LET’S HOPE THE BILLS ARE PLAYING POSSUM

 

I apologize for early this week saying it was a disgrace for Thursday night’s Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills practice game to be blacked out.

 

A bigger disgrace was another embarrassing effort by the Bills – particularly the punchless offense, including befuddled quarterback EJ Manuel.

 

Many football fans who had hoped to watch the Bills on TV probably settled for a college game instead. Lucky for them.  Buffalo’s 23-0 loss to a Detroit team that didn’t even suit up  11 starters was – by all accounts -- unwatchable. I didn’t see it myself and I’m glad I didn’t.

 

No complaints about Buffalo’s defense. The first-string unit has played well throughout the preseason and that figures to continue.

 

But if the offense continues to struggle, the defense is going to be on the field far too much for maximum effectiveness. Imagine how frustrated the defensive mainstays must have felt throughout the preseason as their teammates on offense consistently sputtered.

 

I don’t know who is mainly responsible for drafting Manuel in the first round in 2013, but that person must be feeling sick about his decision right about now.

 

Manuel and the first-string offense didn’t score a TD against an opposing first-string defense in the entire preseason. That’s pathetic.

 

Manuel played the first quarter Thursday night with the same old results. He was 3-of-7 for 56 yards. He had two completions that went for 20-or-more yards -- one was on a dump pass to Fred Jackson and the other deflected off a defender and was caught by Robert Woods. He missed an open receiver on a third-down throw and was sacked twice. His offensive line wasn’t doing him any favors in the protection department, but still –

 

After the game, Manuel again said he was pretty much satisfied with his performance. He must not have great expectations but he certainly has ample self-confidence.

 

Perhaps the biggest joke of the night was Jordan Palmer playing the last three quarters for the Bills. He’d been on the team for TWO DAYS! He looked rusty (9-of-22 for 73 yards, with 3 interceptions). The big problem is that he ALWAYS looks rusty. Since being drafted in the sixth round in 2007, he has appeared in four regular-season NFL games. If he’s the answer, I hate to ask what the question is.

 

Jeff Tuel, supposedly Buffalo’s second-string QB, did not play Thursday night. There were no reports that he is injured.  Is he trade bait? I hope so. But is there another NFL team that wants him?

 

Maybe coach Doug Marrone, Manuel and the rest of the players on offense are playing possum. Maybe the plan is to get the host Chicago Bears overconfident for the season-opening game next Sunday. Maybe Marrone and Manuel have been hiding the good stuff and will explode when it really counts.

 

I don’t think so. My prediction when training camp opened was a 9-7 record and a possible playoff berth. After 14 years of being a grouch and picking the Bills to finish with a losing record and miss the playoffs, I decided to try to be nice.

 

No more Mr. Nice Guy.  My next WHAM/WHTK column will appear Tuesday, after Labor Day weekend. It will include my revised prediction for the 2014 Bills. It won’t be .500 or better. I’m not nearly as optimistic as John The Optimist or even EJ Manuel.

 

GIANCARLO STANTON OR CLAYTON KERSHAW FOR NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP?

 

Should a pitcher be chosen Most Valuable Player?

 

Should a player on a losing team be MVP?

 

I generally oppose pitchers being considered for MVP, especially since the introduction of their own award – the Cy Young Award.

 

Hitters can’t be Cy Young Award winners, so why should pitchers win MVP awards?

 

Clayton Kershaw is an exception. The Dodgers are loaded with talent and Kershaw has clearly been the team’s MVP: 16-3 record (including 13-1 in his last 16 starts), 1.73 earned-run average, 161 1/3 innings, 112 hits allowed, 23 walks, 194 strikeouts and an amazing 0.84 WHIP (walks + hits per inning).

 

Ernie Banks won consecutive National League MVP awards with losing Chicago Cubs teams. But that seldom happens. Giancarlo of the Miami Marlins could be another exception.

 

Entering Thursday, Stanton was hitting .294 and leading the NL in HRs (33), RBI (97), total bases (273), on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS (.961). He’s also a plus outfielder with a terrific arm.

 

All due respect to Andrew McCutchen (Milwaukee), Jonathan Lucroy (Milwaukee) and Justin Upton (Atlanta), but entering September, NL MVP appears to be a two-man race between Kershaw and Stanton.

 

THE ALL-TIME WORST BUFFALO BILLS SEASON BY QBs

 

It wouldn’t be fair to state that the Buffalo Bills have the worst quarterback situation in the NFL entering this 2014 season, but it has to be in contention.

 

Unless EJ Manuel stays healthy and has at least a fair regular season, the Bills are likely to miss the playoffs for a 15th straight year. Jeff Tuel and Jordan Palmer are likely to contribute much if Manuel is injured or fails to perform to the expectations (and prayers?) of management and the coaching staff.

 

No matter how poorly Buffalo’s QBs perform this season, they’re unlikely to approach the ineptitude of the 1968 Bills:

 

Dan Darragh 92-of-215 for 917 yards, with 3 TD passes and 14 interceptions

 

Ed Rutkowski  41-of-100 for 380 yards, with 0 TD passes and 6 INTs

 

Kay Stephenson 29-of-79 for 364 yards, with 4 TD passes and 7 INTs.

 

Totals – 162-of-394 (.411) for 1,661 yards, with 7 TD passes and 27 INTs.

 

Not surprisingly, the 1968 Bills had a 1-12-1 record.

 

And the 1985 duo of Vince Ferragamo and Bruce Mathison merit a dishonorable mention nod for their contributions to a 2-14 record: 262-of-515 (.508) for 3,312 yards, with 9 TD passes, 31 INTs and 40 sacks. No wonder Jim Kelly’s arrival was greeted with parades.

 

SHRINKING BATTING AVERAGES NOT A MYSTERY

 

In 2000, 63 players finished the Major League Baseball season with batting averages of .300 or better. Entering this week, only 21 hitters had .300-or-better averages.

 

In 2000, the overall MLB batting average was .270, on-base percentage .345 and slugging percentage .437…In 2009, the line has dropped to .262, .333 and .416…Entering this week, it was .252, .315 and .388.

 

Those numbers are from this week’s issue of USA Today Sports Weekly – and they aren’t all that surprising.

 

My two main reasons for the plunge in hitting:

 

There are more late-inning power pitchers in the majors all the time. Starters work less and deeper bullpens work more…2000 was the height of the Steroid Era. The stunning drop in offensive production proves the effectiveness of performance-enhancing drugs and suggests that a whole lot of players were users.

 

RED WINGS, PAWSOX, BISONS TALE OF THE TAPE

 

The Rochester Red Wings, Buffalo Bisons and Pawtucket Red Sox are in a three-team battle for the International League’s one wild-card playoff spot.

 

Entering Friday night, with three days left in the regular season, the three teams rank 1-2-3 in the 14-team IL in earned-run average: Rochester 3.54; Buffalo 3.56; Pawtucket 3.60.

 

Here’s how they compare in other categories:

 

Batting average – Rochester .267; Buffalo .259; Pawtucket .257

 

Runs – Pawtucket 624…Rochester 608…Buffalo 593

 

Doubles – Rochester 294…Pawtucket 265…Buffalo 243

 

Home runs – Pawtucket 109…Buffalo 101…Rochester 87

 

Stolen bases – Buffalo 108…Rochester 71…Pawtucket 66

 

On-base percentage – Buffalo .336; Pawtucket .329; Rochester .328

 

Slugging percentage – Rochester; Pawtucket .393; Buffalo .388

 

OPS – Rochester .725; Buffalo .724; Pawtucket .722

 

Fewest runs allowed – Buffalo 531…Rochester 540…Pawtucket 543

 

Run differential – Pawtucket +81…Rochester +68…Buffalo +62

 

WHIP (hits + walks allowed per inning) – Buffalo 1.29; Rochester 1.31; Pawtucket 1.32.

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

The Red Wings will play their final two home games of the regular season Friday and Saturday nights. The current home paid attendance is 398,594. With banner crowds expected for both games, the final paid count will be around 420,000. Recent home attendances: 420,751 in 2013; 414,398 in 2012, 448,024 in 2011; 462,004 in 2010; 461,946 in 2009.

 

We all know stadium beer is overpriced. But by how much? According to a study by Forbes magazine, the Detroit Lions have the most overpriced beer in the NFL: a 16-ounce beer costs $8.50. That’s a 765 percent markup over local grocery store prices…Buffalo ranked No. 7, with as 614 percent markup.

 

Also, according to Forbes magazine, the Dallas Cowboys had $560 million in revenues last season, more than twice as much as the Buffalo Bills ($252 million). The Cowboys aren’t close to being twice as good as the Bills on the field.

 

The Bills now are 7-point underdogs  on the road vs. the Chicago Bears Week 1 Sept. 7. The over-under is 48 ½ points…The other AFC East odds: New England -4 ½ at Miami…New York Jets -4 ½ at home vs. Oakland.

 

Dream outfield scenario for the Boston Red Sox next season: Yoenis Cespedes in left field, Rusney Castillo in center field and Giancarlo Stanton in right field (via trade with the Miami Marlins). That trio would do serious damage at Fenway Park.

 

For what this is worth (probably not much), here is how Ryan Nassib (New York Giants via Syracuse) and EJ Manuel (Buffalo Bills via Florida State) compared this preseason:  Nassib  44-of-74 (.595) for 588 yards (116.6 yards passing per game); 5 TD passes; 0 INTs; 107.3 passer rating; 1 sack…Manuel  50-of-82 (.610) for 517 yards 1034 yards passing per game); 1 TD pass; 2 INTs; 73.1 passer rating; 7 sacks…In fairness, Nassib didn’t face many first-string defenses and Manuel mostly did.

 

It is unfortunate that the Rochester Americans and the Hershey Bears, the two oldest teams in the American Hockey League, won’t play against each other this season. So much for that great rivalry. In fact, the Amerks will not play 14 of the other 29 teams in the AHL. It makes me wish the AHL could be split in half, so each teams would exclusively play against the other 14 teams in its league. It would save money on travel and create more rivalries. The two leagues could play each other in every round of the playoffs. The Calder Cup would go to the winner.

 

Nashville, Tenn., is the latest Triple-A city that is building a new downtown stadium. The Sounds (Pacific Coast League; affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers) will play in the $38 million facility (total cost $65 million, including acquisition of land and other costs). It replaces Greer Stadium, built in 1978 and deemed antiquated 36 years later.

 

The Western NY Sports Card EXPO at Batavia Downs Sept. 20 and 21, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature reunions of Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” Saturday and the cast of the Sopranos Sunday. Admission is $5….Interesting price comparison: Pete Rose $70 for flats and balls; $90 for jerseys and bats; Johnny Bench $80 for flats and balls; $115 for jerseys and bats…Bench is a Hall of Famer and Rose is not…Bench has a longer name (11 letters per signature compared to Rose’s 8).