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End of season review: Buffalo Bills

Sports Mole takes a look back at the 2013 season of the Buffalo Bills.

The Buffalo Bills were in rebuild mode under new head coach Doug Marrone in the 2013 season but they suffered the same struggles as they limped to a 6-10 record.

They surprised the league and pundits when they selected EJ Manuel in the first round of the 2013 Draft, but despite a decent start to his career he suffered injuries and inconsistent displays in the latter half of the campaign that cost his side.

The Bills finished bottom of the AFC East for the seventh straight season.

Sports Mole looks back at their 2013 season.

Pre-season expectations

The Bills were in rebuild mode after firing Chan Gailey following their 6-10 season in 2012, while Doug Whaley was brought into replace Buddy Nix as general manager. Manuel was selected with wide receiver Robert Woods in the 2013 Draft, as well as young linebacker Kiko Alonso as the Bills looked to add talented youngster their ageing roster. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was let go just over a year after a signing a six-year contract worth $59m (£35m) along with fellow veteran George Wilson at safety. Marrone was eyeing a solid first year to compete with the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets for second place in the AFC East, behind the favoured New England Patriots.

Highlight of the season

The Bills started their campaign well and competed against the New England Patriots in a narrow defeat in their season opener, but a week later they recorded their first win of the season as Manuel found his form. Late in the game he drove his side the length of the field and found Stevie Johnson for a two-yard touchdown to hand his side the victory with just two seconds left in the game. The 23-year-old signal caller had shown his potential and that was to give all Buffalo fans hope for the future. Meanwhile in the same game, defensive end Mario Williams sacked Cam Newton four-and-a-half times, which was a Bills record. That was a complete performance by the Bills, against what would be a 12-win playoff team.

Biggest disappointment

The Bills had an excellent chance to improve to 3-2 in the AFC East with a win over the Cleveland Browns. However, their special-teams play was not up to standard as Travis Benjamin ran in for a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown, as the Browns took control of the game. Matters got worse for the Bills as Manuel injured his knee seriously when trying to run for a first down, and that injury would leave him out for weeks. His backup Jeff Tuel came into the match but threw a costly late interception, which handed the Browns the victory. The loss of Manuel was to ruin the Bills' season as they lost four out of their next five games.

Player of the season

Kiko Alonso had an excellent rookie season for the Bills. He was all over the field and made plays the second phase, as he didn't get much support from his aggressive defensive line. He was the leader of the defense and showed maturity beyond his years to rally his side when needed. The 23-year-old had great instincts and proved that as he made four interceptions. In total he made 159 tackles, 87 of which were solo, an incredible number for a player in his first year in the league. He will only continue to improve for the Bills over the coming years.

Unsung hero

Fred Jackson had another fantastic year for the Bills despite his advancing years. He continued to be the dependable back for his side as he amassed over 206 carries on the ground for 890 yards, along with nine touchdowns. The 32-year-old was dependable with the ball, as he fumbled three times but didn't lose a single one, while he also provided an outlet from the backfield for his numerous quarterbacks as he also snagged 47 receptions for 387 yards and a score. Jackson goes about his business quietly but his production over the years speaks for itself, and the Bills have to be grateful to have a player like that on their roster.

Off-season changes

The Bills could do with another linebacker to partner Alonso that would give them a very strong linebacking corps. There are good options available to them in the Draft, with players such as Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack possibly around in the 10th selection. The future of Jairus Byrd remains a question mark, as last season he struggled with injury while playing under the franchise tag. The Bills need to decide what they are going to do with him, as he is one of the best safeties in the NFL when his head is in the game and healthy. Another key player tight end Scott Chandler is also a free agent, so Whaley will have to find some cash to keep him in Buffalo or target a replacement in free agency or the Draft. There are a lot of major decisions to be made by the Bills front office in the coming weeks.

2014 prospects

The Bills' prospects hinge on the development of their younger players. Defensively they are starting to mould a decent spine with Marcel - Dareus, Alonso, Stephon Gilmore and Byrd emerging as playmakers - but they need help from the offensive side of the ball to compete with the likes of the Patriots in the AFC East. Manuel has to improve and keep himself healthy for 16 games, along with Robert Woods and CJ Spiller. If those players can step up, there's hope that the Bills could accomplish something in the near future.

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Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone watches his team during the game against Minnesota Vikings on August 16, 2013
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