In less then three weeks, the Buffalo Bills will officially open the 2013 NFL regular-season when they take on the New England Patriots. From that point on it will be a 16 week race to claim one of the six playoff spots in the AFC.
The season hasn't started yet but there are a number of players who have already distinguished themselves as potential key contributors for the upcoming season. This slideshow will show who I feel will win the different team awards ranging from MVP to Defensive Player of the Year.
This was a pretty easy pick as C.J. Spiller showed last season that he was the team's most dynamic player. He finished the year with 1,244 yards rushing on only 207 carries giving him the second best yards per carry average at six yards. He also had 43 receptions for 459 yards, finishing the year with 1,703 yards from scrimmage.
Last year, Chan Gailey was reluctant to give Spiller a full workload but that doesn't seem to be the case in 2013. Coach Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have made it clear that Spiller is going to be the offense's key weapon.
With the physical tools Spiller has and the commitment from the coaching staff, there is no reason to think Spiller won't be the team's MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
Winner: C.J. Spiller
There are four solid candidates for this award as EJ Manuel, Robert Woods, Kiko Alonso and Marquise Goodwin have all had their moments during preseason. All four players are expected to play big roles in the Bills organization and will be a major factor if they are able to end their playoff drought.
Due to Manuel's knee injury, he is the only player right now that isn't guaranteed substantial playing time at the start of this season.
Kiko Alonso is expected to be one of the starting linebackers and Robert Woods will be on the field a lot; Buffalo is expected to be heavy in three wide receiver sets.
Goodwin will have his impact in special teams and will shorten the field for the offense with his long kickoff returns. Manuel is the wild card here, but with how he played in the first two games it’s hard not to believe that he won't be the starting quarterback once he is 100 percent healthy.
That is why I expect him to be under center early in the year and be the team's Rookie of the Year.
Winner: EJ Manuel
Alex Carrington has played sparingly through the first three seasons of his career but that could all come to an end in 2013. The defensive end has looked spectacular through training camp and has continued to impress the coaching staff. At this point, he will hopefully have a starting spot locked up.
With defensive coordinator Mike Pettine bringing a brand new defense and the talent on the defensive line next to him, Carrington should have plenty of one-on-one opportunities.
If he is able to take advantage of this, he should have a great year for Buffalo and make the defense as a whole better.
Winner: Alex Carrington
Jerry Hughes was a first-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 2010 and never really found his role in their defense.
The Bills saw value in him and decided to swing a trade that sent Kelvin Sheppard to Indianapolis in return for Hughes. Since that trade, he has received nothing but good reviews.
Last week he collected two sacks against the Vikings, beating Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Kalil for the first sack. The fourth-year player out of TCU showed great physical tools in terms of quickness and getting after the quarterback. This was why the Colts took him so high in the draft but it looks like Buffalo may reap the rewards.
Winner: Jerry Hughes
Leodis McKelvin was brought back this past offseason with a four-year deal worth $17 million. This was surprising considering that McKelvin's biggest impact has only come on special teams. He hasn't developed into the corner most saw when Buffalo drafted him 11th overall in 2008.
He has struggled to get back to full strength since his groin surgery over the offseason and hasn't been able to appear in any preseason games to date. This hopefully will change Saturday against Washington.
With the type of contract he was given, and the emergence of Marquise Goodwin in the return game, the expectations may be too much for Leodis McKelvin to live up to this year.
Winner: Leodis McKelvin
Stephon Gilmore got on-the-job training in his rookie season on how to be an NFL cornerback. Early on he made a number of mistakes but as the season progressed, his game improved. He finished the 2012 season very well and there was noticeable improvement.
General Manager Doug Whaley was not shy in his praise for the second year man when he said back in June after OTAs:
If you look at Gilmore and you’ve been around the practices this spring, he’s made a leap from Year One to Year Two... And that’s very encouraging. Any time you see a rookie going into the second year not slip into that sophomore slump, but make a transition and improve, that’s always a positive.
He has looked sharp in training camp and should take that next step in 2013. This is why I believe he is the Bills' Defensive Player of the Year for the coming season.
Winner: Stephon Gilmore