Dec 312012
 

lovie-smithThe Chicago Bears have fired Head Coach Lovie Smith after the team posted a 10-6 record, but failed to make the playoffs for a second straight season. The Bears made the playoffs in only three of Smith’s nine seasons as head coach, where he posted a 81-63 regular season mark and was 3-3 on the playoffs, reaching the Super Bowl in the 2006 season before losing to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Buffalo Bills have fired Chan Gailey after three seasons with the team. The Bills were 16-32 during his tenure. This season’s 6-10 record was a major disappointment after the Bills went on an off-season spending spree to try and improve their defense.

The Jacksonville Jaguars announced the firing of Gene Smith as GM. This was an expected decision, as new owner Shad Khan is looking to put his own management team together. It is likely that Head Coach Mike Mularkey will be joining Smith in the unemployment line soon. the Jaguars finished 2012 at 2-14.

Nov 282012
 

There’s a shake up at the top of the Power Rankings this week, as our contributors seem to have had enough of the narrow victories coming from both the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans. Yes, they keep winning, but the victories themselves raise questions as to whether either team will survive the divisional round of the playoffs.

Our new Number One? It’s the New England Patriots, who have now won five straight and seem to be pulling away from the pack as we hit the home stretch of the regular season. The Patriots’ consecutive beat downs of both the Colts and Jets (teams that they should beat down), have us believing that the team is starting to peak at exactly the right time. The bigger question is whether the Patriots can sustain that into February, and tough home tests against both the Texans and the 49ers in the next three weeks will help us gauge whether or not they really deserve the top spot. The 49ers come in second this week, and might have come in first, save for the uncertainty surrounding Jim Harbaugh’s creation of a quarterback controversy in the City by the Bay. We like Colin Kaepernick and think the offense is more dynamic with him on the field, but Alex Smith has done nothing but win in his last 26 contests (20-5-1). So exactly why is Kaepernick starting? Having him start in the post-season would be an invitation to destruction as top teams begin to scheme on how to beat the developing star. The team’s consistency has improved of late, but playing quarterback games doesn’t seem like a recipe for success.

Here are our Week 12 rankings:

1. New England Patriots (8-3, +3, W5) – The Patriots are still fighting for a first round bye, but seem poised to make another of their late season runs; will it net Super Bowl success this time around?

2. San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1, U, W2) – Kaepernick is the future, but why isn’t Smith the present?

3. Houston Texans (10-1, -2, W5) – Will Gary Kubiak be sending Jim Schwartz a pack of red hankies for Christmas?

4. Atlanta Falcons (10-1, -1, W2) – OK, we’re pretty sure they’ll score more than two points in the playoffs, but why are they feeling like a one and done team?

5. New York Giants (7-4, +3, W1) – Is it that time of the year again?

6. Baltimore Ravens (9-2, -1, W4) – Will gifts like last Sunday keep happening, or is this team’s luck about to run out?

7. Denver Broncos (8-3, U, W6) – Is Peyton Manning simply changing where he has great regular seasons, only to flame out in the playoffs?

8. Chicago Bears (8-3, +1, W1) – Nice win against the Vikings, but are we the only ones waiting for this team to collapse?

9. Green Bay Packers (7-4, -3, L1) – And if the Bears collapse, can the Packers catch them?

10. Indianapolis Colts (7-4, +5, W1) – They responded well to a blowout loss, now can they take control of a playoff spot?

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5, +1, L1) – With a tough loss out of the way, can they bounce back like Indy and nudge the Seahawks out of the way for a playoff spot?

12. Cincinnati Bengals (6-5, +4, W3) – They are making noise now, but can they beat the Steelers and Ravens in Weeks 16 and 17, when things really matter?

13. Seattle Seahakws (6-5, -2, L1) – Are they ever going to win again outside of Seattle?

14. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5, -4, L2) – Do they really have any chance without a healthy Ben?

15. New Orleans Saints (5-6, -2, L1) – Is the offensive line really as bad as the defense, or did it just look that way?

16. Minnesota Vikings (6-5, -2, L1) – They really were just pretending this year, weren’t they?

17. Washington Redskins (5-6, +3, W2) – Have the Redskins finally left the NFC East basement for good?

18. Dallas Cowboys (5-6, -1, L1) – If the Cowboys got diagnosed for collective Schizophrenia, would the medication get the team in trouble for using performance enhancing drugs?

19. Detroit Lions (4-7, -1, L3) – Are the Lions victims of bad luck, or are they their own worst enemies?

20. St. Louis Rams (4-6-1, +4, W1) – Will that tie cost the Rams a shot at a wildcard?

21. Buffalo Bills (4-7, +1, L1) – Is Chan Gailey preventing the offense from performing better?

22. Miami Dolphins (5-6, +3, W1) – Will the Patriots crush the Fins wildcard hopes this weekend?

23. Arizona Cardinals (4-7, -4, L7) – Is this team only a quarterback away, or do seven straight losses signify a much deeper problem?

24. Cleveland Browns (3-8, +3, W1) – Did the Browns just cost themselves a top five draft pick?

25. Tennessee Titans (4-7, -2, L1) – Do you think Peyton knew this was coming when he decided to play in Denver?

26. San Diego Chargers (4-7, -5, L3) – 4th and 29? Seriously? Exactly why does Norv Turner still have a job?

27. New York Jets (4-7, -1, L1) – Between the “butt fumble” and refusal to make personnel changes, why do Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez still have jobs?

28. Carolina Panthers (3-8, +1, W1) – Is Cam Newton really handling adversity well, or do things just always look better after a win?

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9, +1, W1) – How eager do you think Shahid Khan is to start cleaning house?

30. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8, -2, L7) – Exactly why does Andy Reid still have a job?

31. Oakland Raiders (3-8, U, L4) – Did Al Davis’ will require that the Raiders keep playing the way they did when he was alive?

32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-10, U, L8) – Exactly why do Romeo Crennel and Scott Pioli still have jobs?

Sep 282012
 

The 2012 season certainly has not gotten off to the start that the New England Patriots expected. After winning their opening contest handily against the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots were narrowly upset by the Arizona Cardinals before losing an equally narrow contest to the Baltimore Ravens. Patriots’ fans can yell all they want about the cruddy officiating in Baltimore (and it was cruddy), but the Patriots have lost two straight because they have failed to take advantage of opportunities and the defense has back-peddled from a strong performance in Week One. So it is that a 1-2 Patriots team finds its way into Buffalo seeking to avoid dropping a third straight game.

The Bills are a dangerous foe. Buffalo is 2-1 after being pounded on opening day by the Jets, but then rebounding to beat the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. Granted, these are the teams that the Bills “should” beat, but there are no giveaways in the NFL, and the way to the playoffs is to beat the teams that you “should” beat. The Bills boast a dominant front four on defense, anchored by off-season free agent signing Mario Williams, as well as a prolific rushing attack. But both CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson are both hurt, and are game-time decisions.

Three keys for the Patriots:

1. Protect Tom Brady

I know, duh. The rap on Brady is that he gets shaken when he gets hit. Yep, him and 31 other starting NFL quarterbacks. Pass protection is always a key. In this game it is critical, as the Bills’ front four will test the Patriots make-shift offensive line early and often on Sunday. Kyle Williams already has 3 sacks this season, followed by Marcell Darius and Mario Williams with 1.5 each. The linebackers are capable of bringing pressure to bear as well, and the Patriots will need to be disciplined in their blocking assignments. If the Patriots can protect Brady however, the Bills have already shown that they are susceptible to being picked apart, having given up 48 points to the Jets.  Look for play action passes and extra blockers to be utilized to take the heat off of Brady.

2. Make clean tackles

The Bills like to use a 1 WR, 2 TE, 2 RB grouping that spreads the field and takes advantage of misdirection. The Patriots will have many opportunities to make one on one tackles, and must do so. But in order to do so, Patriots defenders will need to stay in their assigned areas. Arm tackles will not be a way to get the shifty Bills’ running backs to the ground.

3. Pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick

The flip-side of #1 is getting to Ryan Fitzpatrick. He has been prone to getting rattled in the past and on the whole is known to be an inconsistent quarterback. The Patriots will need to cut down his ability to make good reads by applying consistent pressure. One key match-up will be between fellow rookies Chandler Jones and Cordy Glenn. Glenn has yet to give up a sack but might find Jones to be more of a handful than he has seen so far. Speaking of handfuls, look for the “real” NFL officials to be all over offensive holding this week.

Three keys for the Bills:

1. Pick on Devin McCourty

McCourty had a terrific rookie season before playing so poorly last season that he had to be moved to safety. Now back at corner, McCourty started off strong but had a miserable game last week, letting two interceptions go through his hands and being flagged for a blatant pass interference call that set up Baltimore for the game-winning field goal. McCourty seems to play better with people in front of him (at safety) and often finds himself playing catch-up with receivers; this is a technique problem that he has yet to correct. Look for Stevie Johnson to try to exploit this weakness all day.

2. Pound the ball

The Bills have an incredibly effective running attack, and their two primary backs have already rushed for a combined 439 yards in three weeks. Their two tight end sets provide plenty of blocking power, and will test the Patriots front seven. If the Patriots have to bring a safety up to assist in the run, look for Fitzpatrick to exploit that with passes to Johnson and Donald Jones.

3. Pressure Brady

Already discussed above, but the Bills’ defensive weakness is in their linebacker coverage and their defensive backs. Even without Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots have too many weapons for the Bills to cover them all. If Tom Brady is given time, he will spread the ball between Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski and Deion Branch, while changing it up with opportunistic runs for Stevan Ridley, who has proven a more than capable lead back.

Beyond these keys, Patriots’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels needs to trust the game plan that he develops, and trust Tom Brady and the other players on offense to carry it out. In each of the past two weeks McDaniels got “cute” with play-calling and squandered offensive opportunities. Leave Danny Woodhead on the sideline this week and trust in Stevan Ridley to pound the ball where the situation calls for it.

PREDICTION: Earlier in the week I thought the Patriots’ anger and determination would be an epic force that would carry the day, but reason has since prevailed. Chan Gailey is a smart coach who is intentionally trying to design a team to beat the Patriots, and they have the parts to do it. During last season’s Patriots visit to Buffalo, the Patriots jumped to a quick 21-0 lead, but four Brady interceptions later the Patriots found themselves on the losing side of the score. The Patriots have to (and will) take this match-up seriously. The Bills are dangerous at home and I expect this to be a tough contest. The Patriots can ill afford to go 1-3 to start the season and I expect them to come out focused. But focus hasn’t been their problem. Instead, the Patriots have suffered from a lack of execution at key times when a play needed to be made. Still, I look for the Patriots to rebound this week and pull out a close contest. I expect the offensive line to limit the number of hits on Brady, and for Brady to put up enough points to carry the day. I also expect Vince Wilfork and the defense to atone for last week’s awful showing against the Ravens, and make key plays that will seal the Patriots’ win. PATRIOTS 28 Bills 24

Side Note: Still undecided about live blogging this week. No doubt I will have my iPad next to me during the game, but Sunday is my birthday and I rather suspect the house will be a little hectic that day with five kids running around. If I don’t live blog, I’ll have a game summary up sometime early that evening.

Side Note #2: Tedy Buschi is predicting the Pats will lose this weekend.

 

Jun 032012
 

The AFC East is a feast or famine division. The New England Patriots have won all but two division titles dating back to 2001 and are in a position in 2012 to continue dominating the division. The New York Jets may talk a good game, but they are a team that finished 8-8 last season, played like they were 6-10, and did not significantly (or insignificantly) improve in the off-season. And the Miami Dolphins are… well… the Dolphins. Their ownership and management are clinically brain dead, and while the team has some of the components to compete, they simply don’t have enough of them. Dolphins’ fans want to believe that their team is merely a player away from being a championship club, but the truth is that they are much further away.

And that brings us to the Buffalo Bills. What about the Bills? For all of the off-season news coming from Orchard Park, New York, is this team truly ready to compete? It is a little known fact that in the past ten seasons (dating back to 2002-2003), the Buffalo Bills are the only NFL team not to advance to the playoffs, last making it to the postseason in 1999. Thirty-one other teams have made it during that span, but not the Bills. The Bills still seem to be in recovery from the Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and his missing helmet, “wide left”, four straight Super Bowl losses era of 1990-1993, but this off-season they have seemed determined to make sure that their rehabilitation is complete.

The offense is peppered with outstanding talent, but much of their success boils down to injuries and the play of Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Will we see the Fitzpatrick from the first half of last season, who started out shredding defenses on his way to a 4-1 record, before injuries began decimating the team, or will we see the Fitzpatrick from the second half of the season? As the 2011 season went on, Fitzpatrick looked less confident and struggled as the Bills dropped seven straight games to send them crashing into a tie for last place in the division. The final game of the year seemed like an appropriate synopsis of the entire season; the Patriots spotted the Bills 21 first quarter points before scoring 14 points, 14 points, and 21 points in the final three quarters to emerge with a 49-21 blowout win over the Bills. So what will help make 2012 different than 2011?

A healthy Fred Jackson at running back would be a good start and a huge plus for the Bills, but Jackson is 31 years old and may have trouble coming back from last season’s injury. Vince Young and CJ Spiller are the back-ups at quarterback and running back. Spiller has the potential to be a solid back, but right now he is better as a platoon back (along with Tashard Choice) than a primary. To his credit, Young has yet to refer to the Bills as a “dream team,” so maybe that bodes well for their season. Young is capable, but if he is starting then there are bigger problems in Buffalo. Stevie Johnson promises to be a #1 receiving threat, as long as he can stop mimicking Plaxico Burress shooting himself during his touchdown celebrations. Seriously, Johnson is good, and is complemented by solid if unspectacular secondary receivers in David Nelson, Scott Chandler, and Donald Jones. Buffalo’s offensive line was excellent last season, ranking 5th in yards per carry and leading the league in sacks allowed, and all of its core players are returning for the 2012 campaign. On the whole, the Bills offense looks capable of putting up big points, and they appear to have better depth than in 2011.

The defense has been the talk of the off-season, and for good reason. The Bills’ move to a 4-3 defense will now be a successful one with Mario Williams terrorizing opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks. He will start opposite Chris Kelsay, but the Bills will use a rotation of players and added former Patriot Mark Anderson, who racked up 10 sacks in 2011. Some believe that Anderson was a one year contract wonder, but I tend to think that Anderson fit in well with the New England scheme and will find a similar comfort level in Buffalo. Marcell Darius and Kyle Williams will anchor the tackle spots and give Buffalo one of the best (if not the best) defensive lines in football. This group should be able to get consistent pressure with four players, freeing up the linebackers for coverage and run support. Nick Barnett heads up a linebacking corps that includes Kirk Morrison and Kelvin Sheppard, and they possess a decent but not outstanding secondary of Terrence McGee, Stephon Gilmore, Jairus Byrd and George Wilson. Still, this group will not need to be spectacular with the pressure that the front four is capable of generating. If the defensive line is neutralized however, opponents will find the ability to carve up the Bills’ coverage unit. Consistent pressure will be the key to this unit’s success. Rian Lindell and Brian Moorman provide an experienced and generally reliable kicking game. Chan Gailey seems to be an effective coach in the process of righting the ship, and Dave Wannstedt is the perfect person to run the team’s 4-3 defense.

The Bills benefit from both an easy schedule draw for the AFC East, and for finishing last in the division last season. In addition to the AFC South and NFC West, the Bills will play Cleveland and Kansas City outside of their division. This, along with their improvements on defense, mean the team is almost certain to do better than last season’s 6-10 campaign. Barring multiple serious injuries, this team is an easy selection to finally return to the playoffs. The fans in Buffalo have good reason to feel positive about the 2012 prospects for the Bills, as well as for the foreseeable future.

 

May 222012
 

 

Buffalo Bills

Head Coach: Chan Gailey

Projected Starting Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick

2011 Record:  6 wins, 10 losses (4th in AFC East)

No postseason appearance

14th in Total Offense, 26th in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 65 wins, 95 losses (T-25th in NFL)

No postseason appearances

No Super Bowl appearances

0-4 All-time in Super Bowl