Just Cracking the Surface

Just Cracking the Surface

If you were to have written a script before the Bills traveled to Foxboro on Sunday to face the Patriots, and based said script on past results, you would have gotten a lot of it right. A top rusher was largely shut down by an under-appreciated linebacker group. A young quarterback struggled beneath the weight of carrying his offense, without help from his top target. The losing side had a missed field goal, had a questionable 'roughing the passer' call go against them, and a 90 yard play called back on a hold. The one difference this time, though, came in the role reversal between the two sidelines.

Out of all the early drafts of this article that existed, none of them dealt with the Bills doing what they did - namely, shutting out the Patriots at home, 16-0. It still feels foreign to think that I watched that game in real life, and not some sort of euphoric trance in an alternate universe where we go into pods and traverse the world of our dreams so that the we can experience playoff football again. The Patriots haven't been shut out at home since 1993. Twenty-three years ago, Bill Belichick was coaching in Cleveland, and some young hotshot named Drew Bledsoe was a rookie quarterback. I was two years old at the time, and missed the game.

But, here we are. All the stress and conversation amongst friends, co-workers, and sports radio hosts that go into your traditional Patriots week feels worth it, for once. We're barely two weeks removed from people jumping on the tank bandwagon after the Greg Roman firing, and suddenly this team is 2-2 when every pundit who has a weekly picks column had us at 0-4.

The biggest shift from the Fitzmagic show in week two has been in the defense. I hadn't realized that Greg Roman was calling the plays on both sides of the ball, but I'm failing to find another reason why this group has all of the sudden become a black hole of first downs. It feels like a whole offseason of progress happened before Arizona rolled into town.

The Patriots went one for 12 on third downs yesterday. LeGarrette Blount was leading the league in rushing before the game, but was held to only 54 yards. I usually make it through a Bills v. Pats game challenging people to name the New England punter who hasn't made an appearance yet, so this felt like a welcome change.

After Reggie Ragland went down with a season ending injury, the linebacking core looked like a weak spot for the Bills. Apparently no one told Zach Brown. 18 tackles, a sack, and two forced fumbles? People have sold their dignity in the parking lot for jerseys of linebackers who had that level of success around here. Brown has silently become the biggest offseason addition to this team, and he's not surrounded by slouches either; Preston Brown has been a tackling machine in his own right, and Jerry Hughes seems to have reverted back to his 2014 “you can't stop my speed rush” form.

On the offensive side of the ball, it was a mixed bag. The best showing came from the offensive line, who managed to give Tyrod plenty of time on the majority of his dropbacks. Tyrod did a good job of avoiding the rush when it existed, and using his mobility to extend plays without forcing anything that led to a turnover. The distribution of the ball in the passing game also felt much more in line with the playmaking ability of the receivers. Robert Woods awoke from hibernation to have his best game of the season, McCoy had another 100-plus all purpose yards game, and even Charles Clay - who has been much maligned - looked like a contributing piece of the offense yesterday.

With that being said, there is still room to improve. After an opening drive in which the Bills employed a number of vaired looks and incorporated different playmakers on a march right down to the endzone, none of their other drives were able to net them six points. You can be as mad at Dan Carpenter as you want for missing another field goal, but he didn't go on the field for the third down that didn't convert. Tyrod made strides, bu he still lacked accuracy on some of his throws, with a number of them sailing high. In the end, 16 points was enough to win this game, but as far as scores go in the NFL (where the average winning score is 29), you see that number on the losing side more often than not.

A lot will be said in the post game reviews this week about who suited up under center for the Patriots in week four. Belichek and his staff were not handing the full playbook over to Brissett, and it became evident right around the time he attempted three passes in the first half. The most fire New England got out of their starting quarterback came in the pregame shoving match with Robert Blanton.

Does the absence of Tom Brady make this loss more palatable for Patriots fans? I would assume it does. Going 3-1 without him would have sounded really good before the season started. Should it likewise cheapen the win for Bills fans? Absolutely not.

The notion that Brady’s abscence means the Bills proved nothing is absurd at the core. Teams have to deal with injuries and suspensions all the time, and no matter how it came about or who it is, each team features the top players in the world up and down their rosters. If Brady plays yesterday, it might have been a different game, but “maybes” and “could haves” don't have a column in the standings. I doubt we'll see many apologists next week when the Patriots play the Browns because it's Cody Kessler in at quarterback instead of RG3 or Josh McCown.

I'm almost scared to feel the hope that is creeping up on me, because as Buffalo sports fans, we know that hope is followed by a crushing and inevitable cartoon piano on a rope-esque plummet back down to earth, but here it is. This is the football team we hoped we would see when the Rex Ryan era began. Does this team still have problems? Of course they do, but this is something that we can build on. This is something that the players can look back on proudly. This is something this fanbase needed to see. Now it's time to take this spirit and put it into next week's gameplan - to keep the momentum going.

Love or hate Rex Ryan, there's nothing the can be said or done that will ever convince him he can't do something. The entire Bills roster could be shrunk down with a ray gun and he'd go out to the media saying “If you can't see it you can't stop it.”

Up next is LA Rams, Spanish for “The Rams.” Let's go for three. Let's go crazy. Let's Billeve again.

Patriot Week

Patriot Week

Patriots Week. Ugh. 🙄

It’s that week where fans of the Buffalo Bills go paranoid😬. We’ve made more memes about deflated balls that any group of civilized individuals have in history. We call up the Guinness World Records guys and then fall embarrassingly short of setting a noise record😐. Our coach makes up pseudonyms and asks about the Pats, as if Fort Knox could be penetrated by slapping a fake mustache on and insisting New England ordered pizza🤔. 

But this could all change on Sunday🤗.

WICKED TAWM BRADY is not under center for the Pats this week, as he serves the final of a four-game suspension for (incident redacted). His backup Jimmy Garoppolo - the most handsome SOB in North America - injured his shoulder two weeks ago and may not be ready. Garoppolo’s backup Jacoby Brissett sprained his thumb in a win over Houston and is questionable. The Patriots might have to start Julian Edelman behind center, who last started at quarterback for the mighty Golden Flashes of Kent State back in 2008.

Guys. For real. The Bills will never face a more vulnerable Patriots team until Bill Belichick retires. Here is the way to attack. No, literally - attack. On any passing down, send six guys from any direction. Last week, Carson Palmer struggled mightily against the Bills pass rush, being sacked five times and intercepted four. Keeping the pressure up and getting to whichever guy plays quarterback is a key to confusing and exploiting their inexperience.

When the quarterback throws you the ball, catch it. On both sides. The Bills dropped three interceptions last week, and the wide receivers haven’t exactly had stickum on their gloves, either. Ending Patriots possessions early is important, because when New England gets into an offensive rhythm, they hum more efficiently than just about any other team in the league. Meanwhile, without Sammy Watkins at wideout again, Tyrod Taylor will need the rest of his receivers to hold on when he hits them. Paging Robert Woods and friends: TT can’t do it all by himself.

Run containment: LeGarrette Blount leads the league in yards through three weeks, and stopping him will be important. Notice earlier, the pressure on passing downs is important. But on first and short yardage downs, expect a big dose of the big boy Blount. Staying ahead of the sticks will be necessary. Linebacker help will be needed, so the Browns will be big for the defense to succeed.

Special teams success: Dan Carpenter missed another extra point, and we’ve yet to see Brandon Tate bust out that game breaking return. No points can be left on the field in Foxborough.

It sounds basic, and it is. New England barely ever loses at Gillette Stadium, and they never fall for gimmicks. Can the Bills pull off the upset? If we get that defensive effort again from the Arizona game, yes. And they will again. Bills 19-17.

😎


Published before Sammy Watkins went to IR -_-


Listen below as we tell you how the Bills will dismantle the Pats! #Liner

Bills roast Cardinals, avoid regional riot

Bills roast Cardinals, avoid regional riot

Kyle Williams putting the kids to bed. -Photo courtesy of FOX Sports/

Kyle Williams putting the kids to bed. -Photo courtesy of FOX Sports/

Within minutes of me pressing the send key on the email containing my thoughts about the Fitz-tragic Bills loss to the Jets in week two, they fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman – which is what you usually do when your defense plays poorly. I panned this move as the rough equivalent of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and it seemed like a desperation move by whoever made the call (don't you tell Rex he didn't get the final say) to try and salvage something out of the season following an 0-2 start with losses to the Ravens (who followed with a struggle with the Browns) and Mr. Six Picks and co.

But just when it looked like the wheels were about to fall off of the Rex Express, the Cardinals came to town, and the Bills wake up from their Greg Roman-induced coma to send them back to the west coast with their tail feathers between their legs.

It feels so refreshing waking up on a Monday and not having to deal with the harsh reality that being a Buffalo sports fan is likely taking years off of my life. The sun shines a little brighter, the birds sing a little louder, and the fact that the Patriots routed a playoff team on the road with their third quarterback in three weeks seems a little less bitter.

When Anthony Lynn took over as offensive coordinator this week, it was met by a cacophonic chorus of "who is this jabroni?” from the general public. Early returns, however, were pretty promising. The running game struggled mightily in the first two games, but made a huge impact yesterday. McCoy almost matched his rushing total from the first two games combined, and looked much more comfortable in his blocking and decision making out there. Tyrod reverted back to T-mobile in his own right and racked up some good carries himself. It looked like Lynn knew his personnel well from his work as the running backs coach and applied that knowledge to the game plan. Running with that efficiency would be a huge plus to this team moving forward.

The passing game struggled for the most part, but there were a couple of mitigating factors that cause me not to worry too much. First off, the Cardinals have the best secondary in the NFL, as was partially evidenced by that incredible Patrick Peterson interception. No other team out there tracks the ball as well as they do. Secondly, Sammy Watkins and his foot (also the name of a fanfiction saved to Rex's office computer) were absent from the field, and Walter Powell isn't going to be able to replace that level of talent by himself. That being said, the Bills are 1-0 in games following someone stepping on Sammy's foot in practice. I smell a new pre-game tradition.

The biggest shift in the team from the week before came on the defensive end, where they came out of the locker room and forced five straight three-and-outs to start the game, and ended with four picks of gunslinger Carson Palmer. As bad as the secondary was against Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick, they were that much better this week. This Cardinals receiving squad is no joke, led by a surefire Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. He was held to 60 yards and kept out of the endzone, which is a definite win for anyone lining up across from him. For the most part that was Cory White – in for the injured Darby – and he deserves all the credit he'll get in the film room for his performance.

Other than the Jerry Hughes personal foul (tm), the front seven held their own as well. They got to Palmer six times and kept David Johnson contained for the most part. Part of this success came in the 1-3-7 formation that seemed to confuse the Arizona's pass protection. I'll be interested to see how that formation works with Marcell Dareus up front, when he returns from his spiritual quest through the Amazon, or whatever he's doing with his free time since he can't keep his nose clean long enough to play football. I'm not bitter.

It always seems that the bounces in a Bills game go to the opponent, especially in key situations. Maybe the football gods deemed we'd paid our dues, because this week, everything that could have gone wrong and undone the team's success…didn't. There was the fumble on the bad snap from the injured long snapper to the injured holder that Aaron Williams took to the house. There was the Robert Woods catch that was definitely not a catch that Bruce Arians did not challenge, quickly followed by a Bills touchdown. Perhaps most glaringly, there was Tyrann Matthieu kicking a fumble, if not a touchdown, out of bounds with plenty of time in the fourth quarter. It felt vindicating to have luck on the home side for once.

The biggest concern watching that fourth quarter was the inability to put the game away. The Bills held a two score lead for the entire final frame, but they couldn't convert third downs to kill the clock, and the Cardinals kept getting the ball back with a good amount of time left. While they couldn't make up for Palmer forcing a few too many passes against a very game Buffalo secondary, there are teams out there that will make you pay for letting them hang around.

Speaking of such teams, it's New England week. There is always an uneasy feeling as a Bills fan leading up to the trip to Foxboro, given recent events. And by recent I mean the entire lifespan of someone who can legally drive.

The Patriots are one bad step in the turf from whoever starts at quarterback to putting Julian Edelman behind center this week. Part of me wants to see that, because it would be a ton of fun to watch him try and recreate his Kent State over UB magic. The other part of me realizes it is a lose-lose for the Bills. You either beat a team with their fourth string QB and impress no one, or you lose and it goes down as the most recent in an ever growing list of Bills gaffes. Deep down, I think Belichek wants to be forced to start Edelman, just for the challenge. He placed some bets in his secret millionaires’ dark cabal that he could pull it off and wants to collect.

The way the Bills played yesterday is exactly the way they're going to have to play for a full sixty minutes if they want to hand the Pats their first loss of the season. We'll just have to wait and see if they can use this week as the catalyst to something even better.

Bills hope to make something from nothing

Photo from ESPN.com

Photo from ESPN.com

In the 2016 NFL season, only one team has had ten days to rest after a loss. The Carolina Panthers, after losing on a last-second missed field goal in Denver, blitzed the San Francisco 49ers 46-27. Is it possible that the Buffalo Bills could do this?

Well…anything is possible, as the recently retired Kevin Garnett waxed in 2008 during a failed attempt at a spontaneous Adidas commercial. But that notion feels as foreign to Bills fans in 2016 as a sober tailgate. Hope is not part of the culture at One Bills Drive, and things keep getting darker. Already, the season feels lost. But the players will be out there on Sunday at New Era Field, and so will the fan base, full-throated and ready to riot at the sound of a train whistle.

So yes, person reading this…the Bills can absolutely beat the Arizona Cardinals, 2015 NFC runners-up and juggernauts on both sides of the ball. But lots of breaks need to happen, and Buffalo straight up needs a smarter game plan than the one deployed against the Jets.

1.    The defensive backfield just needs to perform. Look, if you are reading a preview capsule on the weekend before a professional football game, you aren’t remotely capable of hanging with a professional wideout (and if you can, contact us please...love to get an interview). But even the dumb and common amongst us could see Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby getting torched by the New York receivers last week. The law firm of Decker, Marshall and Enunwa combined for 18 catches and 319 yards, which is a real bummer when Chan Gailey exploits your supposed strength. Without the corners providing the ability to stop guys on an island, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown could put up similar numbers.

2.     The defensive line has to get more pressure. Lines in a 3-4 philosophy will never rack up a ton of tackles…but Jerry Hughes led the (listed) defensive line players in tackles against the Jets, and those five tackles tied for seventh. Yikes. Combine that with one sack and it’s pretty clear the Bills need to attack the Cardinals’ d-line in a more unique fashion. Sustained pressure is never Carson Palmer’s friend; his immobility is a big deal if you can get to him.

3.     David Johnson is a better Matt Forte. Johnson is the most unique weapon in the NFL right now not being crushed under the inability of Jeff Fisher to understand offense. Thankfully, Bruce Arians is, ya know...good. As a result DJ has 275 yards from scrimmage in two weeks. Could that go over 400 after this week? It certainly seems that way, unless Rex and Rob can figure out a way to attack on multiple levels without leaving big holes open. That said, stopping Johnson stops a big part of the Cards, and can kill the diversity of the attack.

4.     Just give me something unique on offense. Notice this is the first mention of the offense. Offense wasn’t the issue last week, but it could be this week without the illusion of Sammy Watkins on the field. Last week we saw the bomb to Marquise Goodwin, which was cool. We also saw EJ Manuel on a QB sneak…with the same motion…and the same play…three…separate…times. So…Greg Roman may not have been a genius, but he was at least capable of delivering a semi-cohesive offense playbook. We are officially in the unknown with Anthony Lynn, so its impossible to even predict what could happen. If the offensive line can’t open holes, LeSean McCoy is a moot point. If you don’t think about the intermediate areas, Charles Clay and Robert Woods cannot matter. But if Lynn can allow guys to play to their strengths, there are playmakers on this side of the ball, even minus Sammy.

Sunday is truly a cannonball into the unknown for Bills fans. From the beginning of the season, Arizona looked like an opposing goliath. The first two weeks have done nothing to quell this. It’s basically impossible to find a way that Buffalo gets this done. That’s right…all in on the reverse jinx. Cardinals win 24-14.

 

Reliving the horror

Reliving the horror

photo - FOX Sports

photo - FOX Sports

The excitement was tangible yesterday in Western New York for the Bills home opener, and for good reason; a primetime game against a hated rival starting a former Bills QB after a terrible week one showing with all the signs pointing to redemption.

That, combined with eternal optimism had people flocking to New Era Field to tailgate by noon, with what I can only imagine was a forest’s worth of tables to jump through. There was one such gentleman prominently featured on the midnight local news going tailbone first through a table after jumping off the roof of his vehicle. I hope, for his sake, he went to a hospital. Not because he couldn't get up, but because it would have saved him from seeing that trainwreck in person.

If there was one positive about the week one loss, it was the defense. Well, it’s week two now, and apparently three days’ rest was just enough for the secondary to completely forget the basic tenets of coverage. The first Jets offensive series was Exhibit A, as a bailout holding call and a terrible showing by Darby on Enunwa let the Jets get their first of four consecutive scoring drives out of the gates. Buffalo ran three plays in the entire first quarter.

Do you know what the worst part about those three plays was? It made Greg Roman look smart. Finally, someone yelled at him loud enough to set something off in his brain and remind him we have an actual Olympic-quality runner on the outside, who was matched up against a guy who got torched last week – maybe we should let him run! Who would have thought? This served to cover up that after last week's horrible showing, especially with the first two plays of losing yards. Why? Because they were the exact same type of behind the line of scrimmage misdirection that won't work against a disciplined defense, which the Jets have.

But; back to the Bills secondary. I know that fall weather has shown up in the 716 this week, but that doesn't mean it's Halloween yet. Stephon Gilmore’s ghost costume needs to go back in the closet, because he plays the part all too well. Rex’s defense depends on their top corners to be able to handle themselves one-on-one while he tries to think of progressively more and more confusing things to do with his front seven until the opposing QB curls up in a ball and waves his all-white color rush jersey in defeat. Last night…was the polar opposite of that. Decker, Marshall, and Enunwa got open with ease, and the defensive backs were barely getting their heads around or a hand up. The only time Gilmore made an impact was when he yanked Brandon Marshall down at a terrible angle that I still can't believe didn't cause a serious knee injury. Teddy Bridgewater’s other knee imploded just watching.

This inability to get off the field because we couldn't stop the passing attack let the Jets drop the hammer on the Bills front seven. Now I know running isn't their forte…But Matt Forte had his best game in a while, partially because he has a much better line than he had recently in Chicago, and partially because there was no one left who had the energy to get off of a block by the end. That last drive’s rushing touchdown was like watching CM Punk’s UFC debut. It was exactly what you expected, but it was still sad to see the fan favorite get beaten down to the ground like that.

The pass rush came out of the gates on fire. The Lorenzo Alexander strip sack (in which the Bills defied conventional physics by not recovering) and the early play of Jerry Hughes (who had a really nice sack called back on a hold) had me almost gave me a positive outlook for a moment. Eventually, those guys got tired from playing almost the whole first half, and after the second series, they couldn't get consistent pressure. This was compounded, of course, by a crippling lack of depth. Thanks for coming back, Brandon Spikes! Hope the press box wasn't too chilly.

This was again (oddly) compounded by Jerry Hughes, who bit his tongue so violently that he had to sit out while the camera showed him spitting blood into a cup for an uncomfortably long time. At least it wasn't noticeable on his jersey. He was much less effective after that. Who knew his tongue was like Samson’s hair?

Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick could have graduated from ITT Tech and still carved the defense up. It's easy when you have a scheme that utilizes your playmakers and spreads the ball out to all of them. Crazy concept, right?

What made matters worse worse was the fact that Fitzpatrick is…well…Fitzpatrick. Bills fans remember 2011, when he was the starter here and earned that big money contract, only to be run out of town shortly thereafter. Now it’s 2016, and with Tyrod’s contract, the situation feels a little too familiar. Meanwhile Fitzy is at the helm of a playoff caliber team, and it becomes harder and harder to feel right about letting him walk. Before last night, we had the fallback crutch of his failures against Rex, which just goes to show – you can fool him once, you can fool him twice, you can fool him a third time, and a fourth, and a fifth…but no one – and I mean no one! gets the best of Ryan Fitzpatrick six times in a row.

The offense doesn't look terrible on paper because of the two long touchdowns, but outside of those and one refreshingly inspired Mike Gilleslee catch and run at the end, it wasn't a whole lot better than week one. We're still trying to power run with a back who bounces everything outside, where he is promptly dropped for a loss or short gain time after time. He carries to the outside so often that on one run, he spun to the inside and the defender fell over. That was his longest carry of the game.

The Dolphins have to be laughing at us and sending thank you gifts to Whaley for overpaying for Charles Clay. $12 million? While utilizing him on a bunch of poorly blocked screens doesn't help, he just doesn't seem like he cares. There was a route in the fourth – an out he ran to the sideline that he just stopped running. Tyrod hit him in the side. Clay did not make a play for it. Your 2016 Bills, everyone.

Robert Woods, who is the heir apparent to the number one reciever role when Sammy can't go, had one catch yesterday. I don't remember seeing him at all outside of it, either. That catch was on the final play. Skrine was off him by twenty yards, and he lateraled it to Goodwin. Goodwin, outside of the touchdown, had one catch, and fell down cutting a dozen times, and limped off on the last play. Save us Greg Salas.

It's hard to hate on Sammy Watkins going out there and playing a whole game with that injury…wait, really? Oh that's right; I didn't even notice he missed the last two series until well after the fact because he wasn't being looked at while he was out there anyways.

It is a small miracle he is burning all these corners while grimacing and limping the whole way. All of that so that we can check it down to Clay for two yards. You don't give up two first rounders for a receiver. Ever. If you decide to throw caution to the wind and do it anyway, you damn sure better target him more than five times. He was left holding his head in disgust after Tyrod underthrew him on the pick. One has to wonder if he suffers through for one more drive if he has reason to believe he gets a chance to make a play.

All of this was made even worse by the fact it was in primetime. Nothing makes a game more satisfying than seeing all the national reporters who only check in on Buffalo when we powerbomb each other into fire realizing that the team itself is also a fire, of the dumpster variety.

Primetime also meant the league tapped Ed Hochuli to ref the game, since they have to pretend to care about the calls on the nationally televised games. Hochuli is essentially a pro wrestler who got lost on the way to a show and ended up at a stadium by mistake. The intern in charge of the ref uniforms was too intimidated to tell him he couldn't try it out, and the rest is history. He's here to chew bubblegum and overexplain every call, and given his anatomy lesson, I think he's out of the former

For those of you who want a stadium in downtown Buffalo, you were either not stuck in traffic trying to go somewhere yesterday. Or you're a masochist. Or both…I don't judge. If Buffalo were to put a stadium downtown, I'm fairly confident you'd have to leave Saturday to get there on time. My commute home was about five times longer than usual because every available thoroughfare had bumper-to-bumper traffic – and I left early. I don't even live in Orchard Park. A downtown stadium would close down the city for the whole day.

Phil Simms is far worse than anything else to ever happen in a commentary booth. I'm convinced at this point that Simms is a robot being fed a script by a group of monkeys with a typewriter after they finished producing All’s Well That Ends Well. His sentences start and end with no clear direction. I am dumber for listening to him.

Ten days rest is great because that's a nice break from this team. It probably won't help them beat Arizona, but it will help us all.

Can the Bills Land the Jets?

Can the Bills Land the Jets?

So what do you do when all hope is lost, when the best players are missing and the fan base is ready to riot?

You go plan to win the next one.

Just an old friend saying hello to FIzty and his beard - photo credit to UPI.com

Just an old friend saying hello to FIzty and his beard - photo credit to UPI.com

And with that, we put the Ravens game in the rearview mirror. The Buffalo Bills, despite reports to the contrary, are 0-1, not 0-16. Rex Ryan, Rob Ryan and Greg Roman are still the brain trust, despite calls for their heads. And instead of wallowing in self-pity, the winner of Thursday night’s divisional showdown with the New York Jets will be alone in second place, with a 1-0 AFC East record.

So how does this happen? With creativity, intelligence, and eliminating mental errors. Let’s break it down.

Greg Roman Calls A Deep Pass Just Once: The passing game was an abject failure against Baltimore. Tyrod Taylor was 15-22, which is decent, but for only 111 yards, which is bad. Sammy Watkins had just six of those attempts, with four catches for 43 yards and a long of 19. With his status thrown into flux Monday morning (as of press time, he hasn’t been ruled out, but everything from he could play Thursday to he may be out of the season has been put out by smart Twitter accounts), other guys will have to step up. How nice would it be to see Tyrod heave a bomb to Marquise Goodwin or Charles Clay to start the game, even if it’s picked off? Just tease us, Greg. The conservative play calling backfired in a big way, and even potentially took points off the board (Watch the second down play again on 2nd and 8 before Dan Carpenter missed a field goal. I dare you.). Balance is overrated. It doesn’t matter if you call 12 passing plays or 52 passing plays. But the variance within those calls is important, and if you cannot get a defense to even respect the deep passing game, they will cheat up and apply pressure packages that the offensive line cannot handle.

Worst jerseys of EVER - photo credit, LA Times

Worst jerseys of EVER - photo credit, LA Times

Pay Closer Attention To That Slot Receiver: No team last season lined up with three receivers more often than the Jets. You better believe they were thrilled to see a safety (Duke Williams) lined up on Mike Wallace in the slot Sunday afternoon. On the game’s only touchdown, the Bills got caught looking into the backfield on a 3rd and 1, and Joe Flacco took advantage as Wallace ran through the middle of the field for a 66 yard score after coming to the line with trips on the right. Even worse, the Bills played zone in the middle tier and got beat over the top. GEE, THAT WOULD BE NEAT TO SEE BUFFALO DO. Regardless, the Bills need to know the personnel against them at all times and not cost themselves when put into obvious disadvantages.

Pressure Fitz To Make Him Make Decisions: Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. Also, Fitzpatrick is a guy who has yet to see a hole he can’t fit a football into. This gunslinger mentality is a double-edged sword, and the more times he is forced to make a quick decision, the more opportunities there are to create turnovers and bad decisions. The Brothers Ryan should be looking to make Fitz uncomfortable, flushing him out of the pocket and thinking he can throw across his body 30 yards down field. We’ve seen it before, and if the defense can force at least two turnovers, the Bills will be in good shape.

Drink Lots Before The Game: The Bills last hosted a prime time game at New Era Field in 2012. Every team has hosted at least one since then (seriously, look it up). So go nuts and enjoy the moment. Win or lose, Buffalo sports fans are some of the best in the country. Don’t let anyone tell us differently. Make it loud, make it obnoxious and don’t get arrested.

PREDICTION: No one can cliché…like the Buffalo Bills cliché. 19-17 home team. Go Bills. See you Thursday.


Check out our latest show where we chuckle at the offense from week one and look ahead beating Fitz and the Tantrums.

InstRANT Reaction To Bills vs Ravens

InstRANT Reaction To Bills vs Ravens

Well, football season is officially back in Western New York. In most NFL markets this is the time of year greeted with hope and excitement, but this is Buffalo. All of that was dashed quicker than Ryan Lochte's sponsorships after Rio.

I mean seriously, what in the love of fuck was that?

The Baltimore Ravens, best known for carrying Trent Dilfer "Weekend At Bernie's" style to a championship (and a job at ESPN where he gets to give his opinion on race relations to millions of Americans) controlled the game from the opening snap to the all too late conclusion. Not because they played well – not by a long shot – but because the Buffalo Bills proved yet again that supporting them is akin to being shot in the chest…except it lasts for three hours and the 911 dispatcher won't send help.

First off, the playcalling was the worst performance by a Roman since the Battle of Adrianople. If he booted up Madden ‘17 and just ran the suggested plays, it would have been more effective than what actually went on. I'm convinced he stole Tyrod's wristband before the game and replaced it with a post-it that said "throw 2 shady," because if I had taken a shot for every attempted pass to McCoy in the flat, at least I could have forgotten how it never worked.

We traded up in the draft to get Sammy Watkins and we won't use him for anything. You may as well give me a #14 jersey and put me out there, because I'm very good at standing and watching other people play football, which appears to be his major role in the offense this year. At least give Sammy a beer and some wings so he can enjoy his time out there. He'll have plenty of time to relish the delectable snack between not needing his hands to catch the ball and watching Tyrod run for his life from pass rush after pass rush – let through by our offensive line like a fat revolving door.

Alright, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself on that one. Maybe next week they'll try to get the ball to him downfield after AJ Green singlehandedly beat the Jets.

....Wait what? Seriously? Again? You've got to be shitting me.

Of course he's hurt again. The only three certainties in life are death, taxes, and Sammy Watkins hurting himself while walking on a flat surface while being breathed on by a defender. Remember last year when he hurt himself catching a ball in the end zone with no one around? My niece builds more stable structures out of lego than Sammy Watkins' legs, which I'm convinced at this point are actually foam stuffed into pads.

Tyrod had the least yards per snap this week in the NFL. His competition included, but was not limited to:

- Dak Prescott, Trevor Seimien, and Carson Wentz in their debuts
- RG3
- Ryan Tannehill - who I've been informed by the CBS broadcasts about 15 times
  a week - played receiver in college
-Shaun fucking Hill. Shaun Hill would have chosen Sam Bradford over himself as the starter. The Vikings, for the record, didn't find the endzone and still outperformed us.

The Bills made a big deal in the offseason about resigning Tyrod, and then treated him like they couldn't trust him as far as they could throw Rob Ryan (which I would imagine isn't very far, given the impressive mass of that man).  Nothing was thrown downfield; probably because Rex was afraid of Eric Weddle's beard. We constantly called repetitive plays while Tyrod was being chased by Terrell Suggs, who they had to bus in from getting his weekly deer antler spray injections at his assisted living facility because the offensive line forgot this wasn't a flag football game. May God have mercy on Tyrod when we play an actual defense. Prepare your eulogies.

The game deciding play was a 67 yard touchdown catch by Mike Wallace. It was his longest catch since 2012, which was also the last time anyone looked at him as an offensive weapon. Sure enough, he burned Duke Williams like he was a bar in the battle of Black Rock . Now, Mike Wallace isn't fast enough to beat anyone with two working legs down a football field these days, so Duke compounded his embarrassment by catching up to Wallace…only to get shoved aside like a fly trying to get in Steve Smith's personal space. He has now gone on Twitter telling haters he's back, but I'll reserve judgment until he outruns someone who will still be in the NFL in two years.

Fun fact: did you know Mike Wallace's first name is actually Burnell?

So now Baltimore fans get to enjoy their week one, call it a gritty win and praise Flacco as a game manager. Flacco - the only remaining proof of the government's failed human/giraffe crossbreeding program - did nothing to deserve this win other than show up to play the Bills. He will get showered with praise from fans that will yet again call him "elite" because they have an inferiority complex. He'll bask in this glory by diving Scrooge McDuck style into a room filled with gummi bears.

On the bright side, we only have to wait until Thursday to go through all of this again – because the Bills always do great in primetime. I hope they wear those red and green color rush unis again for the sake of colorblind Bills fans, so they can get confused and cheer for a team that might make the playoffs for a few seconds until they remember we don't have Fitzpatrick anymore.

(title photo credited to Fox Sports/Getty Images)


716 Sports Podcast is brought to Lockhouse Distillery and Bar located in the Cobblestone District in downtown Buffalo. Tune in tonight as we wrap-up this game the only way we know how.

 

How To Save The Pro Bowl: A Progressive List

How To Save The Pro Bowl: A Progressive List

This past Tuesday it was announced that Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor was added to the Pro Bowl roster. I, being a relatively social person, brought this up the following day at work , to a stunning array of "mehs" and "you watch that nonsense?" that I've come to expect from anyone when they think of the NFL's annual exhibition of their sup[posed top talent. Of course, the fact that Taylor's nomination came on the heels of ESPN's report that this year's Pro Bowl is now officially the most declined invitation probably didn't help the interest level. Quarterbacks alone were so disinterested that Jameis Winston, the eighth alternate to the six selected QBs, will be suiting up Sunday. Not that he doesn't deserve it or anything, but they were roughly two phone calls away from selecting a random fan.

With Pro Bowl ratings down 16% last year, and not trending upwards, it begs the question; What could the NFL do to get an excited Pro Bowl audience? I looked at the All-Star game formats of other sports for inspiration, and then I drank a beer or several for a few more

  • NFL vs College All-Stars - The MLS all-star format may be the most outside of the box one in sports these days. Rather than divide up their players into two squads, they make only one team, and then play a top team from somewhere else in the world (the EPL's Tottenham Hotspur this year). Now, since there isn't another good football team anywhere in the world, they would have to face someone closer to home. For reference, the American World Cup of football team won the championship game 59-12 with no professionals on the team. Get it together, rest of the world.

This could work because it gives both teams something to play for. The collegiate players would be looking to impress potential suitors, and the NFL team would be dead set on not losing to a bunch of college kids. Now the NFL team would be much more talented, but they'd also be much more worn down after their season. Even a one-sided version could be fun.

  • The Refs Play, and the Players Ref - The players have to deal with a progressively more and more criticized set of calls for sixteen games or more, and there's nothing they can do about it unless they coach Texas high school football on the side. In this format, we split the refs into two teams, and give the most penalized players from both conferences the whistles and striped shirts. Nothing says must see TV like Jerry Hughes telling Clete Blakeman that he was celebrating excessively. Also, there's a pretty good chance that Ed Hochuli would have a couple Marshawn Lynch-esque runs, which alone would make this worth our time.
  • Hold It in the Middle of the Season - A few different leagues do this nowadays, and it may actually play into a different concern we've started to hear with regards to player health these days; namely, a second by week. Push week 9 back another week, and give the best of the best a free week in Hawaii to pretend to play defense.

Now this would probably lead to even more declined invites as people clamor to keep themselves in shape or the stretch run, but they could always make it for Super Bowl home field in the same vain that the MLB does these days. Now that means a bit less at a single neutral site game as opposed to a best-of-seven series, but still.

  • Let Kobe Bryant Play - The NBA All-Star rosters were released not too long ago, and Kobe was in a familiar spot at 2 guard in the West. I know it's the Grand Mamba Retirement Tour 2k16, but let's make something clear here; Kobe is playing at an unwatchable level this year. He has the third worst shooting percentage on his own team, the currently 9-38 Lakers. He's behind Marcelo Huertas. Go ahead and Google him, I'll wait.

But hey, the fans clearly want to see the man play, no matter how he's doing, so this could only help Pro Bowl ratings. And if you're thinking that he doesn't play football, you may have me there, but he also isn't really playing anything resembling basketball at this point, and look where that's got him. He may be less qualified to play in his league's All-Star game than John Scott. At least Scott fulfills his role on the team.

  • Play Flag Football - There are a separate set of rules that are applied to defense in the Pro Bowl. I could spell them out here, but I'll save you the time and just say that you can't play defense. No blitzes, and no coverage outside of a basic cover 2 or man is allowed. Now I know the NFL is in the business of protecting their stars in an exhibition game, but since we're one step away from playing touch football at this point, you may as well go all the way.

Can you imagine how aggressively JJ Watt grabs a flag? I can only imagine that it looks like a starved lion seeing an injured gazelle within swiping distance, flared nostrils and all.

  • Adopt a 7 on 7 format - The NHL has embraced their All-Star game's own lack of defense by opening up the ice for more scoring. If you don't want anyone to get hit (except Brian Moorman that one time), then removing more defensive players may be one way to do that. Just imagine what Odell Beckham can do with no one to even try having to run past.
  • Play Arena Football - You guys remember the excitement that surrounded going down to Marine Midland Arena to watch the Buffalo Destroyers? Turns out that league still exists, full of passes off nets, running head starts at the line of scrimmage, and teams owned by Gene Simmons.

With all the torn ACL's we've seen this season, maybe a healthy alternative is a game involving less running, and what says "less running" more than literally cutting the size of the field in half. Seeing players who could easily throw the length of the field would make for the quick score, anything can happen mentality that makes sports fun, unless you hate fun.

  • Players Swap Sides of the Ball - We all know how great of a running back Adrian Peterson is, but can he play bump and run coverage? These players go out all season and are typecast into these set roles, so this format would allow the stars to explore another career path they could have chosen. Minus the terrible passing, route running, and tackling, it'd be hard to take your eyes off the set. Just think about all the crazy hijinks we'd see!
  1. Peyton Manning at Linebacker? Hilarious!
  2. Khalil Mack at Tight End? Probably still a machine!
  3. JJ Watt at Punter? There's literally no rules!
  • Skills Competition - I recently had the chance to cover the National Womens Hockey League's inaugural All-Star game, which was kicked off by a skills competition. Sitting there watching the players having that level of fun trying to out-maneuver each other in the shootout made me wonder why every league doesn't do something like that. Now the NHL and NBA are in on it, and the MLB has the home run derby, but the NFL has nothing of the sort. Now it may be because the NFL believes that having fun is a disease akin to polio, but there's so much money being left on the table here! Here's my list of what I'd propose for a NFL skills competition.
  • Quarterback dodgeball
  • Defensive linemen compete in the hundred yard dash
  • Kickers and punters play soccer
  • Wide receivers try and catch items that the audience found in their trunk
ScreenShot2013-06-06at3.25.37PM_crop_north.jpg

The list is a work in progress, but you get my point. After this I wouldn't even care if they played football, because I would have seen Eli and Peyton get into a fight over whether or not the ball bounced before nicking Tyrod's leg.

Of course, with the game being this Sunday, I don't expect the league to get this list and make the necessary changes in time. But there's always next year, and I work for cheap. Call me, Roger Goodell.

An Open Letter to Mark Poloncarz

An Open Letter to Mark Poloncarz

Dear Mark Poloncarz:

Hi.

As Erie County Executive, you are a busy man, and you have been quite successful. Since election in 2011, Erie County has continued to experience the upward trajectory that has been the greatest story of our region in this decade. You have contributed to this, and that’s why you were re-elected this past fall. 

Just as wonderful to our region as the growth of Buffalo has been the newfound stability of the Buffalo Bills. For many years under the ownership of the late Ralph Wilson, the constant pall of the team leaving was a dark cloud hanging over the organization. In 2014, that cloud was lifted thanks to Terry and Kim Pegula, and we can all breathe easy knowing Bon Jovi songs can grace the jukeboxes of blue collar bars around the region again.

Monday, these two superpowers converged in an article mentioned by you on your twitter feed (@markpoloncarz). In the piece, published on WIVB.com (http://wivb.com/2016/01/04/county-officials-react-to-bills-fan-behavior/), you are quoted as saying “We want our community to cheer for the Bills, which means it would be nice if you could take a ten year old to a football game, but I’m not so certain I’d want to take a ten year old when you’ve got all this stuff going on outside the stadium.”

Mr. Poloncarz, let’s point out a few things. One, not one of these videos in question show a child being put in harm’s way. These appear to be individuals ranging from their early 20’s to late 30’s inflicting harm upon themselves or friends. Two, not at any point does it appear anyone is angry about what is happening. Mostly, people are saying “no way…” or something along those lines. Three, the property being damaged is folding tables or a small dent in an RV. Four…

Actually, I’m done going on about this. The point is that over the course of the past couple of decades, professional sports teams, in an ever-increasing effort to #enhancing the #brand by #interacting on #social #media, have pushed families to come to games. That’s fine, and as a father of two young children, I have thoroughly enjoyed the children’s day game during the preseason the last two years. 

But I’ve also grown to realize that when I attend my two games a year in the regular season, my wife and kids stay at home. And that’s ok, too, because being an adult and doing adult things like drinking, swearing, eating and cheering does not always need to involve every age. If I saw a couple screwing in the parking lot, I would walk the other way. If I didn’t want my son to hear profanity at age four, I wouldn’t bring them to the game.  

Let’s stop acting like every individual is forced to tailgate at 8:30 a.m. and there’s a five-drink minimum before attending, or that they must be powerbombed through an ignited table. Everyone enjoys it the way they do, and that’s cool. You can be sober and have fun; you can drink and have fun. This is not Dodger Stadium, where opposing fans have been stabbed outside, nor is it European soccer stadiums across that continent, where attacks against visiting fans are still prevalent.

Bills fans party hard. The Deadspin videos have given the country a glimpse into the best fan experience in the NFL. Sure, they are laughing. But there is undoubtedly a little jealousy in those comments as well. Buffaloians party hard and have a great time. It’s an unconditional love, and it’s perfectly acceptable. 

So keep on keeping on, Mark. You are doing a great job. Thank you for that. But don’t be a moralist. I’m sorry you don’t feel you can take your ten-year old to a Bills game. If you explained to him that adults do dumb things sometimes, I bet he could handle it. 

And the part where you imply we should use county resources to enforce vague, non-existent laws? Come on, Mark. Be better. Come down to the tailgate next season, and let’s have a beer.


LISTEN TO BILL SAY THANKS FOR READING BELOW!

716 Sports Podcast is brought to you by Lockhouse Distillery and Bar located in the Cobblestone district.

A Bills Fan's Viewing Guide to College Football's New Year's Six

A Bills Fan's Viewing Guide to College Football's New Year's Six

Hello, Buffalo Bills fan. The game Sunday versus the New York Jets has become a meaningful finish to the season, and by all means, please focus on that. However, on Thursday and Friday, college football reigns supreme with the six massively important games, collectively known as the New Year’s Six. This series of games is in its second year and has a committee creating a four-team playoff plus appealing matchups for the other four games in the cabal not hosting semifinals.

Confession: the author is a massive college football fan, but also understands that not everyone is. So instead of a traditional preview, each team has Bills-specific storylines to check out. In fact, only three of the teams do not have a player that could be landed by Buffalo in the first round. Consider this a guide to start familiarizing yourself with potential draftees of the hometown club, and a reason to watch the two best days of the season for the sport. Cue the dramatic voice over guy…

 

CHICK-FIL-A PEACH BOWL
18. Houston Cougars (12-1, AAC Champions) vs. 9. Florida State Seminoles (2nd, ACC Atlantic)

12 p.m., December 31st, ESPN

Line: Florida State -7

Cougars Recap: New coach, new outlook. It’s rare that a mid-major like Houston fires a coach after a 7-5 season (with a bowl win), but out went Tony Levine and in came Tom Herman. Coming off a national championship with Ohio State as the offensive coordinator, Herman’s spread option attack ran roughshod over the American Athletic Conference, finishing with a 12-1 record and an AAC championship. They are the highest ranked team from a non-Power 5 conference and will be America’s darling in this matchup, because no one likes Florida State.

Seminoles Recap: When does a 10-2 season barely register on the national register? When the team in question went a combined 27-1 the previous two seasons and had a lightning rod at quarterback. Florida State lost to ACC foes Georgia Tech and Clemson in the span of three weeks back in October and November and was relegated to the back table. That said…it’s Florida State. The talent is noticeable, and this could be a launching pad to next year, when the team could be back in the playoff.

Cougar Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Adrian McDonald, S.  Houston is fun and fast and has zero chance of anyone drafted on the first three days. So McDonald, a ball-hawking strong safety with 13 INTs, could be the priority free agent that could provide depth in the defensive backfield. Otherwise, there is little to be culled from this team, which is fine, because the Cougs are still fun.

Seminole Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Terrance Smith, LB. Linebackers are in desperate need of upgrading for the Bills, and Smith could be the guy. His 2015 hasn’t been as spectacular, but 52 tackles and an INT isn’t anything to sneeze at. His role on the team could be that of a quality backup who eventually can be groomed into a starter, a nice value in the middle rounds. BUT WAIT HERE’S A BONUS! As nice of a player as Smith is, the guy that would be most welcome for Buffalo would actually be Roberto Aguayo, who is a kicker. The redshirt junior has yet to declare, but if he decides to go pro, Aguayo could be a pick in rounds 3-5. Yes, it’s a mammoth price for the position, but have you seen Dan Carpenter? Aguayo has never missed an extra point, which is incredible for a college kicker even with the short distance, and is also perfect inside 40 yards. So yeah Smith, but wouldn’t it be nice to not worry about kicking for once?

Prediction: Florida State will eventually wear out the less talented Cougars, and the Cinderella story will end by the third quarter. 34-21 Seminoles.

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF AT THE CAPITAL ONE ORANGE BOWL
4. Oklahoma Sooners (11-1, Big XII Champions) vs. 1. Clemson Tigers (13-0, ACC Champions)

4 p.m., December 31st, ESPN

Line: Oklahoma -3.5

Sooners Recap:  Oklahoma was just rolling along when archrival Texas upset the Sooners 24-17 on October 10th. Sitting at 4-1 with a terrible loss in conference, it sure looked like there was no chance we’d be hearing Boomer Sooner 782 times in the playoff. Then the Sooners started killing fools, and got to play backup quarterbacks in wins over Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State. That luck, combined with a Stanford upset loss at home to Oregon, meant the Pac-12 was going to produce a two-loss champion. And as a unanimous champion of the Big XII, we would like to welcome the hottest team in the country to the playoff, 11-1 Oklahoma.

Tigers Recap:  Have you heard of this concept called Clemsoning? It’s a phrase used in college football when a team has lofty expectations and takes a dumb loss somewhere in a semi-big game. Sadly, the name is now outdated. Clemson is the only team to enter bowl season undefeated, having won the ACC while beating top 10 teams Notre Dame, Florida State and North Carolina along the way. They also forced Miami to fire their coach after a 58-0 demolition that was a horrific, real-time car crash. Clemson runs fast on offense, dominates on defense and has earned the right to be called the number one team in the country.

Sooner Who Could Be A Bill in 2016: Sterling Shepard, WR. Sammy Watkins does everything. Robert Woods is fantastic in possession receiving. Charles Clay gives you the big target then can go up the middle. So why not bring in an undersized but straight line speedster to plug into the slot? Taylor throws a good deep ball, and Shepard is also able to return kicks as a bonus. Could be the perfect luxury pick in the second round, with the biggest knock against him being the super ambiguous “size.”

Tiger Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Shaq Lawson, DE. Depth was destroyed on the defensive line this year, and with the probability of Mario Williams not coming back, the Bills will need someone to get after the QB. Lawson can, with 53 tackles and 9.5 sacks, and the skill set that allows for him to play in both run and pass situations. Plus, we need to make Sammy feel more comfortable, and slapping another big paw print on the roster would qualify.

Prediction: Clemson has thrived on being doubted all year, and now the number 1 ranked Tigers are more than field goal underdogs? Dabo Swinney has knocked off Ohio State, LSU and…wait a second, look at this…Oklahoma in consecutive bowl seasons! Here’s the fourth straight. DeShaun Watson shreds the Sooner defense, and shut down Baker Mayfield long enough to coast make the National Championship Game. 35-27 Tigers.

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF AT THE GOODYEAR COTTON BOWL CLASSIC

3. Michigan State Spartans (12-1, Big Ten Champions) vs. 2. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1, SEC Champions)

8 p.m., December 31st, ESPN

Line: Alabama -9.5

Spartans Recap: It’s never really pretty, but it isn’t supposed to be with Michigan State and head coach Mark Dantonio. Sparty beat four Top 15 teams (vs. Oregon, @ Michigan, @ Ohio State, vs. Iowa) by a combined 13 points, which no one else can come close to matching. Especially impressive, the Michigan and Ohio State wins came on the final play of each game, in which the Spartans never led until the end. So why are they only 3rd? A perplexing loss to a mediocre Nebraska team, plus struggles against Purdue, Rutgers and Indiana offer plenty for doubters to glom onto. But this is a team with three NFL first round prospects and the winningest senior class in school history, with two Big Ten titles and wins in the Rose and Cotton Bowls the last two years. Unsexy with spectacular results sums it up nicely, so doubt Michigan State at your own peril.

Crimson Tide Recap: When Ole Miss swept into Tuscaloosa in September and swept away the Tide, several media outlets immediately went to their columnists and demanded “Death to the Alabama Dynasty!” articles. Three and a half months later, Nick Saban’s college football Patriots won their 4th SEC title in seven years and will have an opportunity for a 4th National Championship in the same time. Oh well, try again next year, it appears. This time last year, Alabama was upset by plucky Big Ten champions Ohio State. It’s déjà vu all over again, with Michigan State in the competitor’s role this time around. The goal for the Crimson Tide this time should be handing the ball to Heisman winner Derrick Henry as many times as humanly possible. The 6’3”, 245-pound wrecking ball is the best opportunity for a victory, and hopefully Lane Kiffin remembers this this time around.

Spartan Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Jack Conklin, OT. Here is a massive (6’6”, 325 lbs.), steady tackle who doesn't make mistakes, protects Connor Cook's blindside, but seems to be versatile enough to play either side, depending on what happens with Cordy Glenn. What else is there to say? The multi-time All-American would be a great selection in the mid-teens.
Crimson Tide (?) Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Reggie Ragland, LB. Right here, we have the best combination of fit for Buffalo and realistic availability. A mid-1st projected monster, this would be the best LB since the days of Poz. 90 tackles and 2.5 sacks, plus if Nick Saban says this guy is a defensive leader, well…that should be enough of a recommendation for anyone looks to shore up the linebacking corp.

Prediction: It is baffling how Michigan State can be this big of an underdog. A low-scoring showdown appears imminent that reasonable minds can predict will be close in the 4th quarter. It feels like Alabama will eventually prevail, but Sparty should be able to cover. 23-17 Crimson Tide.

 

BATTLEFROG FIESTA BOWL

8. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2 Independent) vs. 7. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1, 2nd Big Ten East)

1 p.m., January 1st, ESPN

Line: Ohio State -6.5

Fighting Irish Recap: Oh, what could have been…Notre Dame went 10-2, with the only losses being two-point, last-minute road defeats at Clemson and Stanford. They survived a season-ending injury to quarterback Malik Zaire and many other starters, and yet…it feels like a boring year overall for the Fighting Irish. The big games against name brands (Texas, Georgia Tech, USC) were duds, the best wins were over two AAC teams (Navy, @ Temple), and the NFL could finally come calling for head man Brian Kelly at the end of the season. A win here would go a long way towards making those empty feelings full. 

Buckeyes Recap: Oh, what could have been as well…the defending National Champions, with three potential Heisman candidates and a fourth that won back-to-back Big Ten player of the year awards? Surely this season was just a dress rehearsal for the title defense in the playoffs. But Ohio State still had to play the season. And…well, yeah…ugly victories over Northern Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota were forewarns to the 17-14 home loss to Michigan State. The unanimous preseason number one team and the Buckeyes did not even win the Big Ten East division. A win here would go a long way towards making those empty feelings full here too.

Fighting Irish (?) Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Nick Martin, C. Another prospect that can be had in the second round, this allows Eric Wood to either stay or shift over to guard, as Martin can play either position. Either way, it feels like another upgrade, and allows John Miller to become a swing man on the line or immediately plug in if Incognito isn't re-signed. The more talent you add to the line, the better things will be for Shady, Tyrod & Co.
Buckeye Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Taylor Decker, OT. You want a run-based offense? Here's a masher who was the best blocker for Zeke Elliott this season. While Decker will need a bit of refinement in the passing game, he projects to be a starter from day one, and can absolutely could play on either side of the line.

Prediction: Motivation shouldn’t actually be a problem here, as both teams look to push forward towards a positive move for 2016. The pick here is Ohio State, who did end the year crushing rival Michigan and will be as strong as the Clemson and Stanford teams that Notre Dame lost to. 27-20 Buckeyes.

 

ROSE BOWL PRESENTED BY NORTHWESTERN MUTUAL

6. Stanford Cardinal (11-2, Pac-12 Champions) vs. 5. Iowa Hawkeyes (12-1, 1st Big Ten West)

5 p.m., January 1st, ESPN

Line: Stanford -6.5

Cardinal Recap: College football fans got to learn about body clocks and the human condition in 2015 thanks to the Stanford Cardinal. A 16-6 loss with an 11 a.m. Central kickoff to Northwestern was often cited as a reason for why Stanford was constantly cited as a team still in playoff contention despite the early loss to the Wildcats. You see, the Stanford team felt like it was 9 a.m. and therefore received a built-in excuse for the loss. However, another defeat to Oregon in the constant ping ponging of the Pac-12 North division championship ended up costing the Card a shot. So although we focus here on the negative, the truth is that Stanford won 9 games by double digits and do-everything player Christian McCaffrey probably should have won the Heisman. A nice bounce-back season for David Shaw and friends, to be certain, and a third Rose Bowl in 4 years is a wonderful “consolation” prize.

Hawkeyes Recap: At no point in September or October did anyone really think Iowa would go 12-0 in the regular season. But Kirk Ferentz finally justified his massive paycheck with the best season in over a decade for the Hawkeyes. Wins over Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Northwestern showed the team was legit, and by the time the Big Ten title game rolled around, this really was the number 4 team in the country. Yes, the 16-13 loss to Michigan State stings. But of all the teams in the New Year’s Six, this is the most surprising.

Cardinal Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Kyle Murphy, OT. Already a RT, there would be almost no adjustment. Given the talented backfield, here is a guy who can handle both the run and pass, although better suited at this point for the latter. If you are sensing the theme that the offensive line needs upgrading, then circle does indeed get the square.
Hawkeye Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Desmond King, CB. Talent oftentimes will trump limitations. Here is an extreme case. The 2015 Jim Thorpe winner for best defensive back, the biggest thing against King is he’s 5’11”. That said, not only would he be a monster nickel corner, he can contribute immediately on special teams as well. With 67 tackles, 8 INTs, 12 passes defended, this would be a legit value if the Bills could get him in the second round. Remember, you cannot have enough corners in today’s NFL. And we can all stop yelling about Leodis McKelvin.

Prediction: It feels like a blowout should be happening here. In terms of advanced metrics and eye tests and logic and all that jazz, Stanford is much better than Iowa, plain and simple. But weird things happen in bowl games. Sometimes underdogs get feisty and play with a chip on the shoulder. But before we go full Phil Simms here…Stanford’s gonna kill Iowa. 41-24 Cardinal.

 

ALLSTATE SUGAR BOWL

16. Oklahoma State Cowboys (10-2, T2nd Big XII) vs. 12. Ole Miss Rebels (9-3, 2nd SEC West)

8:30 p.m., January 1st, ESPN

Line: Ole Miss -7

Cowboys Recap: Oklahoma State started the season 8-0 and no one cared. When your best win is either an overtime win at West Virginia or a 70-53 what the hell is this win over Texas Tech, well…you bring that on yourself. But then TCU came to town and the Pokes crushed them by 20. Followed up by a road win at Iowa State, the Cowboys were 10-0 and numero four-o (not great at Spanish). Reality then finally struck, as home losses to Baylor and archrival Oklahoma ended the season on a two game slide. Still, given coach Mike Gundy (now 47) was about to be fired at the end of last year, a trip to New Orleans in a major win for a program that is slowly but surely becoming a regular contender in the Big XII.

Rebels Recap: Ole Miss, you are so confusing. The Rebels beat Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State. They also gave up 38 points to offensively challenged Florida, lost to (very good) mid-major Memphis, and gave up one of the three dumbest plays of the year in a home loss to Arkansas. Since this is Buffalo, here is where we give thanks to head coach Hugh Freeze for finally focusing Chad Kelly long enough to play a whole season. Chad is Jim Kelly’s nephew, and you know Jim Kelly as the spokesman for ECMC.

Cowboy Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Emmanuel Ogbah, DE. You want the sacks back? Ogbah is a monster, recording a combined 24 over the past two seasons. Even better, he can play on either side, is willing to drop back into pass coverage. He has speed and strength, so the ability to attack defenders at their weakness should not be questioned either. He will probably be gone when the Bills pick, but John Legend should sprint to the stand to take Ogbah if available.
Rebel Who Could Be a Bill in 2016: Robert Nkemdiche, DT. Two months ago, this was a top five pick. So why could he fall? Well he literally fell 15 feet out a hotel window and happened to have marijuana in the room him at the time. So yes, we are cheating since he is not playing in the Sugar Bowl due to suspension. But surely there will be a time when the highlight reel will roll, and when motivated, this is the single most dominant interior tackle in college football.

Prediction: Sure would be nice if we get advanced warning of which Ole Miss is going to show up here. Let’s just assume the good Rebels show up. This is very bad news for Okie State. 48-24 Rebels.

A 6th Grader Writes a Horrible Poem About Bills vs Texans

A 6th Grader Writes a Horrible Poem About Bills vs Texans

Buffalo and Houston are about to play football
You call them the Bills and Texans, I like going to the mall
The Bills are coached by Rex and the Texans are coached by Bill
It sounds like many of you have had your fill

I really like Tyrod, he throws the ball good
Let’s hope the officials do not have to always go under the replay hood
I forgot to look up the other quarterback’s name
The weather will be 50 degrees and hopefully it will not rain

The game is in Orchard Park which isn’t quite in Buffalo
But CBS will make sure there are mandatory chicken wings and Niagara Falls shots though
Stephon Gilmore is really fast and Jadeveon Clowney is too
I just saw the new polar bears over at the Buffalo Zoo

The Bills lost to the Chiefs and that was a bummer
Does anyone in Erie County still drive a Hummer?
JJ Watt went to Wisconsin for school
My stepmom says when he sees him she wants to drool

So I think the Bills will win the game
And LeSean McCoy will end up in the Hall Of Fame
My poem is done now, so let me say thanks
The Texans suck, go Bills

By a random 6th grader in Lackawanna

Screwed Up Night

Screwed Up Night

Mike Tirico said it best at the end of the Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots game.

"What a screwed up night of officiating this was."

That is hitting the nail on the head.

The Bills lead the NFL in penalties, and many of them are self inflicted.  This isn't a surprise if you have watched this team play this season.  But tonight took officiating lows to a new level.  To a point where officials need to start paying for their poor performances by being suspended, or fired if they have multiple poor performances.

Before looking at tonight, let us look back at poor officiating the Bills alone have endured.  Don't get me wrong, this is a league-wide issue.  But let's look at the issues the Bills have had with the zebras this season.

The first officials nightmare I have experienced this year was Week 4 against the New York Giants.  The Bills had 2 touchdowns negated by phantom penalties.  A holding call on Urbik was shown to be incorrect and negated a touchdown.  Another touchdown was negated when a chop block was called on Incognito when he slipped trying to aid in pass blocking.  This game also featured a Giants touchdown that was potentially scored after the runner stepped out of bounds, but we won't count that just because it wasn't clear enough on replay to conclusively call it.

That's all hip, baby!

That's all hip, baby!

Let us fast-forward to the Jacksonville debacle in London in week 7.  Remember, EJ Manuel put the team in a deep hole early, but the Bills stormed back to take a 31-27 lead late in the game.  Jacksonville, facing a 3rd and long, threw a pass downfield, which was well defended Nickell Robey, but was called pass interference even though Robey never touched the receiver and was in position to make the interception.  Two plays later, Blake Bortles hit Allan Hurns with an indefensible pass to go ahead 33-31 (34-31 after the extra point).  This was the second time this season I can confirm the officiating directly affected the outcome of the game.

Now, let us head back to Foxboro for the Monday Night Football game on November 23, 2015.  Early in the game, Brady has a pass intercepted.  But wait, two flags on the play.  One on the offense for an illegal formation, and one for a defensive holding which is never shown.  One rule of thumb I have – if the penalty is not shown, it probably didn't happen.  Ok, whatever, another possible phantom penalty against the Bills.

Let's start getting weird here.  The Bills get a first down later in the first half, called back on an illegal formation penalty where Seantrel Henderson is said to have lined up in the backfield.  Unless the camera angle was bad, Henderson was on the line by rule (he was aligned with the hip of the center, which made him on the line of scrimmage).  This play negated a Bills first down.

But the big ones were yet to come.  In the third quarter, Tom Brady was scrambling to his right.  He was about a yard-and-a-half from the sideline where he lofted up a pass.  The whistle blew while the ball was in the air, intended for Danny Amendola.  Amendola caught the ball (which had been whistled dead in the air) with the Bills letting up on the play.  The officials got together and discussed the play, and incorrectly ruled Amendola caught the ball before the whistle, placing the ball where he caught the pass, then throwing a flag on Rex Ryan for sideline interference (a UC penalty).  This play had two incorrect things done by officials – first, the ball was ruled inadvertently whistled down after the catch, instead of before the catch, which was clear as day during the play and in replay (this play cannot be reviewed, however).  Second, the Line Judge who blew the whistle was very far out of position by moving straight back instead of laterally to avoid a potential out of bounds play, which led him into the area of Rex Ryan (who may or may not have had to try to avoid the official).  Either way, the whole situation was handled incorrectly at the time.

And lastly, the last Bills drive of the game was a mess of calls.  The first Bills first down, that was later reversed, should have never been called a first down.  Again, it was clear the player was a yard short, and it took 20 seconds to decide to review the play, before which the Bills could not stop the clock without spiking the ball.  When the ball was moved back to the correct spot, the Bills had 20 seconds less to make the drive work.  Part of the problem was the Bills not managing their timeouts early in the half, but part was that it took a long time to decide to review the spot, which affects play calling.  Next, the Watkins catch where he got his knee down in bounds before rolling out was a difficult play, so I will give a pass on that.  But the very last play of the game is inexcusable.  Watkins made the catch while falling.  Without being touched, he scooted out of bounds with 2 seconds left on the clock.  The ref keeps the clock going, and this is never explained as to why.  Watkins was out of bounds on his own motion and never was touched in bounds. 

uhhhh?   Picture from Boston Globe.

uhhhh?   Picture from Boston Globe.

This game was marred by bad officiating.  For both sides.  But knowing the NFL, not much will be done to make sure it doesn't happen again.  They have given officials lower profile assignments in the past, and most of this group may not work the post season.  But what about suspensions for the entire crew, without pay?  Or firing officials who are poorly performing over and over again?

What a screwed up night for officiating indeed.  

Obsession Is An Ugly Word

Obsession Is An Ugly Word

Obsession is an ugly word. It implies a manic focus on something that is close to, if not totally, unobtainable. Stalkers of celebrities, conspiracy theorists, people who sat in line for an hour to get tater tots at Sonic…the fuel was all the same, the big ‘O’ word that creates borderline insanity.

Fans of the Buffalo Bills have an obsession with the New England Patriots.

Since the dueling 31-0 shutouts by both teams at home in 2003, the numbers are ugly. New England leads the series 21-2, with one of the two coming in a rest-your-starters-and-worry-about-the-Super Bowl 17-9 win for the Bills in Gillette the last week of the 2014 season. Patriots fans and media laugh at Buffalo, and why shouldn’t they? Look at the scoreboard and the self-induced paranoia Bills fans twice annually put themselves through when this game week rolls around.

What is the solution to this mental illness? Apparently it’s worn-out memes of cheetahs, deflated footballs and Tom Brady wearing Uggs. LOL and all, but they aren’t taking away those Lombardi Trophies despite your best “Tom Brady sux” post on social media.

A rivalry happens because two teams are at the same level and trade haymakers nearly annually. Baltimore-Pittsburgh is a rivalry. Green Bay-Seattle is a rivalry. New England-Buffalo has been a glorified bye week.

No one is going to stop, and this is not an attempt to be fatalistic. More so, let’s take a step back and examine what we try to accomplish by throwing internet pebbles into the moat surrounding the castle of Belichick. A win on Monday, in a seemingly impossible position, will turn the obsession into a rivalry for this season and set up a potential round three with major stakes. A loss is not fatal, but it certainly changes the trajectory for the season.

But if the Patriots win on Monday night, I can’t wait for the Belicheat posts. They’ll be funnier and more obsessive than the last loss. 



Do yourself a favor and check out our latest podcast recorded this past Tuesday (11/17/15) live at Lockhouse Distiller and Bar.  Best cocktails in Buffalo.

The Empty Emotions

The Empty Emotions

rob-ryan-idzik-future-dec.jpg

The overarching theme that Jim Nantz and Talk About Phil Simms will emphasize tonight when the Buffalo Bills visit the New York Jets will be Rex Ryan returning to his old franchise. It’s extremely rare for a coach to be fired and immediately rehired, let alone in the same division (the only other coach that currently has this situation, Mike Mularkey, spent one season in Jacksonville and is currently the interim head man in Tennessee), and we all know that Rex will have the Bills fired up.

But before we assign the emotional values to this game, let’s acknowledge one thing: regardless of the winner in the game, it will not happen because they wanted it more, or that they wanted to win/stick it for/to the new/old coach.

Emotion is absolutely part of the game, but it cannot and will not lead you through for 3+ hours of activity. When Mario Williams sacks Ryan Fitzpatrick with 9:43 left in the 2nd quarter, it isn’t because an image of Rex slapping his helmet and screaming “Fuck yeah!” was motivating him. It’s because he probably made a bull rush move and overpowered James Carpenter.

Counter to that, when Chan Gailey dials up a screen for Fitz to toss to Chris Ivory 3:28 into the second half, it will not be because of some deep-seeded disgust for Eric Wood’s inability to pull correctly when he ran it in 2011. It’s because he needs 5 yards.

Storylines and narratives are fun for fans and give broadcasters something to fill in with when there is some downtime during the game. Rex back at Metlife is the easiest one of all, and was a no-brainer for the schedulers to make as the Thursday Night Football game for both teams. But don’t fall victim to the easy schlock presented to you. Understand that players make plays because they are good and coaches draw up successful plays because, they too, are good.

The red jerseys are terrible. 


Bye Weeks Suck

Bye Weeks Suck

It’s not a secret that the Buffalo Bills community has become fractured over the past few weeks. Since the Tennessee win, we’ve been subjected to piles of injuries, penalties and arguments, namely centered around Sammy Watkins being soft (he’s not), should future Cowboys Hall-of-Famer Matt Cassel have stayed in town (no), and if Rex Ryan should be fired because seven games is absolutely enough time to judge (LOL no).

But Sunday was a chance to put all that behind us and move forward. At 3-4, the Bills sit tied for 8th in the AFC, one game behind the Raiders and Jets and a half game behind the Steelers for a Wild Card berth. Conveniently, the team tied with Buffalo is the Miami Dolphins, a South Florida-based franchise that now has a gym bro for a coach and a still-confusing nickname for the masses (Maim the Mammal, peeps). So this Sunday is once again game day at the Ralph, a big one if this team has hope for the postseason. In the meantime, November 1st was a catch-up day (OR KETCHUP DAY IF YOU LOVE CONDIMENTS HAHAHAHASHAHA!!1!!11). Here’s what I learned not glued to the television:

  • I have a family. They are good. 
  • Leaves are the worst. They fall and blow and offer no redeeming qualities other than color for people 11 days a year get to look at and admire because OMG the green thing done turned yella!
  • It’s hard to sit in church without having that song “Take Me To Church” playing in your head the whole time. Which is weird, of course, because I was already at church and had brought a bunch of people there...anywho, don’t sin. 
  • Deadspin looks weird without some tailgate people breaking their .24 BAC bodies through a folding table. Here’s hoping someone nails a 450 splash off a mobile home this weekend and splatters guacamole all over the spectators. 
  • We could have Rob Ryan, who isn’t a good coach at all and is actually a wolf with a weird fetish for diner menus.
  • We could also have Buddy Ryan, who I am told was good but is now too old and would have been a typical hire of late, great absentee landlord Ralph Wilson.
  • Boy CNBC had a bad week.
  • Cooking is hard.
  • I miss the Buffalo Bills.

And that’s the real point of this. The Bills are our team, through thick, thin, semi-thinness and medium thickness. We disagree on how Sammy’s leg feels, or why the hell won’t Rex blitz more, or if Gilmore is Elite™. We get pissed at each other on Facebook and Twitter, and get even angrier when it’s a Pats fan telling us how bad we suck. But that’s the whole thing, right? This team is what unites us as a Bills family. 72,000 of us will be in the parking lots and seats of RWS, and hundreds of thousands of us will gather in the houses, bars, and backyards watching and listening the beloved hometown boys lead us to victory. Bills fandom is unique and trying. But be honest…we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Maim the mammals.