IF EJ MANUEL ISN’T BETTER, THE BILLS WON’T BE: PREDICTION: 6-10 AGAIN!
I goofed up. My mistake.
After many years of infuriating Buffalo Bills fans in western New York by predicting the team would post a losing record and fail to make the playoffs, I decided to be optimistic for a change.
When the 2014 schedule came out and when the preseason began, I forecast a 9-7 record and a possible playoff berth for the Bills.
I was impressed by most of Buffalo’s defense and the depth at running back and wide receiver. I still am. I figured the Bills are due to make the postseason. But I also was counting on EJ Manuel to be at least an average NFL starting quarterback in his second season – and hopefully a tad better than that.
Oops. Unless Manuel is playing possum and a vanilla team offense in the preseason severely compromised his performance, I’m worried that I was wrong.
I’m glad the Bills finally saw the light and shook up the back-up QB situation. Thad Lewis is gone after five emergency starts (and two wins) last season. Jeff Tuel was demoted to the practice squad. Jordan Palmer ‘s cameo in the last preseason game was a joke.
Signing Kyle Orton was a plus – better a veteran signed six months too late than never. He’s a big upgrade over Lewis and Tuel. Now this observer can’t continue to wonder if the Bills had no decent No. 2 QB because the general manager and head coach wanted to keep fan and media pressure off Manuel.
But I hope Orton at this stage of his career isn’t better than Manuel. He’ll turn 32 in November, but he hasn’t been a regular since 2010 with the Denver Broncos (20 TD passes, 9 INT, .588 completion percentage in 13 games, all starts). He has played in a total of four games in the past two seasons (one start).
If the Bills reluctantly need to replace Manuel due to injury or lack of production, the team probably be better off with Orton than the other recent backups. But could he spark the Bills to the long-awaited playoff berth? Possibly, but not likely.
Two other things bother me about the Bills – the defense could be a bit overrated minus Jairus Byrd and Kiko Alonso, and the offense could rely too much of running the football in a league that does everything to encourage throwing it. Buffalo led the NFL is rush attempts last season but ranked a mere 14th in yards per carry.
I believe Buffalo will go 2-4 vs. AFC East rivals – at best.
My revised and final prediction for the Bills: 6-10 – again! The key is Manuel and I hope he proves me wrong
BUFFALO QB SITUATION RATED WORST IN NFL
NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks of NFL.com on Monday listed the best-to-worst quarterback situations in the NFL, based on “talent and depth.” No big surprise – Buffalo is No. 32.
“Buffalo is primed to make a postseason run, based on a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball, but EJ Manuel’s shaky preseason has sparked concerns about his readiness as a starter. There is already a feeling around the NFL the veteran Kyle Orton – brought on to stabilize the backup position – could unseat the second-year pro in a few weeks. Given the overall instability at the position, the Bills are in a bit of a quandary.”
That was a nice way to put it.
THE THIRD ROUND OF THE 2012 DRAFT WILL HAUNT THE BILLS
The Bills cut wide receiver T.J. Graham last week. The previous administration at One Bills Drive had high hopes for the speedy player out of North Carolina State. They traded up in the second round of the 2012 draft -- No.69 overall – to get him. He was the 11th wide receiver picked.
Of course, Buffalo needed a quarterback even more than it needed a big-play threat at receiver. Unfortunately, the Bills were committed to journeyman retread Ryan Fitzpatrick at the time.
In that second round, six picks after Buffalo landed Graham, Seattle selected QB Russell Wilson (Wisconsin). The Bills liked him but were concerned about his lack of height. In other words, EJ Manuel looks more like a franchise NFL QB than Wilson does – at least until the games start. With the No. 88 pick, Philadelphia selected QB Nick Foles (Arizona).
Wilson and Foles figure to be solid NFL starters for years to come. Manuel figures to be Buffalo’s starting QB for at least a few more weeks.
GIRARDI LOYAL BUT STUBBORN WITH TEIXEIRA AND JETER
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi has done a solid job with his aging, overpaid and overrated team this season, but he deserves to be criticized for keeping fading veterans Derek Jeter in the No. 2 slot and Mark Teixeira in the cleanup spot.
Jeter has a .261 batting average, respectable for a 40-year-old shortstop playing almost every game, but it is a feeble .261. He has 14 doubles, 1 triple, 3 HRs and 111 singles. Among 153 batting qualifiers in the majors, he ranks 125th in on-base percentage (.308) and 150th in slugging percentage (.312)…He should’ve been batting in the No. 8 or No. 9 spot.
Teixeira is an “old” 34. Injuries and maybe PEDs have taken a toll. He leads the Yankees with 20 HRs, but he’s hitting only .223 and his career BA is down to .274. In July, he batted .203 with 3 HRs and 9 RBI in 18 games. In August, he batted .193 with 2 HRs and 5 RBI in 23 games. He should’ve been batting in the no. 6 or No. 7 spot.
Girardi will be spared hurting Jeter’s feelings next season. The Captain is retiring. But Teixeira has two seasons left on his 8-year, $180-million contract.
CFL’S GREY CUP SHAPING UP AS A MISMATCH
The Canadian Football League’s 102nd Grey Cup championship game will be November 30 in Vancouver, British Columbia. If the results so far this season is a fair gauge, the West Division representative almost certainly will be a healthy favorite and win the game.
The five West Division teams are a combined 32-12 this season (Calgary 7-1, Edmonton 7-1, Saskatchewan 7-2, Winnipeg 6-4 and British Columbia 5-4). The four East Division teams are a combined 8-28 (Toronto 3-7, Hamilton 2-6, Montreal 2-7 and Ottawa 1-8)
The West is 23-3 head-to-head against the East…East Division teams are 7-10 at home and 1-18 on the road. West Division teams are 15-8 at home and an amazing 17-4 on the road.
The CFL could use a strong dose of NFL-type parity.
RED WINGS BY THE NUMBERS
Monday’s 3-2 victory in Pawtucket gave the Rochester Red Wings a season-ending 77-67 record. The Wings outscored opponents by 62 runs (618 to 556) despite being outhomered by 10 (99 to 89).
Rochester led the 14-team in earned-run average much of the season but finished second to Buffalo (3.53 to 3.53). The Red Wings ranked fifth with a .266 batting average and 11th in home runs (89).
The Red Wings were an IL-best 45-27 at home and 32-40 on the road.
Rochester ranked 11th in paid attendance: 422,454 (6,401 average for 66 home dates).
IL MVP/ROOKIE OF THE YEAR SWEEP NO GUARANTEE OF MLB SUCCESS
Since the International League Rookie of the Year began in 1950, a total of 15 players have swept league honors for Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year -- including Rochester’s Chris Colabello in 2013 and Syracuse’s Steven Souza Jr., in 2014.
You’d think t6he MVP/top rookie sweep would suggest future stardom in the major leagues. But it hasn’t been. Here’s how the 15 sweepers fared in the majors:
Great career – Jim Rice (1974).
Very good careers – Don Buford (1963)…Rich Dauer (1976)…J.T. Snow (1992)
Decent careers – Mike Epstein (1966)…Merv Rettenmund (1968)
Disappointing careers – Joe Foy (1965)…Luis Alvarado (1969)…Roger Freed (1970)…Mike Vail (1975)…Scott Bradley (1984)…Dan Pasqua (1985)…Randy Milligan (1987)
Too early to tell – Colabello and Souza.
NFL “BEST BET”: SEATTLE (-5 ½) 24, GREEN BAY 21
The physical play by Seattle’s aggressive secondary in the Super Bowl romp over Denver could be the major reason for the zebra crackdown on defensive backs in the preseason. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers figures to take full advantage Thursday night and keep this game close all the way. Seattle won 14-12 at home against Green Bay in 2012
NOTE: The rest of Week 1’s “Best Bets” and Bob’s predictions for the 2014 season will be in Friday’s column.
The 12-man roster for Europe in the Ryder Cup (Sept. 26-28 in Scotland) was finalized Tuesday morning and the combined Ryder Cup record for the nine squad members is 69-39-17. Luke Donald (10-4-1) didn’t make it…U.S. captain Tom Watson was to announce his three picks Tuesday night. The six R=yder Cup veterans who were automatic qualifiers are a combined 35-47-15.
For the second straight year, no American male tennis player survived the third round of the U.S. Open. How old is the next great American male tennis player? Has he been born yet?
One of the unsung great performances in sports last weekend was Wise Dan’s courageous nose victory in the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga. Carrying a high-weight 127 pounds and coming off surgery for life-threatening colic, the seven-year-old defending two-time Horse of the Year earned his 22nd victory in 30 career starts and is closing in on $7 million in earnings. If the classy gelding wins the Breeders’ Cup Mile for the third straight time Nov. 1 at Santa Anita, he could be Horse of the Year again.
Minnesota’s five top farm teams finished a combined 53 games above .500: Rochester 77-67…New Britain 73-69…Fort Myers 83-57…Cedar Rapids 73-67…Elizabethton 38-30.
The Jamestown Jammers split a doubleheader Monday in their final games in the New York-Penn League. The franchise is moving to Morgantown, W. Va. The Jammers won the first game 302 over Mahoning Valley on a walk-off HR by Jordan Luplow. Unfortunately, they had to play the second game and lost 12-3. The home twinbill drew 950 fans.
Updated odds on the WBC/WBA super welterweight title fight Sept. 13 in Las Vegas: Floyd Mayweather Jr. bet $800 to win $100…Marcus Maidana bet $100 to win $575.
Lee Janzen will make his PGA Champions Tour debut in this week’s Quebec Classic. The two-time U.S. Open winner (1993 and 1998) turned 50 on Aug. 28.
Major League Soccer average attendance this season is 18,948. Seattle is tops (42,785) and Chivas USA is worst (6,417).
I don’t believe it is necessarily a bad sign that EJ Manuel was not voted one of the six captains for the Bills. After all, he’s only a second-year player. But he is the quarterback and it would’ve been a good sign if his teammates showed enough faith and confidence in him to include him among the “C” men.