Preview: Bills following in Vikings' steps?

The Bills have a lot of similarities to the Vikings from a year ago. They are building their roster with a big contract for a defensive end, a high draft pick at receiver and a young quarterback. We preview the similarities and the Bills' top players.

The Buffalo Bills appear to be a team similar to what the Vikings were entering the 2012 season. Coming of a 6-10 season, the Bills have taken a significant change in course with head coach Doug Marrone needing to show improvement in his second full season as a head coach. Much like Leslie Frazier was on the hot seat at the start of the 2012 season, Marrone is tying his football future to a young quarterback.

The Bills team Marrone took over was loaded with high-priced players that were there before him, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had been rewarded with a fat contract around the time Marrone was hired. Last year's Buffalo team had Fitzpatrick as its starter and former Viking Tarvaris Jackson as the top backup. The team ate the remainder of the guaranteed money in both Fitzpatrick's and Jackson's contracts when they released both of them following the draft.

Much like the Vikings surprised some draft analysts by taking Christian Ponder with the 12th pick of the 2011 draft, the Bills stunned even more with the selection of E.J. Manuel with the 16th pick. Few had him as the top-rated quarterback and just as many had him as a second-round pick. Much like the Vikings brought in well-traveled veteran Donovan McNabb to serve as the starter while the wait for Ponder to take over happened (that was only six games), the Bills executed a similar plan, and the wait for Manuel might be even shorter. The Bills signed another former Eagle – former Arizona starter Kevin Kolb – to serve as the transitional starter while Manuel gets up to speed. But Kolb has been hurt much of training camp and Manuel is coming off a strong debut performance, which could have his move into the spotlight coming sooner than later.

Buffalo has one of the best running games in the NFL, but keeping both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson on the field at the same time has been difficult. When the Bills drafted Spiller in the first round of the 2010 draft, it lit a fire under incumbent Jackson. He put together the best season of his career in 2010, held off Spiller in 2011 and had the first leg up in 2012. But when Jackson went down with an injury last year, Spiller finally got his chance to be the full-time featured back. He responded by rushing for 1,244 yards on just 207 carries – an average of six yards a carry. Spiller is now being viewed as one of the most explosive running backs in the league and is going to be out to prove himself with his rookie contract set to expire. While Jackson is a solid veteran who does a lot well (kind of like Chester Taylor), Spiller is the future (like Adrian Peterson) and is poised to put together the killer season that earns him an eight-figure contract.

At wide receiver, the similarities between the Vikings and Bills are reflected as well. The Bills have a Pro Bowl quality receiver in Stevie Johnson, who has been sidelined in the preseason, as the veteran go-to receiver. He is surrounded by young receivers who have yet to emerge or make their mark, but they may have to because Johnson is out with a hamstring injury. Much like the Vikings, the Bills have pinned their hopes on a rookie – Robert Woods of USC. He was viewed as one of the most NFL-ready draft prospects in the league and may get that opportunity sooner than later.

Defensively, there are similarities as well. Just as the Vikings made a bold move in 2008 to acquire Jared Allen, the Bills made more noise last year than any other team in the league, giving a nine-figure contract to DE Mario Williams of Houston. Unlike Allen, Williams hasn't played to nearly the level that Allen has with the Vikings. If Williams starts to live up to his monster contract, the Bills could have an impressive defensive front, as former No. 3 overall pick Marcell Dareus develops into a force in the middle with former Bear Mark Anderson and Alex Carrington providing the pass rush on the other side. They even have a guy named Williams at defensive tackle (Kyle Williams) to fit in the mix.

Like the Vikings, Buffalo has plenty of questions at linebacker and it is clearly the weakest position on the team. But, like the Vikings, they have an emerging secondary. Safety Jairus Byrd is the cornerstone of the secondary, but he and the organization are at odds about the franchise tag being slapped on him. Between him and cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore, the Bills have the makings of what could become a dominant strength of the team.

The Bills till have a lot of question marks and appear about a year behind the Vikings in several stages of their development, but, if they follow the Vikings' path, they could surprise some people in 2013. Don't expect them to be the pushover their record might indicate, because the Bills have young talent at key positions and aren't that far away from building a roster with strengths on both sides of the ball.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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