Team: Buffalo Bills
It can never be too early to discuss who will face the San Francisco 49ers in the team’s second year under Jim Harbaugh. Throughout the offseason, we’ll take a team-by-team look at the 49ers’ 2012 opponents and the offseason storylines for each team. Up next are the Buffalo Bills, who are scheduled to visit the 49ers next season, as the 49ers will face all four teams from the AFC East in 2012. View the 2012 schedule.
When: Week 5 (Oct. 7)
2011 Record: 6-10 (1-7 road)
All-Time Series: 5-5
2011 Recap: What started out as a promising year ended as a disappointment for the Buffalo Bills, who missed the playoffs for a 12th straight season. Things looked good for the Bills early on, as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led his team to a 4-1 record, but injuries ravaged the team and it lost seven straight contests at one point. If there was a silver lining to injuries to players like star running back Fred Jackson, it was that youngsters like C.J. Spiller showed they can perform well at the NFL level. All told, the Bills finished tied for last in the AFC East, had no Pro Bowlers and hold the No. 10 selection in the upcoming draft.
2012 Outlook: The Bills will sport a new-look defense in 2012, thanks to a promoted coach and a high-profile free agent signing. Dave Wannstedt was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator in January and the team said it will switch from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 defense in 2012. Manning one of the defensive end positions will be former Houston Texan Mario Williams, who reportedly signed a 6-year deal that could be worth more than $100 million with incentives. Buffalo Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly played a big part in the recruitment of the former No. 1 overall pick, who is expected to help shore up a defense that gave up 27.1 points per game last season, third-worst in the NFL. As they head into the 2012 NFL Draft, most pundits expect the Bills to go after help at offensive tackle after losing starting left tackle Demetrius Bell to the Eagles via free agency.
Three to Watch
DE Mario Williams: Many scoffed when Williams was picked No. 1 overall by Houston in the 2006 Draft ahead of Reggie Bush, but the talented defensive end has proved to be a worthy selection. The two-time Pro Bowler has 53 career sacks and was in the middle of his first season at linebacker in 2011 before he suffered a season-ending pectoral tear in Week 5. Williams is expected to revert back to his natural position of defensive end in Wannstedt’s system and could matchup with 49ers Pro Bowl left tackle
S George Wilson: One of Buffalo’s team captains, Wilson has enjoyed a rare path to NFL success. Wilson latched on with the Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2004 and spent the first three years of his NFL career as a wide receiver. But in 2007, Wilson converted to strong safety and has been a fixture in the Buffalo backfield ever since. In 2011, he had 106 tackles and four interceptions in 13 games.
WR Stevie Johnson: Bay Area native Stevie Johnson has emerged as one of the games most talented and colorful personalities in recent years. The four-year veteran caught 76 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011 and has since been rewarded with a lucrative five-year extension. He figures to be the top perimeter threat when the Bills come to town this fall.
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