Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Poor drafting, front office. The penalty will be assessed for the next ten years."

It's football time, woo-hoo!

From Byzantium's Shores: chronicling the misadventures of an overalls-clad hippie

Yup, the NFL season "begins" today. That's in quotes because last Thursday night, the Saints and Vikings played the first official game of the season. But nobody takes Thursday night seriously as a football season start. The NFL is about Sunday. And maybe Monday night. Not Thursday.

So, it's time to watch the Buffalo Bills lace 'em up and take the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium (and once at Ye Former Skydome in Toronto) in their eternal quest to win the Super Bowl make the playoffs look respectable not suck as much as some other teams. Bills fans have had a sorry time of it for ten years now; generally speaking, we've had only the sporadic chance to truly utter a genuine Woo-hoo! over our football team. More often -- and by a factor of at least ten -- our reaction to watching football in Buffalo has been like this:

From Byzantium's Shores: chronicling the misadventures of an overalls-clad hippie

No matter how much the start of the last ten Bills seasons has felt like this...

Somehow, at the end of the year, it always ends up feeling like this...

From Byzantium's Shores: chronicling the misadventures of an overalls-clad hippie

...and not in a good way, either.

How then is this season likely to turn out? Well, as I'm a sci-fi geek, let me make a sci-fi geek reference.

One of my favorite episodes of Firefly -- well, the show only had a dozen or so episodes, so they're all my favorites, but never mind on that -- has Captain Reynolds and pilot Wash getting kidnapped by a bad guy they stiffed out of some money in an earlier episode. This guy is torturing them on his own private space station, so the crew of Serenity decides, after recovering Wash from the guy, to mount a commando-type rescue operation to retake their Captain. Problem is, they don't really know how many guards the bad guy has, or how strong his defenses are, or how good his space station's scanners are, and so on. They're going on a lot of guesswork, which leads Serenity muscleman and all-around brute Jayne Cobb to growl, "I smell a whole lotta 'if' comin' off this plan."

Well, that's how I see the Buffalo Bills this year. I small a whole lotta 'if' comin' off this team.

I've heard a lot of griping and complaining and outright bitching during the offseason about the upcoming season and the roster that's taking shape, but my view generally is this: the last crew in command (head coach Dick Jauron and former GM Marv Levy) left the roster in a really bad spot, talent-wise. So the new guys have a lot of work to do. It started last year, actually, with what is now looking like a pretty good 2009 draft class (although we're still waiting on first pick Aaron Maybin to start producing some pass rush, or some tackling, or just being in the general vicinity of the ball). The 2010 draft class, managed by new GM Buddy Nix and new head coach Chan Gailey, looks promising, but...well, that's part of the 'if' I'm smellin' off this team.

What it boils down to is simply this: for the Bills to have a good 2010 season, they need to hit on just about every rookie or second-year guy who is on the roster, and they need to hit on those guys pretty spectacularly. They need their two second-year guards, drafted last year, to continue to improve after looking pretty good last year. They need a flock of young receivers to demonstrate ability to get open, catch the ball, and produce yardage. They need a flock of young linebackers and inexperienced linebackers to produce (one of their starting linebackers is a converted defensive end). They need someone to become a good tight end. They need their defensive line to show some stoutness. They need Trent Edwards to finally take a step forward at quarterback. And most desperately, they need the tackles on the offensive line to not suck.

That, folks, is a lot to hope for from a young team. It's probably too much to hope for, which is why I'm mentally penciling the Bills in for a season that will look pretty bad, if all you focus on is the won-lost record.

Now, that's not all I focus on, and frankly, my mantra is the same as it's been for quite a few years now with this team: I don't mind if their record is crappy at the end, as long as I'm seeing young players making plays at times and showing improvement as the season goes on and basically as long as I'm seeing some evidence that this group of guys can grow into a pretty good team another year or two down the line. That certainly hasn't been the case in recent Bills seasons, when at the end, I'm always thinking, "Yay, they stunk again and their young players still aren't producing". I don't expect the seed to produce a full-sized oak tree this year, but it sure would be nice to see the seed sprouting. Every year it's the same: "Hey, we got a dud seed. Need a new one for next year."

Ultimately, I expect the Bills to finish with one of the NFL's worst records and probably secure a draft spot in the top five. That might be the best thing, actually, for the franchise: squeeze what they can out of the young talent they have right now, and use next year's improved draft position to plug in more talent. Buddy Nix seems to have the best grasp on players that any Bills front-office guy has shown in years, and I also like his approach thus far to rebuilding the roster. I was fine with his not drafting a quarterback last year (until the 7th round, and that guy didn't even make the practice squad); if he truly felt that none of the guys available was lighting his fire, then his decision to not try to force one anyway but instead build a better team everywhere else and try again next year was a good one. So who knows; maybe next year we're watching Jake Locker suit up for the Bills on opening day.

I do think that it will take a miraculous year from Trent Edwards for him to still be here next season. I'm talking big-time numbers here, even if they're likely to be in a lot of losses because the Bills' defense right now is pretty soft. If Edwards does anything less than, oh, start 14 games, throw over 20 TDs and under 15 INTs, and have a passer rating of 90 or above, then I don't want him here next year. It's that simple. We've seen about all we can of him, at this point. He either needs to have a big year, or the Bills need to turn the page when his lackluster year is over.

My "nightmare" scenario is another 7-9 finish, with the Bills again picking in the 11 through 15 spot next year, taking them out of consideration for the top QBs in the draft. That would be bad. But I also think it's unlikely, because the defense is likely to give up a ton of points. The offense may improve a bit, so to me, the likely scenario is that we'll have to endure the Bills being on the bummer end of a lot of 38-24 kinds of games. And my prediction for their final record? 4-12. You heard it here...when you heard it here, folks!

As for the rest of the NFL? My predictions, which are always wrong!


East: New England
North: Baltimore
South: Indianapolis
West: San Diego
Wildcards: NY Jets, Cincinnati


East: Dallas
North: Green Bay
South: New Orleans
West: San Francisco
Wildcards: Washington, Minnesota

Random notes:

:: I really think this is the year Brett Favre's age is going to catch up with him, and that after a lackluster season this year (I'm not even sure they're a lock to make the playoffs), the Vikings will ultimately regret their dalliance with him. I think this is almost certainly his last season, which means that the Vikes will have to go into next year looking for a new QB. And I'm not sure how much longer their current window of opportunity will remain open. Their defense is full of guys who aren't getting any younger.

:: For the record: I was not upset when the Bills didn't draft Matt Leinart. I do wish Donte Whitner would start to justify that they picked him instead, though.

:: Ben Roethlisberger is a great quarterback, but he's also an ass and I have no problem with his suspension on those grounds. I'm not at all sure why his suspension, however, is for a longer duration that Marshawn Lynch's 2009 suspension, which came after Lynch pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges.

:: Every year, some playoff team from the previous year turns out to be surprisingly bad the next. It wouldn't surprise me if the Jets are that team this year. I'm just not sold on them.

:: The Bills may be lucky in that several of the teams likely to be in their neighborhood as bad teams already have their quarterbacks of the future (for the moment). St Louis and Detroit are likely to be bad (although I think Detroit's years as a stinkpile team may be nearly over), and they've got their guys already. Ditto Carolina, who drafted two quarterback prospects in 2010. The other teams most likely to finish near the top of the draft board and need to find new QBs next year are Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

:: I was confused all off-season by the legions of sportswriters assuming that Terrell Owens was pretty much done, after his worst statistical season of his career in 2009. Did they not see the guys who were throwing him the ball in Buffalo last year? No receiver's going to put up big numbers with Ryan Fitzpatrick and/or Brian Brohm in the pocket for half the season. Owens is in the twilight of his career, certainly, but let's not be sticking the fork in him quite yet.

:: OK, Super Bowl picks. I won't pick New England, because (a) they just aren't as talented as they used to be, (b) I'm unsold on Bill Belichick's ability to run the offense and the defense, (c) I think Tom Brady is closer to physical decline than a lot of people think (a likelihood that goes up with every playoff run from here on out), and (d) I hate them. Nor will I pick San Diego, because they've still got Norv Turner as head coach. (What possessed them to dump Marty Schottenheimer and then go after Norv Turner as their "guy who can win the big one" is beyond me.) Likewise, I won't pick Dallas because they've got Wade Phillips calling the shots. Washington will continue to be a mess, Mike Shanahan notwithstanding. New Orleans looks like they could repeat, but the last time I thought a team had a great chance to repeat (the Bucs in 2003), they ended up stinking up the joint. So that narrows me down to Indianapolis (in what I think may well be Peyton Manning's last real shot before physical decline starts to rear its ugly head with him, too) and Green Bay.

My Super Bowl prediction: the Colts beat the Packers.

And remember, folks: now that I'm on record as having predicted all of these things, none of them will actually happen! Hooray!

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

A local sportswriter wrote, before Sunday, the Colts aren't as bad as their 0-4 preseason, are they? Hmm, I am wondering. I always hate the Cowboys, love to see them lose!

But I have no idea either.