Monday, December 13, 2004

ShiBills no more!

Well, it has come to pass, and frankly, much sooner than I ever expected: just two months or so after I, in a fit of irrational football-fan anger, dubbed the Buffalo Bills "the Shitty Bills" in response to a series of incredibly lackluster efforts on their part. However, after securing their fourth consecutive victory yesterday by crushing the hapless Cleveland Browns 37-7, I am retiring that moniker for now. In this space they will forthwith be known once again as "the Buffalo Bills" (until such time as they are shitty again, which I hope will be a very long time).

My condition for this, as noted last week, was partly that the Bills win four games in a row, a modest streak that seems to me would still be beyond the reach of any truly "shitty" team. But I also knew that four wins wouldn't be enough, in itself. So are there any reasons why I should discount those four wins? Not that I can see.

The biggest objection to the Bills being considered a "good team" right now, as voiced by a lot of folks I hear calling in to local sports radio shows* is that over the four-game winning streak, and the overall stretch in which they have won seven of nine games, they didn't play the best opposition. And yes, there's something to this, a little: the combined record of the Bills' last four opponents is a less-than impressive 18-34. Two of those teams, the Browns and Dolphins, occupy last place in their divisions, while the other two, the Rams and Seahawks, are in a war of attrition to see which team can blunder its way to the NFC West title. However, I have heard two effective rejoinders to the "cruddy competition" argument:

1. This is the NFL, not the collegiate BCS. There are no inflations of standings based on quality of competition. A win is a win, and a loss is a loss. Period. And with the NFL's new scheduling system in which there really isn't much difference between a first-place schedule and a fourth-place one, quality of opposition isn't very relevant.

2. The "cruddy competition" argument cuts both ways. If the Bills' 7-6 record is to not be taken very seriously because those seven wins came against pretty bad teams, then you can't take the New England Stupid Patriots' 12-1 record very seriously either, because their 2004 schedule features, with two exceptions, the exact same bunch of teams that the Bills have played.

And I would add a third: Nobody is maintaining that the current success being enjoyed by the Bills makes them a great team, just a decent one that's showing signs of becoming good.

So where are the Bills, then? Lots of people in Buffalo are excited about the possibility of a playoff run. Personally, I'm fairly pessimistic on this point. The Bills have three games left: at Cincinnati, at San Francisco, and home to Pittsburgh. The Bengals aren't the doormat they were for years, so that will be a tough road game. The 49ers are the NFL's worst team (man, how far that franchise has fallen), but still, that's not a game to be taken lightly. And that last one, with the Steelers coming to town in a game that they may well need to secure home-field advantage (remember, they have the tie-breaker edge over the StuPats), figures to be a barn-burner. I just don't think it's terribly likely for the Bills to run the table and win all three of those games, which they'd have to do to even have a chance to get into the playoffs. And I'm still a naysayer about their blitz-happy defense, to say nothing of the fact that they can't keep turning the ball over three times a game, even if the D is taking it away six times a game.

But I have to admit: this season is getting fun, and it's been quite a while since the Bills were fun. They were fun for a time in 2002, and the last time they were fun before that was in 1998 and 1999, during the "Doug Flutie Experiment". I almost don't care if they make the playoffs this year, because I'm merely impressed enough by their rebound from 0-4 to 7-6.

Welcome back, Buffalo Bills.

* I don't listen to much sports talk radio; mainly in the car on the way to and from work. And that's only when the classical station isn't playing Baroque music, which is fine in its place but does nothing to either get me fired up for work or wound down from work. They've been unusually Baroque-heavy lately, for some reason. (Bach, though, gets a pass from this general affectation of mine, because Bach is, well, Bach.)

UPDATE: I just read an interesting stat. Over their four-game winning streak, the Bills have set a team-record for points scored over four games. I find that amazing, given that nobody is going to confuse the 2004 Bills offense with the no-huddle "K-gun" offense that the Bills rode to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993.

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