THE BILLS ARE DOING WELL…BUT THE PATRIOTS ARE DOING BETTER

The Buffalo Bills might be a better team heading into the 2017 NFL season than they were last year.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor has been retained and figures to improve in his third season as a starter. The running attack should continue to be among the league’s best. The new coaching staff is expected to produce a fresh attitude and a new scheme could revive the defense.

Assuming wide receiver Sammy Watkins and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus are healthy and happy, they could be ready to emerge as leaders on the field and in the locker room.

I’ve always respected general manager Doug Whaley’s ability to import NFL veteran players in time of need. I believe pro scouting is his strength. With relatively limited space under the salary cap, I’ve been impressed by roster cuts (including Dan Carpenter, Marcus Easley, Aaron Williams and Corey Graham) to add cap space and the players he has added to the roster, particularly versatile safety Micah Hyde (Green Bay) and fullback Patrick DiMarco (Atlanta from Atlanta). They were major contributors to winning teams.

Other useful newcomers include kicker Steve Hasuchka, offensive guard Vlad Dicasse, defensive back Jordan Pryor, fullback Mike Tolbert and wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown.

Other plus moves included retaining linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, offensive lineman Jordan Mills and punter Colton Schmidt. Running back Mike Gillislee and center Ryan Groy received restricted free-agent tenders and could also return.

Unfortunately, the Bills won’t win the AFC East Free Agent Derby. Naturally, no team in the division has improved more since the end of last season than the Super Bowl 51 champion New England Patriots.

Sure, the Patriots are sometimes lucky, but they’re also super smart. No team can add more for less than New England.

So far, the Patriots have added cornerback Stephon Gilmore (some observers believe the Patriots overpaid for him, but if Bill Belichick likes Gilmore so much, I’m pretty sure he’s better than he looked at times with the Bills), wide receiver Brandin Cooks (from Drew Brees to Tom Brady: he’s a pretty lucky guy), tight end Dwayne Allen to complement Rob Gronkowski, and Kony Ely, who you just know is on the verge of becoming a terrific pass rusher.

The gap between the Patriots and the rest of the AFC East continues to widen.

The best hope for the Bills, Dolphins and Jets? Tom Brady suddenly begins to act his age. Don’t count on it. And Jimmy Garoppolo is waiting in the wings. He just might be the second-best QB in the AFC East today.

WHO IS COREY “PHILLY” BROWN?

The newest free-agent signing by the Bills is wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown.

Some skeptics are observing that new head coach Sean McDermott might be partial to former players for the Carolina Panthers – the way Rex Ryan liked former New York Jets. McDermott was Carolina’s defensive coordinator. If he thinks Brown can help the Bills, I think he’ll be an asset.

Brown is on the small side for an NFL wide receiver: 5-foot-11, 180 pounds. He was one of Pennsylvania top sprinters in high school and can return kicks.

He played college football at Ohio State and was the team’s top receiver as a junior (60 catches for 669 yards and 3 TDs) and as a senior (63/771/10 TDs).

Carolina signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2014. In 43 regular-season games with the Panthers, he had 79 catches for 1,019 yards and 7 TDs.

He was at his best in the 2015 postseason. In Carolina’s 49-15 romp over Arizona in the NFC championship, he had 4 catches for 113 yards, including an 86-yard TD catch. In the 24-10 loss to Denver in Super Bowl 50, he had 4 catches for a team-high 80 yards.

Brown isn’t as fast and doesn’t jump as far as former smallish Buffalo wide receiver Marques Goodwin, but I think he’s a better football player than Goodwin and will be more productive – ideally as No. 3 receiver. Hopefully, Doug Whaley can come up with a No. 2 receiver to complement Sammy Watkins.

EVERYTHING YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE NIT

The NIT began in 1938 and used to be the most prestigious post-season college basketball tournament. Obviously, it no longer is and hasn’t been for a long time. If the NCAA Tournament is the Big Dance, the NIT is a high school Senior Prom.

A total of 52 different schools have won the NIT – and Syracuse is not among them. SU has played in the NIT 12 times with an overall record of 14-13. In SU’s only championship game, it lost 86-84 to Tulsa in 1981. SU has lost in the first round five times.

This will be SU’s first trip to the NIT since 2008, when it beat Robert Morris and Maryland before losing to Massachusetts in the quarterfinals.

St. John’s has the most NIT titles (five) and had a sixth title vacated (in 2003). Bradley has won four times.

Winning schools include Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio State, St. Bonaventure (1977), UCLA and Villanova.

Colorado won the first NIT in 1938 and George Washington won in 2016.

Seton Hall won in 1953. Former East High star Walter Dukes was MVP.

MVP HISTORY IS AGAINST RUSSELL WESTBROOK

Oklahoma City’s mercurial Russell Westbrook logged his 32nd triple-double (double-figure points, rebounds and assists in the same game) of the season Saturday night in a victory over Utah.  That broke a tie with Wilt Chamberlain and left Westbrook behind only Oscar Robertson, who had a record 41 triple-doubles in the 1961-62 season for the Cincinnati Royals.

Westbrook is trying to become the first NBA player to finish a full season averaging in double figures in points, rebounds and assists.

Some people believe Westbrook will be this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player, with his impressive number of triple-doubles the main reason.  Not so fast.

Let’s compare Robertson (1961-62 season) and Westbrook  (2016-17 season thus far):

Team records – Cincinnati 43-37 (.538)…Oklahoma City 37-29 (.561)

Scoring – Robertson 30.8 points per game (5th in the NBA)…Westbrook 31.9 (1st)

Assists – Robertson 11.4 per game (1st)…Westbrook 10.1 (3rd)

Rebounds – Robertson 12.5 per game (8th)…Westbrook 10.5 (12th)

Minutes per game – Robertson 44.3 (2nd)…Westbrook 34.9 (18th).

Robertson was not the league MVP in hid amazing 1960-61 season. He finished third:

1—Bill Russell (Boston)…297.0 total voting points (51 of 85 first-place votes)

2—Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia)…152.0 total voting points (9 1st-place votes)

3—Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati)…135.0 total voting points (13 1st-place votes).

It was the third of Russell’s five NBA MVP awards. Roberson won his only MVP award for the 1963-64 season, when he averaged 31.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 11.0 assists.

ANOTHER BIG PAYDAY FOR DOMINIC BOZZELLI 

It looks like 25-year-old Dominic Bozzelli will be the latest golfer from Rochester to strike it big on the PGA Tour.

Bozzelli finished tied for third Sunday at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla., and earned $365,400. He fired 67-68-70-67—272 (12-under par), two strokes behind winner Adam Hadwin of Canada.

Bozzelli’s line for this season’s PGA Tour: 10 events…four cuts made…six cuts missed…two third-place finishes…total earnings $630,114.

SHORT SHOTS

The Rochester Knighthawks were idle last week abd lost ground inj their battle for a National Lacrosse League playoff berth. The top three teams in the five-team East Division qualify for the postseason. The East standings after the Toronto beat Calgary Saturday and New England beat Georgia Sunday: Georgia 7-3…Toronto 6-4…New England 5-6…Buffalo 4-6…Rochester 4-7.

It is always is fun to watch ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte. He was traded by Seattle to Philadelphia last weekend. That means you’ll probably be able to see him playing for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs against the Red Wings at Frontier Field May 15-18.

Did you know that Rocherster Americans radio color man Ric Seiling was the 14th overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1977 amateur entry draft? The New York Islanders had the 15th overall pick and chose Mike Bossy.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO…

Monday, March 13 – Mikaela Shiffin (22)…Tristan Thompson (26)…Sandy Leon (28)…Marco Andretti (30)…Caron Butler (37)…Johan Santana (38)…Trent Dilfer (45)…Curtis Conway (46)…Chris Zorich (48)…Will Clark (53)…Barry Pederson (56)…Cliff Robinson (57)…Andy Bean (64)…Joe Bugner (67)…Joe Bellino (79). William H. Macy (67) and Charo (76) are invited to the birthday party.

Tuesday, March 14 – Simone Biles (20)…Stephen Curry (29)…Anotowain Smith (45)…Larry Johbson (48)…Darcy Wakaluk (51)…Kevin Brown (52)…Richard Migliore (53)…Wes Unseld (71). Billy Crystal (69), Michael Caine (84) and Quincy Jones (84) are invited to the birthday party.