ARE THE BILLS NOW “HANDS DOWN FAVORITES” FOR THE AFC EAST TITLE?

ARE THE BILLS NOW “HANDS DOWN FAVORITES” FOR THE AFC EAST TITLE?

THE DOLPHINS ARE MOST IMPROVED...BUT THEY HAD A LONG WAY TO GO

Quarterback Tom Brady’s decision to leave the New England Patriots and opt to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers delighted most of the fans in Western New York who suffered through Brady’s 32-3 record against the Bills.

Popular veteran Buffalo News football writer/columnist Vic Carucci promptly wrote, “Now that Brady said goodbye to the Pats, formally announcing his departure Tuesday on social media, it’s absolutely fair to conclude the Bills are hands-down favorites for the (AFC East) title.”

An ESPN pundit pointed out that Super Bowl 55 will be in Tampa and -- with Brady at quarterback -- the Buccaneers could become the first team to win a Super Bowl as host team.

Wait a second. Slow down. I don’t think so.

I believe Vic is underrating New England coach Bill Belichick and the rest of the proud Patriots and overestimating how much Brady will have left at age 43.

Belichick will be eager to prove he can win without Brady – and vice versa. I assume the Patriots will sign a veteran free-agent quarterback – perhaps Andy Dalton or maybe even Jameis Winston to start instead of Jarrett Stidham or Cody Kessler

I’m making the Patriots as of this moment a very slight favorite over Buffalo to win the AFC East. The Bills have a top-10 defense and probably will have the best-balanced offense in the division. Much-improved Miami is my pick for third and the New York Jets underrated but at the bottom.

Brady will have top-shelf receivers to target with the Buccaneers. He won’t approach the NFL-most 30 interceptions thrown by Jameis Winston for the Bucs last season but also is unlikely to match Winston’s second-most 33 TD passes and NFL-most 5,109 yards passing.

Brady certainly will boost ticket sales at home and on the road and it will be interesting to see how many times the Buccaneers will be playing prime-time games – including their opener. It’s a fair bet that at least one of the two games between Tampa Bay (Brady) and New Orleans (Drew Brees) will be featured, too.

My guess is that the Patriots without Brady will remain the team to beat in the AFC East and Tampa Bay with Brady will win a game or two in the NFC playoffs.

++++ The Miami Dolphins entered this NFL postseason with the most money to spend under the salary cap and the most draft picks -- 14, including three first-rounders. The Dolphins obviously aren’t messing around.

They’ve already signed free-agent defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and cornerback Byron Jones to significantly upgrade last season’s 30th-ranked defense.

The offense will be better Week 1 of this season simply because veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick figures to be starting instead of flop (so far) Josh Rosen. Fitz figures to be help tutor a prime rookie QB.

Miami probably will be the NFL’s most-improved team this season but they aren’t likely to contend for the AFC East title – yet. Give them another year or two to upgrade their skill positions on offense and depth on defense.

---- My favorite Tom Brady stat is his career 106-48 road record (he’s 143-27 at home). The road marks for some other prominent QBs: Brett Favre 76-84...Drew Brees 77-67...John Elway 57-62-1...Dan Marino 66-62...Philip Rivers 58-61...Eli Manning 62-63...Aaron Rodgers 50-49.

---- The Cleveland Browns are in the running with the Super Bowl 54 champion Kansas City Chiefs for the NFL’s most awesome collection of talent at the offensive skill positions. Add tight end Austin Hooper (plus tackle Jack Conklin) to Cleveland this week, plus holdovers tight end David Njoku, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry, and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Third-year quarterback Baker Mayfield has no excuses this season.

Of course, Kansas City has a better offensive line and defense than Cleveland has.

++++ The Baseball Hall of Fame was closed to the public indefinitely Sunday evening due to the coronavirus pandemic. Will the virus be gone by Sunday, July 26, when a record attendance is projected for an induction ceremony? It will feature Derek Jeter, plus Ted Simmons, Larry Walker and the late Marvin Miller.

++++ Sports Illustrated’s Baseball Preview predicts the New York Yankees to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, assuming there is a season. It would be the 28th world championship for the Yankees. The Dodgers won their sixth and most recent World Series in 1988.

Sports Illustrated’s projected pennant winners are the AL East Yankees (by 11 games over Tampa Bay), the AL Central Minnesota Twins (by 2 games over the White Sox), the AL West Houston Astros (by 1 game over Oakland), the NL East Atlanta Braves (by 1 game over Washington), the NL Central Chicago Cubs (by 1 game over Cincinnati) and the NL West Los Angeles Dodgers (by 22 games over Arizona).

++++ No major team sport in North America counts on revenues from the playoffs more than the NHL. One rumored format for this season’s playoffs would be a 24-team tournament, with abbreviated early-round series. Unfortunately for Buffalo fans, the Sabres rank 25th in the current frozen standings. Doesn’t that figure?

++++ It would be a bad break for the Rochester Americans and their fans if the virus pandemic wipes out the American League playoffs. The offensively-challenged Amerks have the sort of defense and goaltending that is tough to beat in the postseason. Rochester last won the Calder Cup in 1996.

++++ The coronavirus virus pandemic has just about wiped out sports around the globe, and it is hurting Hollywood, too. Last weekend was the worst at the box office for movie theaters in the United States and Canada.Total receipts reportedly were around $55.3 million (for the films, not counting tubs of pop corn, jumbo sodas and overpriced candy), including $10.5 million for No. 1 ONWARD.

++++ The short list of active pro sports around the globe continues to take hits. Bowling’s PBA Tour on Tuesday announced it is shutting down indefinitely. And the French Open is moving to September – the week after the U.S. Open. Many of this country’s horse racing tracks have shut down. New York City’s Aqueduct thoroughbred track as of this moment plans to run live cards this weekend with only essential personnel allowed on track. No owners allowed on the premises and, of course, no fans.

++++ I agree that Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys has been one of the all-time relatively underpaid quarterbacks based on performance so far in his career, but I don’t believe that means he should become the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback now. Where does he rank on your list of projected starting QBs for this season? He’d be in my top 12, closer to 12th than first.

++++ Suggestion to the NBA, assuming the league will be ready to resume play by mid-June: Four teams in the playoffs. Best-of-five semifinals and best-of-seven Finals.

++++ If the NBA season is wiped out, I believe LeBron James would win his fifth league Most Valuable Player award after leading his Los Angeles Lakers to impressive wins over Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Clippers in the final week.

++++ Suyracuse U. basketball’s Brycen Goodine will transfer for lack of playing time and fellow guards Jalen Carey and Howard Washington are expected to follow. Who could blame them? Sophomore Buddy Boeheim averaged 35.6 minutes this season and freshman Joe Girard III averaged 33 minutes. They figure to be one of the ACC’s top backcourts for the next two seasons. High school sophomore star Dior Johnson has an early commitment to SU.

Much-improved center Bourama Sidibe, and hustling Marek Dolezaj and Quincy Guerrier figure to be a solidforecourt. I suppose there is a long shot chance that All-ACC first team and conference scoring champion Elijah Hughes will return for his senior season, but that’s not likely.

With or without Hughes, the 2020-21 Orange should be an entertaining team and a cinch for coach Jim Boeheim’s 45th consecutive winning season.

I still don’t think his current roster is best-suited for coach Jim Boeheim’s signature 2-3 zone. At least not all of the time.

++++ The PGA Championship has been postponed from May 14-17 to – hopefully – this summer. The delay would allow two-time defending champion Brooks Koepka to work on his struggling game. The only player to win more than two straight PGA championships was Rochester’s Walter Hagen, who won in 1921 and then four straight in 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1927. All were in match play.

++++ The American Legion’s 92nd Annual Welcome Home Dinner for the Rochester Red Wings, set for Tuesday, April 7, has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns.

++++ Ted Cox, who played against the Rochester Red Wings at Silver Stadium, died last week at age 65. He was the 17th overall pick in baseball’s 1973 amateur draft. The highlight of his career was being the only player to start his Major League Baseball career with six straight hits, in September 1977. He also had the first game-winning RBI in American League history (it was an official stat from 1980-88). In five MLB seasons with four teams he batted .245 with 10 HRs and 79 RBI in 272 games.

++++ I believe the late baseball pride of Rochester – classy Johnny Antonelli -- would’ve won the Cy Young Award as Major League Baseball’s best pitcher in 1954 – if it had existed. The award began in 1956, with one winner covering the two leagues.

Here’s how Antonelli measured up with the other top pitchers in the 1954 season:

Johnny Antonelli (NL New York Giants) – 21-7 record; NL-best 2.30 ERA; 39 games; 37 games started; 18 complete games; 6 shutouts;2 saves; 258 2/3 innings; 209 hits allowed; 94 walks; 152 strikeouts. He was third in NL MVP balloting behind teammate Willie Mays and Cincinnati slugger Ted Kluszewski. Note: he won Game 2 and saved Game 4 in the World Series sweep over the favored Cleveland Indians.

Robin Roberts (NL Philadelphia Phillies) – 23-15 record for a poor team; 2.97 ERA; 336 2/3 innings; 289 hits; 56 walks; 136 strikeouts.

Warren Spahn (NL Milwaukee Braves) – 21-12 record; 3.14 ERA; 283 1/3 innings; 262 hits allowed; 86 walks; 136 strikeouts.

Bob Lemon (AL Cleveland Indians) – 23-7 record; 2.72 ERA; 21 complete games; 2 shutouts; 258 1/3 innings; 228 hits allowed; 92 walks; 110 strikeouts. He was 5th in AL MVP balloting; Note: he was 0-2 in the World Series four-game sweep by the underdog Giants.

Early Wynn (Cleveland Indians) – 23-11 record; 2.73 ERA; 20 complete games; 3 shutouts; 3 saves; 270 2/3 innings; 225 hits allowed; 83 walks; 155 strikeouts. He was 6th in AL MVP balloting.

Bob Grim (New York Yankees) – 20-6 record; 1 shutout; 1 save; 199 innings; 175 hits allowed; 85 walks; 108 strikeouts. Note: he was 11th in AL MVP balloting and was AL Rookie of the Year. It was by far his best season.

++++ Happy sports birthday (March 18) to Trey Mancini 28, J.T. Realmuto 29, Fernando Rodney 43, Zdeno Chara 43, Brian Griese 45, Rob Johnson 47, Andre Rison 53, Bonnie Blair 56 and Ingemar Stenmark 64.

++++ On this date in sports: 1921 (99 years ago), the 80th Grand National steeplechase race was won by Shaun Spadah, the only horse to complete the course without falling...1945 (75 years ago), Montreal’s Maurice “Rocket” Richard became the first NHL player to score 50 goals in a season...1953 (67 years ago), the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee, the first National League shift since 1903...1972 (48 years ago), Cornell’s hockey team was shut out for the first time in 225 games...1981 (39 years ago), the Buffalo Sabres scored 9 goals in one period against Toronto (and they won)...2014 (6 years ago), Phil Jackson signed a five-year contract to be president of the New York Knicks an d revive the fortunes of the franchise (he couldn’t).

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