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Thursday, January 2, 2014
Buffalo Bills season wrap-up

By Mike Rodak

 
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Final power ranking: 25
Preseason power ranking: 30

Biggest surprise: Looking back on our season preview in August, there wasn't much that unfolded wildly differently from what was expected. We predicted the Bills to finish with a 6-10 record, which they did. We predicted a third-place finish in the AFC East; they finished fourth but had a shot at third going into Week 17. We expected some struggles out of rookie EJ Manuel; he had plenty of bumps in the road. We expected an improved defense under Mike Pettine; they jumped from 22nd in yards allowed per game to 10th. But the Bills may have surprised some by setting a team record with 57 sacks this season. As expected, Mario Williams led the charge with 13 sacks, but if there were preseason question concerning Williams, those were quickly erased. Jerry Hughes had a career-high 10 sacks, while Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus also set career marks.

Biggest disappointment: We knew entering the season that it would be tough sledding for the Bills in the passing game. But even with a rookie quarterback (Manuel) and an inexperienced fill-in (Thad Lewis), the Bills likely had higher expectations for their air attack this season. The Bills wanted a fast-paced, no-huddle offense with big-play ability. They showed flashes of it, but ultimately offensive coordinator Nate Hackett had to scale things back as the Bills went through growing pains with a young offense, especially on the road. At receiver, Buffalo dealt with injuries to three of its top four options -- Stevie Johnson, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin -- and didn’t get the most out of its talent at the position. Perhaps that’s why receivers coach Ike Hilliard will not return to the team next season.

Biggest need: Initially, the Bills don’t have any glaring holes on their roster. Safety could become a concern if Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd leaves through free agency, but the Bills found a capable option at their other safety spot this season in Aaron Williams. The bigger issue, it would seem, could be tight end. Their leading receiver this season was tight end Scott Chandler, but there is still a feeling that the Bills could get more out of that position, especially in the red zone. If Chandler departs through free agency, the Bills are in dire need of an athletic, dynamic option at that position. They would be down to Lee Smith, Chris Gragg and Tony Moeaki if Chandler does not return.

Team MVP: It may not have been statistically the best season of Fred Jackson’s career, but it’s hard to imagine the Bills being able to win six games without their offensive captain this season. Jackson is a veteran presence in the locker room, a leader whose toughness -- he played through a knee injury and, later, a rib injury -- set the tone even when the team stumbled through parts of this season. The Bills had a basement-dwelling offense, but that wasn’t Jackson’s fault. He combined for 1,283 rushing and receiving yards, as well as 10 total touchdowns. Jackson turns 33 in February, but he looked ageless this season.