Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I'm a joker, I'm a smoker, I'm a halftime choker....

Yeah, I suppose that if I'm going to return to normal posting behavior, I need to kvetch a bit about the Buffalo Bills, who took a 23-3 lead into the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday -- and managed to lose 24-23. Whoops.

I remember how Chris Berman used to say, "Nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills." Now we'd have to change that to, "Nobody on the Buffalo Bills circles the wagons." Seriously, I'm not sure what's more annoying: that the Bills basically quit in west-coast blowout losses to Oakland and San Diego, or that they showed absolutely no "giddy-up" in blowing a twenty-point lead in Miami, a team which is on nobody's list of teams to worry about this year.

It's always annoying to watch a team blow a lead, but this one was particularly galling, because it put the team's weaknesses on large-scale display. That ball-control, power-running offense that might have iced the game by either scoring more points or ran time off the clock was shelved in favor of cute pass plays that neither scored points nor took time off the clock. That opportunistic defense, the one that thrives on creating turnovers, instead decided to miss tackles and allow Dolphin receivers to get open downfield. Nate Clements, "Mr. Playmaker", the "lockdown corner", missed a ton of tackles himself, while the Dolphins acted like they knew the Bills were going to be blitzing constantly -- which they did, because anyone who watches any game footage of the Bills knows that they blitz constantly.

And the offensive line, which I've been bitching about in this space for what, three seasons now? It consistently allowed JP Losman to get pressured and chased out of the pocket.

Nobody on this team ever steps up and makes the big play; nobody on this team ever steps up and delivers the big block. I could live with the bad record if the Bills were out there trying really hard every week, and were just dealing with injuries, or youth, or whatever. But they're not. They're fairly healthy, and they're loaded with veterans. And yet here they are, 4-8 with the Stupid Patriots, Broncos, and Bengals still looming ahead.

The major topic of discussion in these parts, as far as the Bills go, is whether or not the team should fire General Manager Tom Donahoe. While I can see the logic behind a lot of the personnel decisions Donahoe has made since he got here (and to cite just one example, everyone in Buffalo thinks Gregg Williams was a disaster, but if he keeps the Redskins' defense playing the way it is, the guy will be a head coach again), the fact is that the Bills have turned in just one winning season and zero playoff appearances since Donahoe's been in charge. In a league where the Bengals can go from a 2-14 season in 2002 to being one of the AFC's top teams in 2005 (right now they're 9-3), for the Bills to have posted records of 3-13, 8-8, 6-10, 9-7 and 4-8 (thus far this year) under Donahoe is unacceptable; and when you realize that the Bills' current defense is loaded with old veterans who are going to be jettisoned over the next year or two for salary cap reasons and that another youth movement is in the offing, it's hard to argue at all that Donahoe has any business sticking around.

(I'm still undecided about head coach Mike Mularkey. I was a big Mularkey backer until I learned that he's the one making the offensive play calls, which means that throwing on first-and-goal from the three yard line is his idea, as his bungling of the "benching" of Eric Moulds -- quotes there because Mularkey won't even own up to benchind Moulds. Ugh.)

So, what's left? Well, we're into December, so I suppose I should examine the current NFL playoff picture versus my original predictions. Current leaders follow, with my picks in brackets afterwards:

AFC East: New England Stupid Patriots [StuPats]
AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals [Bengals]
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts [Colts]
AFC West: Denver Broncos [Chargers]
AFC Wildcards: Jacksonville Jaguars, San Diego Chargers [NY Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers]

NFC East: New York Giants [Philadelphia Eagles]
NFC North: Chicago Bears [Minnesota Vikings]
NFC South: Carolina Panthers [Atlanta Falcons]
NFC West: Seattle Seahawks [Arizona Cardinals]
NFC Wildcards: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys [Seahawks, Panthers]

Well...yeah, anyone new to this blog is probably going all buggy-eyed that I picked the Cardinals to win their division. Oops. In my defense, I figured that Dennis Green and Kurt Warner would be a really good combination. Again, oops.

Of the twelve teams I picked to make the playoffs, six actually would make the playoffs if the season ended today, with three more narrowly missing the playoff field. Of all my picks, only three -- the Eagles, NY Jets, and Cardinals -- are way off; and of those, I couldn't have predicted the degree to which the Jets, a playoff team from last year, would be decimated by injuries, nor could I have predicted the complete chaos that would envelope the Eagles organization this year. Wow. So, I'm calling it a pretty decent year for prognostication, as of right now.

And my original prediction for the Bills -- a 6-10 record -- looks pretty safe, I'm sorry to say.

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