Bills breakthrough season reflected in AFC East awards

Bills bonding through personal stories (4:44)

Coach Sean McDermott has employed a unique team-bonding strategy that has created a culture change in Buffalo. (4:44)

The Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots earned playoff bids in the AFC East, and their excellence was reflected in division awards handed out by ESPN reporters Mike Rodak (Bills), Mike Reiss (Patriots), Rich Cimini (New York Jets) and James Walker (Miami Dolphins).

Coach of the Year -- Bills' Sean McDermott: If Bills fans were ready to put Andy Dalton's name on the New Era Field wall of fame after Buffalo made the playoffs for the first time since 1999, then McDermott should have a statue erected in front of the stadium.

After a revolving door of coaches since 2000, only one of whom (Dick Jauron) lasted more than three seasons, McDermott bought himself a few years of good favor in Buffalo by ending a 17-year playoff drought. How impressive an accomplishment it was can be debated, because the Bills needed a Bengals miracle touchdown on fourth-and-12 to make the postseason. Buffalo was outscored by 57 points this season and owned the NFL's 29th-ranked offense and 26th-ranked defense, making them one of the worst playoff teams in recent NFL history.

The shortcomings of the team are more reason to consider McDermott for NFL Coach of the Year -- not just in the AFC East. He squeezed nine wins out of a team that was projected by most to win between five and seven. He dealt with the loss of talent (Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Stephon Gilmore and Marcell Dareus) but managed to get the most out of his players by focusing on the daily process of what it takes to win in the NFL. -- Mike Rodak

Offensive MVP -- Patriots quarterback Tom Brady: Setting a new standard for a 40-year-old quarterback, Brady finished atop the NFL with 4,577 passing yards in the regular season, going 385-of-581 with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions. That earned him Associated Press All-Pro honors for the third time in his 18-year career.

Though he wasn't as consistent from wire to wire as some past seasons, he has set the bar so high that even a slight decline is still MVP-worthy. And of course, his approach hasn't wavered.

"Tom is one of the hardest-working players on the team," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "He's had a long history of that. He's very diligent in his preparation."

Brady's padded office chair at his locker, which is different from the standard folding chairs every other player has, is the only reminder of his "senior citizen" status in the locker room.

Perhaps special teams captain Matthew Slater summed it up best: "Anybody that's playing at the age of 40, in his 18th season, with all he's accomplished, can sit in whatever he wants to sit in." -- Mike Reiss

Defensive MVP -- Bills safety Micah Hyde: Hyde was the biggest splash for McDermott in free agency last offseason. Hyde's five-year, $30.5 million deal was a gamble given he was not always a full-time starter for Green Bay over his first four NFL seasons. Yet unlike previous big-ticket signings for the Bills, Hyde proved his worth.

Hyde was voted to the first Pro Bowl of his career, which was partly the result of his five interceptions. That was tied for fifth in the NFL, and tied for third among safeties after Tennessee's Kevin Byard (eight) and Baltimore's Eric Weddle (six). Hyde was graded as the NFL's No. 15 safety by Pro Football Focus.

Any discussion about Hyde, however, should also include teammate Jordan Poyer. Hyde was upset Poyer was not voted even as an alternate to the Pro Bowl despite playing at a similar level this season. Poyer, who also signed a free-agent deal with Buffalo last offseason, was Pro Football Focus' 10th-ranked safety. Though Hyde had a strong start to the season that saw him named AFC Defensive Player of the Month in October, Poyer earned the same honor for December. Poyer also finished the season with five interceptions. -- Mike Rodak

Rookie of the Year -- Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White: When the Bills completed their minicamp in June, McDermott had to stop and ask himself why he had yet to notice White in practice. White, the No. 27 overall pick, had practiced almost exclusively with the first-team defense through organized team activities and minicamp. His integration into the NFL over his first weeks had been so seamless that McDermott rarely needed to worry about the rookie.

Very little changed over the course of the season. White played 1,052 snaps, the second most in the NFL and about 99 percent of the Bills' defensive snaps. Pro Football Focus graded him as the third-best cornerback in the NFL after the Chargers' Casey Hayward and Jaguars' Jalen Ramsey. White had four interceptions, tied for 12th among all players and tied for second among rookies after the Saints' Marshon Lattimore. White tallied 11 pass break-ups, ranking third among rookies. He forced one fumble and returned another for a 52-yard touchdown in a Week 4 win against the Atlanta Falcons.

The low point for White's season came in Week 5, when he allowed a 77-yard touchdown to A.J. Green and a 47-yard completion. Otherwise, the Bills allowed only two other wide receivers to gain 100 yards this season: Keenan Allen (159 yards in Week 11) and Michael Thomas (117 yards in Week 10), and those performances were generally not the fault of White in the Bills' zone-based defense. -- Mike Rodak