The Buffalo Bills took a risk in October when they signed former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to a six-year, $59 million extension.
Having paid out $21 million last year to Fitzpatrick, the Bills are expecting their franchise quarterback to have a breakout 2012 season, after faltering in 2011.
Fitzpatrick, who threw for 24 touchdowns and 3,832 passing yards, failed to push the Bills into playoff contention in 2011. Despite having gone 5-2 in the first seven games, the Bills suffered seven straight losses that eliminated their postseason hopes. In those seven games, Fitzpatrick threw 12 interceptions and fumbled four times.
Hall-of-Famer and former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly offered his suggestion that Fitzpatrick needs to become an elite quarterback to ensure this team's success.
He has to play better and I think he knows it, Kelly said. He doesn't need me to tell him that. I'll tell you what, though, I'm more excited about this year than any of the last 10 years, at least. I know that.
[Fitzpatrick] is really working on his accuracy, said running back Fred Jackson, said on ESPN.
The Bills, who made big moves during the offseason acquiring defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, upgraded their defensive line tremendously and look to be a factor in the AFC East.
While the New England Patriots are the frontrunners to win the division, the Bills are expected to play much better than they did last season, and some suspect that they can make a legitimate wild card run.
ESPN analyst Herm Edwards expects Buffalo to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
I think the Bills have an edge offensively in this sense, they've been together, Edwards said. The Bills can throw the ball. They put you in space, they run a lot of shotgun spread offense and have skill players that can catch and run. Their offense is a little ahead of the Jets offense right now.
In order to have any success this season, Fitzpatrick will need to evolve into the quarterback that the organization has wanted him to become. With the contract extension of wide receiver Stevie Johnson, the Bills may need to become a top-10 passing team, and prove that they are a dominant force in the East.
Since professional football is a business, Buffalo's patience will run thin with Fitzpatrick if he falters. Newly acquired free agent Vince Young, who has had struggles of his own over the course of his seven-year career, could step in after the first few weeks of the season. The Bills start the season with a road game against the New York Jets, then they have a home game against Kansas City, followed by a trip to Cleveland, before hosting New England.
Fitzpatrick is aware that the Bills have him on a short leash.
A lot of that is on me, Fitzpatrick said. We know we have the talent, we know we have the system and the pieces. It's just a matter of going out there and being consistent.