2003 NFL Preview

Over kill

High-powered Bills retool woeful defense

  Takeo Spikes Takeo Spikes joins the Bills after signing a six-year, $32M contract. Andy Lyons/Allsport

By Jacob Luft,

Gamblers everywhere bemoaned the Bills' offseason makeover.

For the better part of 17 weeks last season, betting the "over" on Buffalo games was the closest thing to a sure bet as you can find in the topsy-turvy NFL. The Bills' combination of potent offense and porous defense routinely turned games into track meets. While Drew Bledsoe, Eric Moulds and Peerless Price were piling up points, the defense was giving it all back and then some. Only Cincinnati (456) and Kansas City (399) allowed more points in the AFC than Buffalo (397).

It all added up to an 8-8 season, the club's third in a row without a playoff berth. Although making the playoffs this year will be just as tough in the ultra-competitive AFC East, at the very least the Bills hope to be more than an easy parlay play.

The signing of Takeo Spikes from the Bengals and Jeff Posey from the Texans revamps a linebacking corps that consisted of London Fletcher and little else. Fletcher set the club record for tackles with 209, but that wasn't enough to stop the unit from allowing eight 100-yard rushing performances (and a pair of 90-plus games).

Spikes had to beg his way out of NFL purgatory with the Bengals, who could have applied their franchise tag to keep the star linebacker. But they finally let him go after five seasons, allowing the Bills to swoop in and sign him to a six-year, $32 million contract.

The defensive front gets a bulky boost from tackle Sam Adams and second-round pick Chris Kelsay, a defensive end from Nebraska. Izell Reese comes in from Denver to add depth to the defensive backfield.

All of these signings came at a price -- literally -- as Price cashed in on his breakout season by signing with the Falcons. But if Josh Reed and Bobby Shaw can step up as second and third options to the brilliant Eric Moulds, the new-look defense will have this team in serious playoff contention.