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Buffalo Bills 2013 season preview

Buffalo Rumblings helps preview the upcoming 2013 season for the Buffalo Bills.

Rick Stewart

Who is the easiest player on the roster to root for?

It's C.J. Spiller, and it's not even close. He has rare athletic traits, is a household name thanks to his amazing college career and the prominence of fantasy football, and is the primary source of per-touch excitement for a football team that hasn't made the playoffs in this century. Buffalo has one superstar on its roster right now, and it's Spiller.

If you could buy a ticket to just one game this year...

Their Week 5 road trip to play the Cleveland Browns on Thursday Night Football looks very intriguing - and not just because the Browns looked improved in all phases this preseason (though that certainly helps). Three of the Bills' first four games of the year are at home, which will ideally give many of its young players - rookie starters EJ Manuel, Robert Woods and Kiko Alonso in particular - a month to get their feet wet in the NFL. If things go well (or even if they don't), that Week 5 stage in front of a national audience will change the game for a young football team.

Which veterans could be cut before the season due to salary cap issues?

Rian Lindell would be the only good example here; he was released a year after signing a four-year contract extension in a move made possible by the team spending a sixth-round pick on Dustin Hopkins. Beyond that expected move, the Bills are too young a team to be worried about cutting cap-heavy veterans; today, they only have three players age 30 or above on the roster, with the oldest of those being 32-year-old running back Fred Jackson.

Which second year player is going to make the biggest leap?

When he returns to the lineup in five to seven weeks following wrist surgery, it'll be cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Drafted No. 10 overall in 2012 out of South Carolina, Gilmore had a shaky start to his career, but by the end of his rookie season was showing signs of "getting it." He then had a great three weeks at training camp and looked the part in preseason action, but as is the Bills' luck, he broke his wrist in Washington and needed surgery that'll keep him out for a couple of months. He is by far the Bills' best cornerback, and he will be sorely missed while he's out of the lineup.

What are the odds of your head coach getting fired?

Extremely low, given that Doug Marrone is just now beginning his first season as the Bills' head coach. He's brought in a very young coaching staff and was hand-picked by new team president Russ Brandon and GM Doug Whaley for the job, so he'll have a number of years to prove himself before this discussion begins.

What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?

A lot would have to go right, and he'd have to stay healthy and prove himself capable of handling a feature back workload, but Spiller is capable of challenging the Bills' single-season rushing record of 2,003 yards set by O.J. Simpson in 1973. You can read up on his goals a bit here. Mercifully, even though the team is facing a fourteenth straight season without a playoff appearance, they're still more than a decade away from matching the 25-year playoff drought record set by the Cardinals and Redskins franchises.

Which rookies will see regular playing time this year?

Manuel, the first-round pick out of Florida State, will be the starting quarterback just as soon as he's recovered from minor knee surgery that he had on August 18. (We're hopeful that will be in time for their Week 1 game against New England.) Woods, a second-round pick out of USC, will start at receiver opposite Stevie Johnson and provide the offense with some much-needed YAC skill. Alonso, drafted alongside Woods in Round 2 out of Oregon, is the Bills' only three-down linebacker and a mainstay in the middle of Mike Pettine's hybrid, attacking defense.

Predict the order of finish in your division.

This is not a particularly interesting division; it's New England, then three teams hoping they'll be slightly less crappy than the other two divisional bottom-feeders. Miami is slightly more established at quarterback than New York and Buffalo, and New York is much more established defensively than Buffalo, so we'll go Miami-New York-Buffalo after the Pats. But really, any of those three teams are capable of finishing second or dead last in the East.

What do you expect your season-end record will be?

Buffalo's goal in year one of the Whaley/Marrone/Manuel era will be steady progression throughout the season. Expect a slow start; the idea will be to make strides towards being a playoff-caliber club throughout the next four months. 6-10 seems like a good benchmark, but the Bills are capable of pushing for a .500 record and staying in the fringes of the post-season conversation until the winter months.