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The stigma of rebuilding has hovered over the Buffalo Bills for more than a decade.

The franchise last made the playoffs in 1999 — the NFL's longest active drought — and more often than not, the Bills haven't been close to the postseason over the past 15 years. Nothing captured that better than coach Doug Marrone's admission after a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last December.

"We have a long way to go," he said.

But this offseason, the franchise made several moves with the intention of winning now. Will it be enough to finally get the Bills into January?

The Bills had two glaring weaknesses last season: passing offense and rushing defense. Buffalo ranked 28th with 193.9 passing yards a game behind rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and 29th in rushing defense, ceding 128.9 yards a game.

It led to a 6-10 season during which the Bills endured three losing streaks.

The good news: There were glimpses of talent and the team was competitive, including a two-point loss to the Patriots and a one-point victory against the Carolina Panthers.

But the playoff drought isn't the only thing looming over the franchise. Founding owner Ralph Wilson died in March, and the family has retained financial giant Morgan Stanley and the legal firm Proskauer Rose to manage the sale. A deal seems likely by late fall.

Recent comments from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have indicated the goal is to have the next ownership group keep the team in western New York. Goodell and a number of owners have said the key is construction of a new stadium even though aging Ralph Wilson Stadium is currently undergoing $130 million in renovations.

"From our perspective, it's business as usual," team President and CEO Russ Brandon said. "We have a football team to prepare, and Coach Marrone will continue on the path of doing that."

Quarterback

The Bills used the 16th pick in the 2013 draft on Manuel. In 10 starts as a rookie, he passed for 1,972 yards, 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions, but he was hampered by knee injuries.

"A lot of quarterbacks usually want to make that big jump from the rookie year to the second year," Manuel told news reporters. "I'm eager about it. I'm taking the right steps right now, trying to jot down everything that I needed to work on. Now it's just staying with the plan."

Even if Manuel struggles, his spot atop the depth chart is secure; backup quarterbacks Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel won't threaten him for playing time.

Running back

The Bills had the NFL's second-best rushing attack in 2013, generating 144.2 yards a game. That number could have been much more. With the talented one-two punch of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, Buffalo has weapons. Each is entering the final year of his contract, but Spiller is 26 and Jackson is 33.

Spiller rushed for more than 900 yards and averaged 4.6 yards a carry last season despite playing on a bad ankle, which he said is healed. The position got even deeper when the Bills traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for Bryce Brown.

Wide receiver

Headed into the offseason, the Bills knew they had to do something at this position. That's why the team moved up to the No. 4 slot in the draft to select Sammy Watkins.

Buffalo traded inconsistent Stevie Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers. Second-year player Robert Woods provides a promising No. 2 option, and Mike Williams, whom the Bills got in an offseason trade with the Buccaneers, should contribute as the third target.


USA TODAY Sports' Chris Strauss breaks down the latest on Buffalo.

Tight end

Scott Chandler was the team's leading receiver last season with 53 catches and 655 yards, and it was imperative for the Bills to re-sign him. Though he isn't much of a red-zone threat, Chandler provides Manuel with an option in the middle of the field.

Offensive line

Though the line opened running lanes in 2013, it was porous in pass protection. Buffalo allowed 48 sacks, fourth most in the league. The Bills addressed one of their biggest needs when they selected Cyrus Kouandjio, who projects as the starting right tackle, in the second round. On the other side, second-year left tackle Cordy Glenn is one of the top young linemen in the league. The Bills also signed Chris Williams from the St.Louis Rams to play left guard, although he could be pushed by fifth-round pick Cyril Richardson.

Defensive line

The Bills were the first team since 2000 to have three defensive linemen with at least 10 sacks in Mario Williams (13), Kyle Williams (10½) and Jerry Hughes (10). Ex-Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz arrives as the Bills' fourth defensive coordinator in four years and is expected to shift to a 4-3 front. Mario Williams had an offseason hip procedure but should be ready for the start of the season. He's the key to the defensive front. On the left side, Hughes is entering his fifth season in the league — second in Buffalo — and could be on the verge of a breakout. Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus (7½ sacks) anchor the middle.

Linebacker

As a rookie, Kiko Alonso became an instant fan favorite and tackling machine. He racked up 159 tackles, four interceptions and two sacks; expect those numbers to rise as he becomes more familiar with NFL offenses. The free agency addition of Brandon Spikes alleviates the lack of depth at the position, but the Bills need strongside linebacker Keith Rivers to become a consistent force.

Secondary

The Bills were dealt a big blow with the departure of safety Jairus Byrd, who signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency. He was the unit's leader, and his instincts and turnover-inducing ability will be missed. Safeties Da'Norris Searcy and Aaron Williams will have to pick up their production to make up for Byrd's departure. With Stephon Gilmore and Leodis McKelvin, the team is set at cornerback.

Special teams

Kicker Dan Carpenter and punter Brian Moorman remain the specialists, but the selection of Watkins provides an instant boost in the return game. It's not clear if the team will want Watkins to split duties as the premier return man and the No.1 wide receiver, but his ability to score any time he touches the ball might be too tempting to pass up.

Coaching

Now entering his second season, Marrone's experience with offenses should continue to bolster the unit with help from coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Schwartz brings a physical approach that emphasizes size and talent on the defensive line.

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Follow Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @Lorenzo_G_Reyes

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