Well, when the NFL season began, I predicted a finish of 7-9 for the Buffalo Bills. They seemed intent on proving me wrong, jumping out to a 5-2 record, with impressive come-from-behind victories and finally beating the New England Patriots for the first time since 2003. But then, the wheels well and truly came off the season, and they finished 6-10. They were one game worse than I figured, so that's not too bad a job of prognosticating on my part, huzzah! But why does it feel as crappy as it does?
Well, it's not just what happens but how it happens. I figured the Bills would just kind of limp through the season, looking a bit better than last year, when they were in a lot of close losses on their way to 4-12. I figured they'd win two and lose three, win one and lose two, win another two and lose another three, and go in that way to 7-9. Instead they opened 5-2, looked great doing so, and then they promptly went on a losing binge where they got blown out most weeks and going 1-8 the rest of the way. Ouch.
Also, before the season began, it was expected that the defense would improve but the offense would struggle. Instead it was the offense that was the bright point (comparatively speaking). The defense actually got worse, shockingly. They got decent to promising play from their rookies (especially top pick Marcel Dareus), but it was the complete failure of the second-year guys, taken a year ago, to step up which really sealed their fates. Torrell Troup was constantly hurt. Arthur Moats and Alex Carrington never did anything consistently. Danny Batten, whom a lot of fans thought showed promise in two training camps, showed no promise at all in the regular season. The defense regressed, which means that the next draft -- yeah, here we are, talking draft again -- needs to be heavily skewed to defense. Ugh!
Everybody knows that the Bills desperately need to improve at outside linebacker. Their pass rush was horrible this year, and regular readers will know from my rants for years in this space that pass rush has not been a strong suit for this team since Bruce Smith was here. Seriously, though, the outside linebackers here are disastrous -- no pressure and constantly getting burned by tight ends. And if it sounds like I'm exaggerating when I say that the Bills have not been able to cover tight ends for fifteen years, well, think back to Bills-Patriots games back in the late 90s, when the Bills would put the Pats in third-and-long situations all day, only to have Drew Bledsoe throw first-down passes to Ben Coates. Ugh, again!
So there it is. I could say more...CJ Spiller finally showed promise when he got on the field, so maybe his pick last year wasn't a complete disaster. (I still think they should have taken Brian Bulaga.) Stupid penalties aside, they need to get Stevie Johnson extended so he stays here. At some point they need to think quarterback-of-the-future (not now, though, unless someone inexplicably tumbles to the Bills' likely draft spot in the seven through nine range).
I do get the feeling that the Bills could be a threat next year if they add a few of the right key players. Problem is, I seem to say that every year, don't I? Ugh the third!
Random thoughts on the rest of the NFL:
:: I don't see the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. Their defense is awful, and their offense, while prolific, is one-dimensional. They have very little running game, and their passing game is one receiver and two tight ends. Yeah, Brady is all that and an entire pallet of Doritos, but if the Pats get to the Super Bowl, their most likely opposition is either Green Bay or New Orleans, two teams which can answer New England, score for score. And New England will have to get past two better defenses than they usually face to get to the Super Bowl, so Brady might get knocked around a bit -- and he's not a guy who responds well to getting knocked around. I've said it before, but if I'm coaching a football team in the Super Bowl and it's two minutes left and I only have one timeout left and I'm starting this drive on my own ten yard line and I'm down four point so I have to score a TD or lose, I don't want Tom Brady as my quarterback.
:: When picking games, here are some factoids to remember. In the last twenty NFL seasons, only three Super Bowls have featured both conferences' top seeds. Additionally, over the same span, the top seeds of both conferences are only 18 for 40 in reaching the Super Bowl, with AFC top seeds missing the Super Bowl 13 our of 20 times. And of the last twenty Super Bowl champions, only nine have been top seeds in their conference. So if you must bet on the top seed, you're better off betting on Green Bay than New England.
:: The Colts are going to go from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. Wow. What timing on the crappy season, eh? As for Manning, I get into discussions with friends as to whether I'd trade for him. I would not, unless it's a pretty low draft pick...no way I give up a 1st or a 2nd for him. Maybe not even a 3rd. Manning is old (he'll be 36 when the next season starts), and he's coming off a season lost to a neck injury. And if he came to Buffalo, he'd get hit more than he's accustomed to and he'd be playing outside. At best, a Manning trade simply delays the inevitable drafting of a QB of the future. I love Manning as much as anyone, but I wouldn't roll the dice on him right now.
:: Having lived through the 1999 Bills, I am not at all convinced that Tim Tebow is the Real Deal in Denver. Yes, teams really do win because of defense, and Denver has a pretty good one. Plus, I must admit, I find Tebow's evangelism highly obnoxious, and I don't really care that the Super Bowl ad he did last year for the James Dobson folks was all nice and warm and fuzzy -- using kittens and puppies in an ad for James Dobson is still advertising for James Dobson. Sorry, but there it is.
:: Oh, and finally: Aaron Maybin. During the year there was a lot of kvetching over the Jets' signing of Maybin and their 'resuscitation of his career', which was much ballyhooed round these parts. It was seen by many as another sign of the Bills picking the wrong player, and then failing to get what they could out of a player who could still be productive. Well, Maybin had six sacks at one point...but then, in his last four games, he posted only two tackles and zero sacks, to finish with the same six sacks. Big whoop. And I saw several of Maybin's sacks, and they're all coverage sacks, which he got by running as fast as he could around guys while the Jets' secondary -- one of the best in football -- kept opposing receivers bottled up. I did not see some great reawakening of a possibly dominant player in Maybin; nor did I even see some brilliant bit of coaching that squeezed production out of a guy given up for dead. These are the same coaches who couldn't make Vernon Gholston work, the same coaches who were caught on video tripping opposing players as they ran the sidelines a year ago, and the same coaches who were led by a guy who guaranteed a Super Bowl win before failing to even make the playoffs. The Bills have made a lot of dumb personnel decisions over the years, picking the wrong guys and letting the wrong guys go and such. Picking Maybin was a bad move. Letting him go was not.
:: Oh, a Super Bowl pick? Uh...Green Bay over Baltimore. I think.