East's best defensive line. Then there's cornerback Stephen Gilmore, the team's first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. He could step into the starting lineup immediately.
According to Football Outsiders, the Bills ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency last season (25th against the pass, 27th against the rush). If you're going to compete in a division that includes Tom Brady, the defense absolutely has to be better than that. Last season, Buffalo was 5-0 when they scored at least 30 points. They were just 1-10 in games in which they scored fewer than 30. Give Buffalo even a mediocre defense and they could've won eight or nine games.
On the other side of the ball, the offense will run through Fitzpatrick, Stevie Johnson, Jackson and Spiller, and the 2010 first-rounder could have the biggest impact of the bunch.
"[Spiller's] confidence level just went through the roof, in my opinion," coach Chan Gailey said at minicamp earlier this month. "He knows what to do a lot better now. He has a lot of confidence that he can play running back, he can go out and play receiver, he can do a lot of things and blocking. He's gotten better at his blocking from the previous year. His ball security was a lot better last year. He carried it multiple times and did a good job of controlling the ball. Just his overall confidence level I think is very good this year."
That doesn't make the Bills Super Bowl contenders, but it does mean they should be a lot better than they were last year. And for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 1999, that's as good a place to start as any.
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