KICKING OFF WITH THOUGHTS ON THE BUFFALO BILLS


PATRIOTS “KNOW HOW TO WIN”...ZEBRAS HELP AGAIN


BRONCOS, SEAHAWKS 1-2, BILLS 27TH IN BOB’S NFL POWER RANKINGS


YANKEES OUTFIELD: NO ROOM FOR GARDNER WITH BIGGER NAMES?


Sunday’s 27-6 loss at Tampa Bay was an embarrassment to Buffalo Bills fans on every level.


The Buccaneers did not play well. I’ll give them a C, mainly because they won – by 23 points.


I’ll give the Bills a D-, mainly because the defense played OK in the second half.


The “battle of rookie quarterbacks” was a bust. Mike Glennon of Tampa Bay was lousy, but EJ Manuel of Buffalo was worse. Glennon at least threw a few fruitful deep passes.


The Bills were three TDs down entering the fourth quarter against a bad team in perfect weather. Time to go deep, right? Not if your QB is Manuel and you’re babying him along.


Five things can happen on deep throws: completion, incompletion, defensive pass interference (often called), offensive pass interference (hardly ever called) and interception (usually the equivalent of a punt). In other words, deep passes are a much better way to get back into games than dump passes and runs up the middle. The Bills displayed no urgency in attempting to score ONE touchdown, let alone three.


How much longer do we have to hear that the Bills are “keeping it simple” for Manuel? This is his job. How complicated can stuff like “throw deep” be?


Manuel has shown enough – I suppose – to reject the temptation to suggest that Buffalo’s 2014 first-round pick should be another quarterback. I’m trying to be patient, but games like Sunday make it difficult.


One plus from Sunday’s loss is the end of the ludicrous “we’re still in the running for a playoff berth” talk.


Another plus is that I won’t be dishing out $3,000 to John The Optimist. The odds on the Bills winning Super Bowl 48 (XLVIII if you prefer) entering Sunday were 3,000-to-1. Last week, I put down $1 for John, without fear of having to come up with it.


But I did pick Buffalo to win Sunday. And the Sunday before that. I’ll probably be picking the Bills again for this Sunday’s game in Jacksonville. I hope and think they’re better than the Jaguars. Aren’t they? Buffalo is favored by 1 ½ points on the early line.


MORE THOUGHTS ON THE NFL


Ho-hum. Sunday’s heroes included: Tom Brady 418 yards passing in a New England come-from-behind victory...Peyton Manning 397 yards passing in a Denver victory...Drew Brees 313 yards passing in a New Orleans victory. One of these days, the Bills might have a QB of that ilk.


I would never totally discount the New England Patriots from Super Bowl contention as long as Tom Brady is QB and Bill Belichick is coach, but I don’t believe they can go all the way this season without injured (again) Rob Gronkowski. He’s the NFL’s best tight end by far – maybe the best ever. Brady can be great without Gronk but he’s often fabulous with him.


Dirty hit on Gronkowski? Sure. More to come. Defensive backs now have to hit low to avoid flags and keep their jobs.


By now we all know that the Bills are the NFL’s symbol for “don’t know how to win.” The even more obvious symbol for “they know how to win” is the New England Patriots. They did it again Sunday, helped mightily by an onside kick and another favorable pass interference call from a zebra on a deep throw into the end zone. The Patriots don’t get all of the calls, but they do seem to get far more than their share – particularly the really important ones.


Veteran Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer quietly is enjoying a fine season. He supposedly had a sore elbow all last week but was 27x32 in Sunday’s 30-10 home win over St. Louis to end his team’s 8-game skid vs. NFC West opponents. Arizona is 5-1 in its last 6 games and 8-5 overall....Seattle was trying to post a franchise-record sixth straight road victory but instead suffered a fifth straight loss in San Francisco (19-17).


Josh Gordon (Cleveland) had 151 yards receiving in Sunday’s 27-26 loss at New England and set an NFL record with 774 yards receiving over a four-game span (Detroit’s Calvin Johnson had the record of 746 earlier this season)...Matt Flynn was impressive in Sunday’s 22-21 come-from-behind 22-21 Green Bay home victory Sunday over Atlanta. The Bills could’ve used him in the second half of the loss to Tampa Bay.


San Diego fans had fun booing Eli Manning during the Chargers’ 37-14 home romp over the New York Giants. He’s 0-3 vs. San Diego since letting the Chargers know during the 2004 NFL draft that he didn’t want to play for them and forcing a trade to the Giants...New York Jets 37, Oakland 27: the Raiders have lost 13 consecutive games played in the Eastern time zone...Hard to believe the Jets are 6-7 with rookie Geno Smith as starting QB.


Class move by Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy, who during Sunday’s 31-20 home victory over Detroit, had a franchise-record 217 yards rushing: he hailed Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren, who held the record of 205 yards – set in 1949...Through three quarters, Baltimore led Minnesota 7-6. The two teams combined for 5 TDs in 125 seconds late in the game and the Ravens won 29-26.


Things haven’t exactly worked out in Washington for Mike Shanahan – except for his bank account -- since he passed up a chance to coach the Bills instead of the Redskins...Washington’s 45-10 home loss to visiting Kansas City Sunday was the fifth double-digit loss for the Redskins this season. The stadium was virtually empty in the second half and most of the fans who stayed were booing the home team...The snow was tons of fun in several NFL games on Sunday. Lots of scoring. Lots of big plays. A few crazy finishes. Lots of entertainment.  Maybe Super Bowl 48 in New Jersey Feb. 2 won’t be so bad after all – even if the weather is lousy.


WEEK 14’S TOP PERFORMANCES


300-Yard Passers


Tom Brady (New England) 418 yards (won)


Peyton Manning (Denver) 397 (won)


Jason Campbell (Cleveland) 391


Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh) 349 (lost)


Josh McCown (Chicago) 3468 (won)


Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) 326 (lost)


Drew Brees (New Orleans) 313 (won)


100-Yard Receivers


Andre Johnson (Houston) 154 yards (lost)


Shane Vereen (New England) 153 (won)


Josh Gordon (Cleveland) 151 (lost)


Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota) 141 yards (lost)


Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh) 137 (lost)


Hakeem Nicks (NY Giants) 135 (lost)


Rod Streater (Oakland) 130 (lost)


Marques Colston (New Orleans) 125 (won)


Jordan Cameron (Cleveland) 121 (lost)


Eric Decker (Denver) 117 (won)


Justin Hunter (Tennessee) 114 (lost)


Da’Rick Rogers (Indianapolis) 107 (lost)


Brandon Marshall (Chicago) 100 (won)



100-Yard Rushers


LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia) 217 yards (won)


DeMarco Murray (Dallas) 146 (lost)


Jamaal Charles (Kansas City) 151 (won)


Bobby Rainey (Tampa Bay) 127 (won)


Marcel Reece (Oakland) 123 (lost)


Frank Gore (San Francisco) 110 (won)


Daniel Thomas (Miami) 105 (won)


Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville) 103 (won)


Ryan Mathews (San Diego) 103 (won)


Matt Forte (Chicago) 102.


NFL WEEK 14 STAT PACK


Home teams were 14-2 outright (128-79-1 this season) and 10-6 against the Las Vegas point spread (108-91-9 this season)


Las Vegas favorites were 14-2 outright (131-76-1 this season) and 10-6 against the spread (105-95-8 this season)


Teams winning the turnover battle were 8-1 (123-27-1 this season)


Teams leading in time of possession were 11-5 (135-72-1 this season)


Teams with the better record entering the game were 8-3 (88-61-1 this season)


Teams scoring first were 10-6 (131-76-1 this season)


Teams leading after the first quarter were 10-4 (106-58-1 this season)


Teams leading at halftime were 12-4 (139-48-1 this season)


Teams leading after the third quarter were 13-3 (158-35-1 this season)


Four of the 16 games were decided by 3 points or fewer (55 of 208 games this season)


Six of the 16 games were decided by 7 points or less (102 of 208 games this season)


The AFC was 3-1 vs. the NFC head-to-head but the NFC still leads this season’s interconference series 31-27.


There were 859 points in 16 games (53.7-point average). The previous top average points for a week this season was Week 9’s 51.3.


BOB’S NFL POWER RANKINGS


1--Denver...2—Seattle...3—New Orleans...4—Carolina...5--San Francisco...6—New England...7—Kansas City...8—Cincinnati...9—Philadelphia...10--Arizona...11—Indianapolis...12—Baltimore...13Miami...14—Detroit...15—Green Bay...16—Chicago...17—Dallas...18—San Diego...19—NY Jets...20—Pittsburgh...21—St. Louis...22—Tennessee...23—NY Giants...24—Tampa Bay...25—Jacksonville...26—Cleveland...27—Buffalo...28--Oakland...29—Minnesota...30--Atlanta...31—Washington...32—Houston.


THE NUMBERS GAME


An NFL single-day record 90 touchdowns were scored Sunday – no thanks to the Buffalo Bills:


Six TDs – Cincinnati, Denver, Kansas city


Five TDs – Philadelphia


Four TDS – Arizona, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Miami, New Orleans, NY Jets, San Diego, Tennessee


Three TDs – Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, New England, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay


Two TDs – Green Bay, NY Giants, Seattle


One TD – Carolina, St. Louis, San Francisco, Washington


Zero TDs – Buffalo.


--NFL’s best regular-season records in December/January in the last five season (2009 through present):


New England 23-3 (amazing...salute to Bill Belichick and Tom Brady) and San Diego 20-6.


--Quarterbacks with the best records in the final four games of the regular season since 1970 (minimum 20 starts): Tom Brady 41-8...Philip Rivers 27-6...Roger Staubach 24-6...Joe Montana 28-10.


YANKEES OUTFIELD: SEEN BETTER DAYS BUT NO ROOM FOR GARDNER?


The New York Yankees had to add some big names to boost attendance and cable TV ratings and two of the recent additions give the team undoubtedly the wealthiest five-man outfield in baseball history. In their primes, it probably would be the all-time best five-man outfield.


Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran join holdovers Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki.


Of course, Ellsbury is the only member of the quintet with a chance to post a career-best season.  The others have seen better days.


The Yankees are listening to trade offers for Brett Gardner simply because there is no room for him in the star-studded outfield. There is a possibility that the Yankees might eat what is left on the contracts for Suzuki or Wells, but that seems unlikely, even though Gardner probably is the more useful player.


Here is the team’s five-man outfield:


Carlos Beltran – Turns 37 in April...Just signed a 3-year/$45 million contract...2013 stat line with St. Louis: .296, 30 doubles, 3 triples, 24 HRs, 84 RBI, 2 stolen bases in 145 games ...Best season: 2006 with the Mets: .275, 41 HRs, 116 RBI, 18x21 stolen bases...Career stats: .283 (2228x7868), 446 doubles, 77 tri-les, 358 HRs, 1,327 RBI, 308x356 stolen bases (but he’s no longer a consistent base-stealing threat) in 2,064 games...Top contract was $19,401,569 in 2011.


Jacoby Ellsbury – Turned 30 on Sept. 11...Just signed a 7-year/$153 million contract...2013 stat line with Boston: .298, 92 runs, 31 doubles, 8 triples, 9 HRs, 53 RBI, 52x56 stolen bases in 134 games...Best season: 2011 with Boston: .321 (212x660), 119 runs, 46 doubles, 5 triples, 32 HRs, 105 RBI, 39x54 stolen bases in 158 games...Career stats: .297; 476 runs, 865 hits, 65 HRs, 314 RBI, 241x287 stolen bases...Best previous contract was $9 million in 2013.


Alfonso Soriano – Turns 38 on Jan. 7...Final season of a 7-year, $136 million contract...2013 stat line with Cubs/Yankees: .255, 32 doubles, 1 triple, 34 HRs, 101 RBI, 18x27 stolen bases in 151 games...Best season: 2002 with Yankees: .300; 128 runs, 51 doubles, 2 triples, 39 HRs, 102 RBI, 41x54 stolen bases in 156 games with Yankees...Career stats: .272; 2,045 hits, 406 HRs, 1136 RBI, 288x372 stolen bases...Best contract was $19 million for each of 2010 and 2011.


Ichiro Suzuki – Turned 40 on Oct. 22...Final season of a 2-year/$13 million contract...2013 stat line with Yankees: .262, 57 runs, 15 doubles, 3 triples, 7 HRs, 35 RBI, 20x24 stolen bases in 150 games...Best season was 2004 with Seattle: .372 (262x704), 101 runs, 24 doubles, 5 triples, 8 HRs, 60 RBI, 36x47 stolen bases in 161 games...Career stats: .319; 2,742 hits, 323 doubles, 83 triples, 111 HRs, 695 RBI, 472x578 stolen bases in 2,061 games...Best contract was $18 million each in 2009, 2010 and 2011.


Vernon Wells – Turned 35 on Sunday...Final season of a 7-year/$126 million contract...2013 stat line with Yankees: .233, 16 doubles, 11 HRs, 50 RBI, 7x10 stolen bases in 130 games...Best season was 2003 with Toronto: .317, 118 runs, 49 doubles, 5 triples, 33 HRs, 117 RBI, AL-most 373 total bases in 161 games...Hard to believe how good he used to be and how quickly he lost it...Career stats: .270; 1,794 hits, 930 runs, 379 doubles, 34 triples, 270 HRs, 958 RBI, 109x146 stolen bases in 1,731 games.


UNITED STATES IN GROUP OF DEATH


The World Cup 2014 draw was last Friday and – as many had feared --the United States wound up in the dreaded “Group of Death.”  That means:  the toughest of the eight four-nation groups for next summer’s soccer tournament in Brazil.


One way to gauge the relative strength of the eight groups is to compare the latest cumulative FIFA world rankings of the four-nation groups.


Here are the combined rankings as of the most-recent rankings (the lower=the tougher) -- Disclaimer: I realize that most soccer buffs scoff at the FIFA world rankings, but I offer these numbers to justify the “Group of Death” tag):


Group A – 97 (Brazil 10th, Croatia 16th, Mexico 20th, Cameroon 51st)


Group B – 84 (Spain 1st, Netherlands 9th, Chile 15th, Australia 59th)


Group C – 81 (Colombia 4th, Greece 12th, Ivory Coast 17th, Japan 48th)


Group D – 57 (Uruguay 6th, Italy 7th, England 13th, Costa Rica 31st)


Group E – 91 (Switzerland 8th, France 19th, Ecuador 23rd, Honduras 41st)


Group F – 104 (Argentina 2nd, Bosnia-Herzegovina 21st, Nigeria 36th, Iran 45th)


Group G – 45 (Germany 2nd, Portugal 5th, United States 14th, Ghana 24th)


Group H – 113 (Belgium 11th, Russia 22nd, Algeria 26th, South Korea 54th).


The next FIFA world rankings will be announced Dec. 19.


SHORT SHOTS


The NFL Redskins are taking the heat off Congress. I don’t know which is more dysfunctional in Washington, DC. Thank goodness for baseball’s Nationals. As of the moment, I believe they are the best and deepest team in MLB.


The previous New York Yankee free-agent addition that most reminds me of Jacoby Ellsbury is Johnny Damon, who spent four seasons with the team (2006 through 2009). Damon’s best season with the Yankees probably was 2006. 149 games; .285 batting average; 115 runs; 35 doubles; 5 triples; 24 HRs; 80 RBI; 25 stolen bases. I won’t be surprised if Ellsbury posts similar stats in 2014.


NBA viewing tips: ESPN doubleheader Wednesday night, Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks (the Madison Square Garden fans will be in a bootiful mood after Sunday’s 114-73 home loss to Boston) and Dallas at Golden State...TNT doubleheader Thursday night, Los Angeles Clippers at Brooklyn Nets and Houston Rockets at Portland Trail Blazers...Friday, 8 p.m., on ESPN, the Los Angeles Lakers at Oklahoma City. It is scheduled to be Kobe Bryant’s third game in his comeback from Achilles surgery.