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updated: 9/4/2012 6:57 PM

NFL kicks off with surprise, disappointment, question mark

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With the NFL season kicking off on a Wednesday for the first time ever, there are some things fans can count on.

It will continue to be a league dominated by quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends.

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Teams don't have to be able to run the ball very effectively to enjoy success, as the Packers, Saints, Patriots and Giants proved last season.

As long as you have a quarterback named Rodgers, Brees, Brady or Manning, don't mind the run game because it really doesn't matter.

But there also will be a ton of surprises, good and bad. Following are a few shockers I anticipate. If any of these hit, I'll be reminding everyone late in December. If not, I'm sure I'll hear about it.

The surprise team for 2012 will be the Buffalo Bills.

That's right, the team that hasn't made the playoffs since the 1999 season and has won a total of 16 games in the past three seasons.

Coach Chan Gailey's team has attracted a lot of attention as a potential postseason surprise this year.

But I'll take it a step further. This team has the potential to unseat the perennial powerhouse New England Patriots as the AFC East champions.

Why? With the addition of $100 million unrestricted free-agent defensive end Mario Williams, they have the most dominant defensive line in the NFL, one that is capable of running roughshod over a Patriots offensive line that has a ton of question marks.

The Bills also added former Bears defensive end Mark Anderson, who led the Patriots with 10 sacks last season, to go with stud tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams.

New England quarterback Tom Brady may have a brilliant assortment of weapons in the pass game, but the run game is a joke, and the defense ranked 31st in yards allowed last season.

If Brady is running for his life, he's not going to have time to look for wide receivers Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker or tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

The Bills' super-Mario-charged defense will be under the direction of Dave Wannstedt, which could be good or bad, depending on your opinion of the Bears' former head coach.

Wanny was a disappointing 40-56 at the Bears' helm, but he always has been considered an excellent coordinator.

The biggest disappointment of 2012 will be the New York Jets.

Head coach Rex Ryan can no longer be considered the biggest gas bag in the NFL because he has lost 105 pounds, and he also has lost the bravado and braggadocio -- at least for the time being.

But the humble-pie routine won't help the Stevenson High School graduate mask the fact that the Jets' quarterback situation is a mess.

The starter, Mark Sanchez, can't play, period. The backup, Tim Tebow, isn't an NFL quarterback. He's a winner and a great football player, just not a great quarterback.

Please don't assume I'm ripping Tebow as a person. The world would be a much better place with more people like him.

But the Jets, or any NFL team, would be much better with Tebow as strictly a Wildcat quarterback and/or as an option QB/RB/TE/H-back/WR hybrid. He has a niche; it's just not as a full-time quarterback.

With locker-room cancers like wide receiver Santonio Holmes, and a defense that has peaked and is heading in the wrong direction, this is a team ripe for implosion.

The biggest question mark of 2012 is the New Orleans Saints.

With mastermind head coach and Naperville native Sean Payton suspended for a year -- a punishment I still believe is way too stiff -- for his role in the teams' bounty scandal, the Saints could lose their way.

In addition, assistant head coach Joe Vitt is suspended for the first six games.

But this is still an offense that possesses an embarrassment of riches, and quarterback Drew Brees is a coach on the field. But he's not a coach off the field.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the defensive leader, has gone to court to shorten his year-long suspension, but good luck with that. The addition of unrestricted free-agent linebacker Curtis Lofton will mitigate Vilma's absence.

But new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo brought a new scheme when he replaced bounty ringleader Gregg Williams, and it may take some time to grasp the system.

This is a team that overcame the natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina to win a Super Bowl, but this year's task may be even tougher.

My guess? The Saints will be the highest-scoring 8-8 team in NFL history.

rlegere@dailyherald.com

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