AN EARLY FORECAST FOR THE 2014 BUFFALO BILLS
For a long time – just after the NFL released its official schedule -- I’ve offered an early-bird projection for the Buffalo Bills upcoming season.
For more than a decade, I’ve had good success with this exercise because I usually infuriated Buffalo’s loyal fans by figuring the team would finish below .500 and miss the playoffs. History says the Bills haven’t let me down.
But I’m impressed by the direction the team is headed. I think the Bills are a decent quarterback away from breaking their ridiculous 14-year non-playoff streak. EJ Manuel could be the man.
I’ve turned the corner regarding the Bills. I hope the Bills have, too. I hope they feel like they’re on the verge of being a playoff team.
Here is my week-by-week forecast for the 2014 season (I’m assuming Manuel will play all 16 games; that could be a generous assumption; if EJ goes down, forget a playoff berth):
Week 1 (Sunday, Sept. 7) at Chicago – The Bears aren’t a great team. They’re probably slightly above average. I think Buffalo is on the cusp of “average” status. Chicago’s home-field advantage is the difference…Bills record: 0-1
Week 2 (Sunday, Sept. 14) home vs. Miami – The Bills swept the Dolphins last season with Thad Lewis at QB. I give Buffalo a slight edge in overall talent and the home field…Bills record 1-1.
Week 3 (Sunday, Sept. 21) home vs. San Diego – Philip Rivers is a B-level NFL QB in by ratings book. Will Manuel be ready to hang in there against him? My hunch is yes with a lot of help from his friends…Bills record 2-1.
Week 4 (Sunday, Sept. 28) at Houston – The Texans are much better than last year’s 2-14 record, but assuming Ryan Fitzpatrick starts at QB for Houston, I think Buffalo can win…Bills record 3-1.
Week 5 (Sunday, Oct. 5) at Detroit – The Lions underachieved last season (7-9). They have at least as much talent as Buffalo and will be playing at home…Bills record 3-2.
Week 6 (Sunday, Oct. 12) home vs. New England – The Patriots own Buffalo and figure to be much healthier and luckier than last season…Bills record 3-3.
Week 7 (Sunday, Oct. 19) home vs. Minnesota – Buffalo has emerged from bottom-feeder status. The Vikings could be headed there. No excuses in this spot…Bills record 4-3.
Week 8 (Sunday, Oct. 26) at the New York Jets – The defenses are about equal. Unless Michael Vick starts at QB for the Jets and brings at least his B+ game, I prefer Buffalo’s offense…Bills record 5-3.
Week 9 – Bye week.
Week 10 (Sunday, Nov. 9) home vs. Kansas City – The Chiefs started 9-0 last season, including a 23-13 win in Buffalo. I think the Bills can turn the tables on a top effort off their bye week in this pivotal game…Bills record: 6-3.
Week 11 (Thursday, Nov. 13) at Miami – A tough assignment for the Bills: a road game off a short week. But I think Buffalo is the stronger all-around team and can complete a sweep of the Dolphins…Bills record 7-3.
Week 12 (Sunday, Nov. 23) home vs. New York Jets – Nearly every team has a letdown and throws in a stinker. I figure Buffalo will be due for a downer…Bills record 7-4.
Week 13 (Sunday, Nov. 30) – Home vs. Cleveland – No excuses for Buffalo. They wouldn’t be overconfident coming off a loss…Bills record 8-4.
Week 14 (Sunday, Dec. 7) at Denver – A mismatch…Bills record 8-5.
Week 15 (Sunday, Dec. 14) home vs. Green Bay – The Packers have Aaron Rodgers and won’t mind chilly weather…Bills record 8-6.
Week 16 (Sunday, Dec. 21) at Oakland – Buffalo will be smelling a playoff berth and should relish a visit to Oakland coming off losses to the Broncos and Packers…Bills record 9-6.
Week 17 (Sunday, Dec. 28) at New England – Whether or not the Patriots need this game, I can’t pick Buffalo to win in Foxborough...Bills record 9-7.
ARE THE NFL AND THE NETWORKS SHORTCHANGING THE BILLS?
The Buffalo Bills still aren’t prime-time players. At least that’s what the NFL and the networks seem to believe.
The league wants the best teams to make the most prime-time appearances and tries to keep the bottom-feeders out of sight.
Here are the number of scheduled appearances the 32 teams will make in the Week 1 Kickoff Game, Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, the Thanksgiving tripleheader and the one Saturday:
6 – Philadelphia (big market and flashy offense are tough to resist)
5 – Chicago (big help to be a major market…Bears aren’t this good or entertaining)…Dallas (the Cowboys and their cheerleaders are more popular than the team’s performance the past decade or so deserves)…San Francisco
4 – Denver…Green Bay…Indianapolis…New England…New Orleans…New York Giants…Pittsburgh…Seattle
3 – San Diego…Washington (more exposure than the team merits)
2 – Arizona…Baltimore…Carolina…Cincinnati…Detroit…Kansas City…New York Jets
1 – Atlanta…Houston…Miami…St. Louis…Tennessee
0 – Buffalo…Cleveland…Jacksonville…Minnesota….Oakland….Tampa Bay.
The “unwatchable” teams can force the NFL and the networks to boost their prime-time exposure via flex scheduling.
FOR A CHANGE – NBA PLAYOFFS LESS FORMFUL THAN THE NHL
The NBA playoffs usually are far more formful and predictable than the NHL playoffs.
Not so this year – at least so far.
Entering Friday night:
NBA – Home teams have only a 9-10 record through 19 games…Las Vegas favorites are a costly 4-15 against the point spread…underdog bettors have cashed in big but that’s likely to change soon.
NHL – Home teams are 21-10 through 31 games.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the competitiveness of the NHL playoffs: 19 of the 31 games were decided by one goal, including 10 in overtime.
HOW MUCH DOES CARMELO ANTHONY WANT TO WIN?
Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson this week offered a strong opinion that Carmelo Anthony should opt out of his contract with the New York Knicks and sign with a team capable of winning the NBA championship.
Robertson said Anthony is a great shooter and has been unfairly criticized in Denver and in New York for shooting too much or too little. He thinks a team such as Houston could win a title with Carmelo.
The Knicks have two big things in their favor, assuming new team president Phil Jackson really wants to keep him: for family (his wife is an entertainer) and endorsement reasons, and New York can pay him the most money.
Anthony can sign a max contact with the Knicks – five years for $129 million. The most he could get with another team – four years for $95.8 million.
Teams expected to show interest in Anthony – should he choose to jump the Knicks -- include Houston, Chicago, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Add Anthony to the Rockets, Bulls or Clippers, and he would make any of those teams ridiculously good.
Carmelo definitely is not a “loser.” He proved that at Syracuse University. But he isn’t likely to be a “winner” in terms of titles in the NBA unless he had played his last game for the Knicks. He did his best but hasn’t been surrounded by enough complementary players to get the job done.
Which does he value more – a max contract or a max chance to win a championship?
BRUINS ARE SEEKING 9TH PRESIDENTS’ TROPHY/STANLEY CUP SWEEP
The Boston Bruins are trying to become only the ninth team to win the Stanley Cup after winning the Presidents’ Trophy for posting the best record in the NHL’s regular season.
Here’s how the previous 27 winners of the Presidents’ Trophy (began in the 1985-86 season) fared:
8 won the Stanley Cup (1987 Edmonton…1989 Calgary…1994 New York Rangers…1999 Dallas (over the Buffalo Sabres)…2001 Colorado…2002 Detroit…2008 Detroit…2013 Chicago).
3 lost in the Stanley Cup finals (1990 Boston…1995 Detroit…2011 Vancouver).
5 lost in the conference finals (1996 Detroit…1997 Colorado…1998 Dallas…2003 Ottawa…2007 Buffalo).
1 lost in conference semifinals (2004 Detroit).
5 lost in conference quarterfinals (2000 St. Louis…2006 Detroit…2009 San Jose…2010 Washington…2012 Vancouver).
4 lost in divisional finals (1986 Edmonton…1988 Calgary…1992 New York Rangers…1993 Pittsburgh).
1 lost in division semifinals (1991 Chicago).
Note: This is the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Rangers sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy/Stanley Cup. Mike Keenan, the former Rochester Americans Calder Cup-winning coach, coached those Rangers. He currently is coaching in Russia.
The National Lacrosse League individual scoring title will be decided this weekend in the final action of the regular season. The top six scorers entering Saturday are: Grant Billings (Toronto) 101 points; 32 goals, 69 assists. He’s out for the season with a knee injury…Cody Jamieson (Rochester) 98 points; 34 goals, 65 assists…Shawn Evans (Calgary) 98 points; 23 goals, 75 assists…John Grant Jr. (Colorado) 91 points; 40 goals, 51 assists…Dane Dobbie (Calgary) 85 points; 48 goals, 37 assists…Dan Dawson (Rochester) 84 points; 18 goals, 66 assists.
Conrado “Connie” Marrero, the oldest living former major leaguer. died this week in Havana, two days short of his 103rd birthday.The 5-foot-5, 158-pouind right-hander pitched for the Washington Senators from 1950 through 1954 and finished his pro career with the Havana Sugar Kings from 1955 through 1957 (when he was 47 years old)…The new oldest living ex-major leaguer is former catcher Mike Sandlock at age 98…The oldest surviving former Rochester Red Wings are Neil Watlington (catcher; 1958 Wings; 91 years old), Red Schoendienst (SS; 1943-44 Red Wings; 90 years old), Bob Kuzava (pitcher; 1958 Red Wings; 90 years ago); Bill Greason (pitcher; 1956-59 Red Wings; 89 years old) and Billy DeMars (manager; 1968 Red Wings; 88 years old).
The Rochester Americans start the AHL Calder Cup playoffs Friday night at home against the Chicago Wolves. The magic number for the Amerks is 15 – the number of victories required to win the Cup. The Amerks were 37-28-6-5 in the regular season and outscored 216-217…But take heart. The franchise’s most recent of six Calder Cup champions was 37-34-5-4 in the regular season and outscored 294-297. In the playoffs, they were 15-4 in knocking off Adirondack (3-0), Cotnwall (4-0), Syracuse (4-1) and Portland (4-3).
The very early odds are coming out for the 2014 NFL season. The over-under wins for Buffalo is 6.5 and Dave Tuley of ESPNInsider recommends under: "The Bills are a team that the wiseguys often say will be improved, but they usually fall short. I haven’t seen anything this offseason that makes me think they’re keeping up with the other teams in the division.” He rates the Bills the best “under” bet in the NFL…In the early line for Week 1 of the season, the host Chicago Bears are favored by 6 ½ points over Buffalo. The only bigger favorites are Philadelphia -11 over visiting Jacksonville and Denver -7 over visiting Indianapolis.