BUFFALO BILLS: LAST-TO-FIRST IN THE AFC EAST?

 

No, that’s not coming from me. I’m not that optimistic. I’m a 9-7 guy and wavering.

 

It’s coming from Tom Gower of Football Outsiders, for insider.espn.com. No kidding.

 

Gower rates the probability of the teams that finished in last place in the NFL’s eight divisions to finish on top of their divisions this season.

 

He notes that in each of the past 11 seasons, at least one team has made the jump from last place-to-first jump in the division standings.

 

Gower admits it would be tough for Buffalo to beat out New England in the AFC East, but he figures the Bills :much better than the New York Jets or Miami Dolphins.” According to Football Outsiders numbers,  Buffalo was the 18th-best team in the 32-team NFL last season – and the 4th-best team on defense.

 

He expects Buffalo’s defense to have “another good year” and thinks the offense “is packed with the kind of young talent that could == isn’t likely to, but definitely could – take a big step forward all at once.”

 

Here is Gower’s list of the probability of last year’s eight last-place teams finishing first this season:   Buffalo 21.2 percent…Houston Texans 19.1 percent…Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17.3 percent …Washington Redskins 15.2 percent…St. Louis Rama 14.3 percent…Minnesota Vikings 12.9 percent…Cleveland Browns 10.4 percent…Oakland Raiders 1.5 percent.

 

I hope Gower is right but unless Patriots QB Tom Brady goes down, I can’t see Buffalo or any other team winning the AFC East…My top worst-to-first pick is Washington in the more wide-open NFC East.

 

BILLS’ LOSS NO BIG DEAL, BUT…

 

The scoreboard in NFL preseason games is meaningless. I get why they need a clock. It lets them know when the game is over. But the final score – who cares?

 

I figured the pro-Buffalo emotion of Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend in  Canton might carry over to the Bills’ performance Sunday night. I thought the team would be significantly more inspired than the New York  Giants for the mostly meaningless exhibition game. That didn’t seem to be the case.

 

The Giants “won” 17-13 in a scrimmage appropriately played in a high school stadium.

 

Nothing memorable happened in the game worth nothing – including any positive signs that EJ Manuel is ready to lead the Bills to the playoffs.

 

He was 2-for-7 for 19 yards. He had two passes batted down and was lucky to avoid an interception on a short pass he appeared to throw directly to an opponent. It looked like he could’ve used a little more work, but…

 

Manuel says his confidence is way up over last season. That’s good.  That’s important – certainly much more significant than my lack of confidence in the team’s QB situation (again!).

 

C.J. Spiller had one carry – up the middle for two yards. Then he rested. That’s fine by me. I think the Bills need a big season from Spiller to make this a playoff year. The fewer pre-season carries the better. I want this guy healthy and hungry. I don’t want to see him traded to Philadelphia or anywhere else.

 

It was sort of interesting to check out Buffalo’s huge rookie linemen. They’re as big as advertised and looked sort of slow. Rookie jitters? It was disappointing that rookie whiz Sammy Watkins didn’t catch a pass. That would’ve been a nice crumb for faithful fans.

 

No player was seriously hurt. That’s a big plus in any preseason game.

 

So now…onward and upward. The Bills play at the Carolina Panthers Friday night.

 

I’m hoping to see a little more from EJ Manuel…and maybe even a completion to Sammy.

 

RAY GUY AND MADDEN SHOULD BOOST TASKER’S CANTON CAUSE

 

Saturday night in Canton, Ray Guy became the first punter to be inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

Guy said, “The Hall of Fame Team now is complete.” He meant the mythuical team had been lacking a punter.

 

John Madden, who presented Guy, said, “Punters are football players, and the best belongs in the Hall of Fame.”

 

Didn’t they both boost the Hall of Fame stock of Steve Tasker?

 

Tasker was the heart and soul of Buffalo’s special teams. Few – if any – player did it better or for longer.

 

Some coaches have argued that special teams are one-third of football. That’s an exaggeration. But they are very important.

 

If Guy’s selection was overdue and he represents all punters, why shouldn’t Tasker rate similar respect?

 

Tasker further proved his all-around football talent by becoming a useful wide receiver late in his career. The Bills needed a boost at the position and he responded.

 

Tasker has twice been a semifinalist (top 25) for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (in 2012 and 2013). The selection of Guy could boost his stock for Canton.

 

THOUGHTS ON BUFFALO’S OTHER POSSSIBLE FUTURE HALL OF FAMERS…

 

Bill Polian – The most likely to be elected…Six-time NFL Executive of the Year…With Buffalo 1984 to 1993, Carolina Panthers 1994 to 1997, and Indianapolis Colts 1997 to 2011.

 

Fred Smerlas – Arguably the NFL’s all-time best nose tackle Curley Culp made Canton, so why not Fred?...Five-time Pro Bowlers and probably would’ve gone more often had the Bills been a stronger team…Hurt by the fact that be left just before the Bills went to four straight Super Bowls. Helped by the opinion of many that Buffalo would’ve won Super Bowl XXV had Fred been plugging the middle instead of successor Jeff Wright.

 

Darryl Talley – Meant more to the success of those Bills than most of the voters could possibly appreciate.

 

Drew Bledsoe – His passing numbers are more impressive than memories of how he played.

 

Cornelius Bennett – Hall of Fame talent but did not consistently dominate.

 

Kent Hull – Underrated…One or two Super Bowl rings would’ve helped.

 

HISTORY IS AGAINST THE SEAHAWKS

 

The Super Bowl XLVIII champion Seattle Seahawks are the overwhelming popular pick to repeat. They certainly look like the team to beat, but history offers plenty of hope for fans of the other 31 NFL teams.

 

Here’s how the 47 previous Super Bowl champions fared the following season:

 

Repeated as Super Bowl champions – 8

 

Lost in the Super Bowl – 3

 

Lost the conference title game – 6

 

Lost in the divisional playoffs – 11

 

Lost in the wild-card playoffs --  4

 

Missed the playoffs  -- 15.

 

TWINS HAVE A GREAT TRIPLE-A TEAM – IN MINNESOTA!

 

This season’s  Rochester Red Wings are a solid Triple-A team and a legitimate playoff contender. They enteredTuesday with a 63-53 record, third-best in the 14-team International League. They trailed Syracuse (64-51) by 1 ½ games for first place in the IL North and Pawtucket (64-53) by one-half game for the wild-card playoff berth.

 

How good might the 2014 Red Wings be if the parent Minnesota Twins were better? Several current Twins began this season in Rochester.

 

Minnesota crushed the host Chicago White Sox 16-3 on Sunday. TheTwins had 23 hits. Six players promoted from Rochester this season – Danny Santana, Chris Colabello, Chris Parmalee, Owaldo Arcia, Eric Fryer and Eduardo Nunez – were 16-for-28 with 3 HRs and 12 RBI. Arcia’s HR was the longest by for Minnesota in nine years.

 

Two other former Red Wings – Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe – were 4-for-10 with 2 RBI…DH Kennys Vargas was 2-for-5 with 2 RBI. He recently was promoted from Double-A New Britain. The 24-year-old, 6-foot-5, 275-pound switch-hitting first baseman is expected to play for Rochester next season. Vargas and Miguel  Sano should be a dynamite 1-2 power punch.

 

The winning pitcher (Kyle Gibson) and relief pitcher (Samuel Deduno) are former Red Wings.

 

Minnesota is rebuilding slowly but surely. The Twins were 66-96 (.407) last season. They entered Monday with a 50-60 (.455) record. Recent Red Wings have contributed mightily to the improvement.

 

JASON DUFNER ONE YEAR LATER

 

Last August, Jason Dufner entered the PGA Championship at Oak Hill as a 40-to-1 long shot. He arrived as a relatively unknown player. He left as the winner of his first major.

 

Surprisingly, Dufner is a 66-to-1 long shot to win this week’s PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Course in Louisville, Ky.

 

Maybe his outsider status should not be surprising. He simply hasn’t played well this year. In 16 events, he has no9 wins and one second (the Crowne Plaza Invitational). In the previous three majors this year, he missed the cut at the Masters and U.S. Open tied for 51st at The Open. He tied for 66th in last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

 

Dufner ranks 94th in scoring (70.900) and 47th on the money list ($1,651,491) this year.

 

All things considered, if Dufner’s 2013 PGA Championship was a big surprise, a Dufner victory in the 2014 PGA Championship would be a shock.

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

Bovada.com odds on the favorites in this week’s PGA Championship: Rory McIlroy 5-to-1…Adam Scott 12-to-1…Justin Rose 16-to-1…Sergio Garcia 16-to-1…Phil Mickelson 20-to-1…Rickie Fowler 20-to-1…Henrik Stenson 25-to-1…Keegan Bradley 28-to-1.

 

Chris Englehart has led the trainer standings at Finger Lakes Race Track for each of the past 11 years but his streak appears in jeopardy. Entering Monday, Chris ranked No. 2 in the standings with 39 victories out of 142 starts. His son – Jeremiah Englehart – ranked No. 1 with 42 wins out of 110 starts. Chris led Jeremiah in earnings ($515,447 to $477,759).

 

Thumbs up to Doug Miller for planning to rally the public and sponsors to save the Rochester Lancers season. but selling 8,000 season-tickets for indoor soccer would be a far more impressive feat than rallying 8,000-plus folks to buy share to buy the baseball Red Wings from the St. Louis Cardinals in the winter of 1956-57.