Matthews: Aren't The Bills A Cinch For 6 Wins?

THE 2019 BUFFALO BILLS ALREADY ARE UNDERRATED

I don’t remember the last time I thought the Buffalo Bills were UNDERRATED entering an NFL season.

But I felt that way Sunday when Nevada-based sportsbook operator CG Technology posted projected win totals for all 32 NFL teams for the 2019 season and the Bills were a mere 6 wins – ahead of only two teams.

Are those “experts” paying attention?

I believe the Bills are a cinch to win more than six games -- assuming Josh Allen stays healthy. A few reasons why:

They were 6-10 last season and have signed a dozen-or-so free agents who are better than the players they replaced.

On offense, quarterback Josh Allen figures to be significantly better than he was in his rookie year...His receivers have been upgraded...LeSean McCoy/Frank Gore could be a very effective 1-2 Slash and Smash duo at running back...The revamped OL has to be better.

On defense, most of last season’s second-ranked unit returns...Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds will be better in his second season and Matt Milano will he healthy again...The secondary is one of the NFL’s best and deepest...The No. 9 overall pick could be an instant-impact pass rusher or run stuffer.

The schedule doesn’t look that tough.

Some opponents are likely to take the Bills lightly – at least early in the season.

Sean McDermott in his third season as head coach figures to be more efficient on the sidelines on Sundays.

CG Technology’s NFL 2019 win totals:

Patriots 11

Chiefs, Rams, Saints each 10.5

Chargers 10

Bears, Colts, Eagles each 9.5 (love the Eagles at this number)

Browns, Packers, Steelers, Vikings each 9

Cowboys, Falcons, Ravens, Seahawks, Texans, Titans each 8.5

49ers, Jaguars, Panthers each 8

Broncos, Jets, Lions each 7

Bengals, Bills, Buccaneers, Giants, Raiders, Redskins each 6

Cardinals, Dolphins each 5.

DID BATTLE AND BRISSETT HURT THEIR NBA STOCK BY RETURNING THIS SEASON?

Junior guard Tyus Battle and sophomore forward Oshae Brissett are passing up another season at Syracuse University in favor of entering the 2019 NBA draft.

The two players have every right to pursue their basketball dreams. It seems obvious that they weren’t likely to win an NCAA championship at SU in the near future and the chance to make great money as pros in the game they love was too good to pass up.

Battle probably would’ve been a late first-round pick in last year’s NBA draft. Brissett was a second-round pick in some mock drafts.

But their draft stock slipped this season – in the stats and in the eye test. I believe Battle has a long shot chance to be selected late in the second round. I don’t think Brissett will be chosen. There are only 60 total picks.

Battle has NBA-style athleticism but he is a streaky offensive player. He’s not an exceptional three-point shooter (.322 as a sophomore and .321 as a junior), he’s not a great rebounder, he’s not a true playmaker and we don’t know how well he can play man-to-man defense because he always played zone at SU. His scoring average dropped from 19.2 in 2017-18 to 17.2 in 2018-19. He just missed making All-ACC as a sophomore and was third-team All-ACC as a junior.

Brissett was a nice surprise as a freshman but didn’t improve as a sophomore. He’s only a fair rebounder for his size and not an accurate shooter. His three-point field goal percentage was .270 (30-for-111) this season compared to .331 (55-for-166) as a freshman. His scoring average slipped from 14.9 in 2017-18 to 12.4 this season.

Battle and Brissett are talented players and will make small fortunes as pros. Basketball is behind only soccer as the international pro sport (fans in India would tout cricket) and there is plenty of money and prestige to be earned around the world.

IS THERE A ROCHESTER PRO SOCCER SAVIOUR OUT THERE?

The 36-team USL Championship league (formerly the United Soccer League) has begun its 2019 season. The 10-team USL League One (USL 1) is about to launch its inaugural season.

Rochester is not an active member of either league.

The best hope for area pro soccer fans in Greater Rochester is that USL1 plans to expand to 24 teams by 2021 and Rochester(and Harrisburg, Pa.) are on the short list of cities “expected to join” as early as 2020. The USL1 targets communities with a population of 150,000-to-1 million people and currently without a pro soccer team.

The 10 cities in USL1 this season are Chattanooga, Tenn.; Frisco, Tex.; Greenville, S.C.; Lansing, Mich; Madison, Wisc.; Orlando, Fla.; Richmond, Va.; South Georgia; Toronto; and Tucson, Ariz. The league is designed for cities that can’t make ends meet in the more expensive USL Championship league.

It is a shame that Rochester – long a hotbed for pro soccer – doesn’t have a pro team. The USL Rhinos went dormant after the 2017 season and have not resurfaced.

Are plans afoot to resurrect pro soccer in Rochester? Not that I’m aware of.But you never know. When the “soccer-only” downtown stadium was built – with lofty dreams of Major League Soccer dancing in our heads – who could’ve thought Rochester would now be without men’s and women’s pro teams?

NEED YOU ASK WHY THE HOME FANS WERE BOOING THE SABRES OFF THE ICE SUNDAY?

The Buffalo Sabres trailed Columbus 3-0 after the first period Sunday and they weren’t any happier when the P.A. announcer reminded them “one minute remaining in the (third) period” of what became a 5-0 loss. The Sabres were coming off a 5-1 loss at the New York Islanders Saturday night (their 14th straight road loss).

Through their first 25 games this season, Buffalo had a 17-6-2 record and had earned 36 of 50 possible points in the standings. The Sabres won 11 games in the month of November. A berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs appeared highly likely.

In the 54 games since, Buffalo has a 14-32-8 record and has earned only 36 out of 108 possible points in the standings. The Sabres have only 14 total wins in the last four full months.

Only three games left in Buffalo’s demoralizing 2018-19 season: home against Nashville Tuesday...home against Ottawa Thursday (the crowd reaction will be interesting as the final minutes of the home season tick off)...at the Detroit Red Wings Saturday night.

BILLS/SABRES HAVE MORE BOTH-WINNING YEARS THAN BOTH-LOSING YEARS

Buffalo’s history as a major-league sports city isn’t as bad as you might think. The perception – even in our region -- is worse than the reality.

I did some quick research over the weekend and I admit that I was surprised by the numbers:

In 48 years (including this current season), the NHL Sabres have had 32 winning seasons. That’s impressive.

In 48 years, the NFL Bills have had 16 winning seasons. That’s not so impressive.

The Sabres and Bills both had winning records in the same year 13 times. They both had losing records in only 7 years.

The best year in the history of Buffalo pro sports? Maybe 1975. The 1974-75 Sabres were 49-16-15...the 1975 Bills were 8-6...and the 1974-75 NBA Braves were 49-33 (one of the team’s two winning records in their eight-year history).

NLL EXPANSION SAN DIEGO SEALS AND DAN DAWSON CONTINUE TO ROLL

The National Lacrosse League first-year San Diego Seals, setting a great example for next season’s expansion Rochester Knighthawks, improved to 9-4 and maintained their lead in the Western Division with a 16-9 victory Saturday night at the Calgary Roughnecks.

Seals tri-captain Dan Dawson continued to prove that the K-Hawks made a mistake trading him last year. The 37-year-old Dawson has played in all 13 games this season and leads the Seals with 61 points (21 goals and 40 assists).

MEN’S NCAA FINAL FOUR TIDBITS

Saturday in Minneapolis...#1 seed Virginia versus #5 seed Auburn , 6:09 p.m. ... #2 seed Michigan State versus #3 Texas Tech, 8:49 p.m.

Virginia is favored by 5 ½ points over Auburn...Michigan State is favored by 3 points over Texas Tech.

Odds to win the Tournament: Virginia 3-to-2...Michigan State 7-to-4...Texas Teck 4-to-1...Auburn 7-to-1. (Courtesy of Sportsbookag).

How they got here: Virginia 71-56 overGardner-Webb, 63-51 over Oklahoma, 53-49 over Oregon, 80-75 (OT) over Purdue...Auburn 78-77 over New Mexico State, 89-75 over Kansas, 97-80 over North Carolina, 77-71 (OT) over Kentucky...Michigan State 76-65 over Bradley, 70-50 over Minnesota, 80-63 over LSU, 68-67 over Duke...Texas Tech 72-57 over Northern Kentucky, 78-58 over Buffalo, 63-44 over Michigan, 75-69 over Gonzaga.

NCAA Championships: Michigan State 2 (1979, 2000). Others none.

Trips to the Final Four: Michigan State’s 10th. Virginia’s 3rd. Fiirst time for Auburn and Texas Tech.

Through 60 games in this Tournament, Las Vegas favorites are 43-17 outright/straight up but a mere 25-33-2 against the point spread.

Starters in the Final Four by class: seniors 8...juniors 6...sophomores 4...freshmen 2.

ESPN reports that 7,928 of the 17.2 million Tournament Challenge entries correctly predicted the Auburn, Michigan State, Texas Tech, Virginia Final Four.

SHORT SHOTS

Rochester Red Wings director of communications Nate Rowan reports that the Opening Day roster of the Minnesota Twins included 18 former Rochester Red Wings (including Miguel Sano on the injured list).A total of 18 other former Red Wings were on the Opening Day rosters of other Major League Baseball teams.

xxxRed Wings broadcaster Josh Whetzel is predicting many more home runs flying out of Frontier Field this season because the International League will be using major-league baseballs that carry better than the former IL baseballs did. In my opinion, good news: More home runs=more fun=more fans. I wish the Wings had a few more power hitters on the roster.

xxxNearly every “expert” is predicting that the Arizona Cardinals will select Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray No.1 overall in the NFL draft.But Kalyn Kahler of The MMQB isn’t so sure. She wonders if it might be a smokescreen by the Cardinals. She reminds us that at this time last year, the Cleveland Browns were expected to select Sam Darnold or Josh Allen – not Baker Mayfield – No. 1 overall.

xxxFormer Rochester Rhinos coach Bob Lilley, now in his second season as coach of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the USL Championship league, has added two former big scorers for the Rhinos to his roster – Steevan DosSantos and Christian Volesky. He retained star midfielder and former Rhino Kenardo Forbes.

xxxSoccer Sam’s Rochester Lancers (National Premier Soccer League) and Lady Lancers (United Women’s Soccer) will kick off their 2019 seasons with a doubleheader May 19 at Aquinas Institute: Lady Lancers versus Syracuse DA at 2 p.m., and Lancers vs. FC Buffalo, 5 p.m.

xxxRush Henrietta/University of Buffalo product Desmond Green won his UFC fight via first-round KO Saturday night in Philadelphia and is begging to be added to the inaugural UFC card in hometown Rochester May 18.

xxxSad note for hockey fans: The Canadian Women’s Hockey League on Sunday announced that it will discontinue operations effective May 1, 2019. The CNWHL was founded in 2007 and started a $100,000 per team salary cap after the 2016 season. The league’s six teams played a 28-game regular-season schedule. The Calgary Inferno won the last Clarkson Cup. One interesting factoid: the Worcester Blades this season had a 0-28 record and were outscored 155 to 22. Their power-play percentage was 16.1 (5-for-31) and they allowed 9 short-handed goals. Opponents were 24-for-25 on the power play.

HAPPY SPORTS BIRTHDAYS TO...

Monday, April 1

Brook and Robin Lopez 31...Daniel Murphy 34...Jussi Jokinen 36...Randy Orton 39...Etan Thomas 41...J.P. Dumont 41...Mark Jackson 54...Jumbo Elliot 54...Scott Stevens 55...Kevin Duckworth 55...Jim Jeffcoat 58...Ken Bannister 59...Don Hasselbeck 64...John Wensink 66...Phil Niekro 80. Rachel Morrow 46, Annette O’Toole 67 and Paul Manafort 70 are invited to the birthday party.

Tuesday, April 2

Pascal Siakim 25...Rory Sabbatini 43...Bill Romanowski 53...Andrei Kovalev 53...Bruce Kozerski 57...Larry Drew 61...Ayako Okamoto 68...Marlene Floyd 71...Reggie Smith 74...Don Sutton 74. Bobby Bones 39, Michael Fassbender 42 and Linda Hunt 74 are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

April 1

143 years ago (1876), Boston beat Philadelphia 6-5 in the first National League baseball game...81 years ago (1938), Joe Louis KOd Harry Thomas in 5 for the world heavyweight boxing title...56 years ago (1963), the New York Jets purchased Duke Snider from the Los Angeles Dodgers for $40,000...49 years ago (1970), car dealer Bud Selig bought the Seattle Pilots franchise for $10.8 million and moved the team to Milwaukee...36 years ago (1983), Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders became the first NHL player to score 60 goals in three consecutive seasons...34 years ago (1985, Villanova shocked Georgetown 84-75 for the 47th NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship...23 years ago (1990), Jack Nicklaus won his first start on the Senior PGA Tour...19 years ago (1990), CBS fired sportscaster Brent Musburger...27 years ago (1992), NHL players began the first strike in the league’s 75-year history...23 years ago (1996), Kentucky beat Syracuse 76-67 for the 58th NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.

April 2

111 years ago (1908), the Mills Committee declared that Abner Doubleday invented baseball – even though he did not...50 years ago (1969), the Milwaukee Bucks signed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar...43 years ago (1976), the Oakland A’s traded Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman to Baltimore for Don Baylor, Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell...32 years ago (1986), the NCAA adopted the three-point basketball rule, 19 feet, 9 inch distance)...29 years ago (1990), Nevada-Las Vegas beat Duke 103-73 for the 52nd NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship...24 years ago (1995), Lawrence Taylor defeated Bam Bam Bigelow in Wrestlemania XI.

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