The Buffalo Bills are looking for an improvement on last year's 6-10 season, and fans are setting their sights on a playoff run. The team will certainly be going through some changes, the most notable of which will be that former Florida State QB EJ Manuel figures to get the starting role from week 1. But rookie QBs have thrived in recent years, and when you consider the fact that the AFC East looks just about winnable (with the Pats facing changes, the Dolphins a question mark, and the Jets a mess), and the Bills may have a shot to surprise some people.
But the real reason for optimism in Buffalo has nothing to do with the rest of the AFC East, or even EJ Manuel. It has to do with the running game, which looks to be one of the strongest in the NFL. Let's take a look at the key runners who figure to factor in this season.
After amassing over 1200 yards rushing, with 6 TDs on the ground and 2 receiving in 2012, C.J. Spiller has catapulted to elite RB status. Projections for this year are about as strong as can be for Spiller. ESPN's fantasy pages rate him as a 1st round fantasy pick, and the #7 RB overall, and Betfair's exchange section has him tied for 7th best odds of leading the NFL in rushing yardage. Spiller will never be a touchdown hog due to his relatively small stature, but 1500 yards and 8 or 9 TDs seems like a reasonable projection for 2013.
Jackson entered last season in something of a platoon with Spiller, but injuries kept him out of the thick of things and allowed Spiller to emerge as the team's top RB. That said, Jackson remains the more powerful runner, and thus should be fairly useful on the goal line punching the ball into the end zone. For that reason, Jackson is still a viable fantasy option and a decent asset to Buffalo's running game this season. CBS Sports fantasy experts rank Jackson between 110 and 120 overall, and a 400 yard, 5 or 6 TD season may be reasonable to expect.
Finally, there's Choice, who barring any injuries will be a backup option. Still, while Choice is only relevant in deep fantasy leagues, he could be a solid asset in actual football games. Choice is a capable runner who averaged 4.1 yards per carry in 2012. Of course, fans will be hoping not to see much of Choice, as that will mean that Spiller and Jackson are doing what they're expected to do, but as a pure backup he's not a horrible option.
A lot will hinge on how EJ Manuel adjusts to the NFL, how Doug Marrone handles his first season as head coach, and how the rest of the AFC East shapes up. But the Bills runners should enable Buffalo to make a playoff push.