"Last year, people were writing obits to the Bills. This year, the same people are singing their praises and openly predicting a fourth consecutive Eastern Division title - and maybe more.
How can they miss? Of course, questions like this preceded such disastrous flops as the Edsel and the Titanic, but the Bills have something going for them the others didn't - they are proven winners. More than that, the 1967 model is a vast improvement over the 1966 team. Off-season trades have improved their passing and running attacks, and they added points when they acquired place kicker Mike Mercer from Kansas City.
One of Buffalo's many constants is its quarterback, Jack Kemp. He may not rank as the best in the league, but he keeps on winning. That's enough. Jack tore a muscle in his right elbow last season, but he spent the summer throwing the ball in California and reported that the arm felt fine. Tom Flores, acquired in the big trade with Oakland, switches places with the departed Daryle Lamonica as the No. 2 man. His edge over Lamonica is that he's a better passer, and was good enough to guide the Raiders to a winning record.
The 1966 Bills completed 15 touchdown passes; only Denver with 12 had fewer. To end this drought the Bills acquired All-Pro split end Art Powell, who was the key man in the deal with Oakland. Powell will give the passing game some much needed legs, as well as allow Bobby Crockett to develop at his own pace. Crockett caught 31 passes for 533 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie last year. On the other side of the field, flanker Elbert Dubenion should be twice as effective with another old pro in the lineup, and Paul Costa, who caught 27 passes for 400 yards last year, is solid at tight end. The holdovers at end are Ed Rutkowski, Charley Warner and Charley Ferguson; the new men are John Pitts, the Bills No. 1 draft choice from Arizona State, and Jerry Seither, the No. 9 pick from Kent State.
A year ago, the Bills were operating with unknown factors in the backfield; not anymore. Bobby Burnett came so fast at halfback that he was voted the league's Rookie of the Year, and fullback Wray Carlton enjoyed his finest season. Now the Bills have added Keith Lincoln, the ex-San Diego great, to their backfield as swing man; Keith can be used at either halfback or fullback and give the ground game extra drive. Then there's Allen Smith, who looked promising at halfback as a rookie, and veteran fullback Jack Spikes to round things out. This year's batch of recruits includes Randy Wheeler (Georgia), Vern Moore (Central State) and Allen's brother Grover Smith (Ft. Valley State).
Up front, the momentum for the attack is provided by the best offensive line in the East. Stew Barber and Dick Hudson are the tackles, Billy Shaw and Joe O'Donnell are the guards and Al Bemiller is the center. The Bills seem to have more depth here than they did last year. Wayne Desutter and rookies George Gaiser (SMU) and Jim LeMoine (Utah State) are the extra tackles, ex-taxi squader Charley Turner and rookie Gary Bugenhagen (Syracuse) are the new guards, and Bob Schmidt is the backup center if he doesn't retire. Otherwise, Jim Baffico, who has been up before, will move in. If young Gaiser makes it at tackle, the Bills will shift DeSutter to defense.
There wasn't a tougher defense to run against last than Buffalo's front four. It should be the same story this season, even though the Bills lost end Tom Day to San Diego in the trade for Lincoln. Ron McDole will be back at the other end, and Tom Sestak and Jim Dunaway will return at tackle. Often in the past, this was the threesome that did the rushing, leaving Day back to work with the linebackers. To fill the other end, the Bills have Remi Prudhomme, a 6-4, 245-pound strongman who worked as a guard in his rookie season. The Bills are seeking depth on this line and have as candidates Don Thiesen and Ernie Lashutka, who are being brought up from the taxi squad, and rookies Malcolm Williams (Parsons College), Ernie Ames (Kent State) and Bob Bonner (Southern U.).
The quality and ferocity of the pass rush allows the Bills' topflight corps of linebackers to lay back and protect against the pass. Mike Stratton, Harry Jacobs and John Tracey form one of the ablest units around. If they need help, there are experienced reserves like Paul McGuire, Marty Schottenheimer and Paul Guidry.
Behind them is the brilliant secondary composed of Tommy Janik and George Byrd at the corners and Hagood Clarke and George Saimes at the safeties. But nobody's job is safe. There's bound to be a tough battle waged at left corner by second-year man Charley King, who is rated as speedier than Janik; and Booker Edgerson, recovered from knee surgery, will try to win back the other job at right corner. The other job-seekers are Charley King's brother, Tony, who taxied last year, and rookies Tommy Croft (Louisiana Tech), Grant Martinson (Utah State), Tommy Luke (Mississippi) and Mike Irwin (Penn State)."
-Jack Zanger, Pro Football 1967
Probable 1967 Finish: 1st
Strengths: an improved offense, aided by the additions of Keith Lincoln and Art Powell, and the best overall defense in the league.
Biggest Needs: depth in the defensive line and another running back.
1966 finish: 1st
-Jack Zanger, Pro Football 1967