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A Quiet Week From Bills Fans ... And Other Stuff

September 23, 2011 - John Whittaker
When my buddy Jay — a die-hard Bills' fan — called me Monday, I was ready for the trash talking to begin.

When we worked together, Jay and I had a three-year running trash-talking fued about the Bills and Patriots. With the Bills at 2-0 heading into the teams' first meeting this season, I figrued that was what Jay was calling me about Monday.

I was wrong.

Not only did he not want to talk smack about the game, he's telling the kids he's teaching not to get too excited. Jay's seen this movie too many times to get sucked in quite yet.

Chatting with my brother online Saturday, I figured there would be some Pats' trash talking.

Nope.

There hasn't even been a peep among my friends on Facebook about the game this weekend.

What's the matter, Bills' fans? I remember the days when a Bills-Pats week when the trash talking seemed like a scene from 8 Mile. It was only a couple of seasons ago that Bills fans were convinced the Bills were nipping at the Patriots heels when it took a furious 14-point rally in the closing minutes for Tom Brady to rip out Buffalo fans' collective throats like Dalton in Road House. In the three years since that game, Bills fans are like the Trix rabbit — Silly Bills fan, winning football is for other people.

It's not a shock that Bills fans haven't talked themselves into their 2011 Bills yet. Their roster looks like something out of Major League. I'm pretty sure this was a team put together to force a move to a warm-weather city. During training camp, can you honestly tell me Toronto would have wanted this motley crew of alleged football players? The quarterback is a seventh-round draft pick from the football hotbed of Harvard. The starting running back is an undrafted free agent from Coe College. Not only are the 2011 Bills a far cry from the Jim Kelly-Andre Reed-Thurman Thomas Bills, they're a far cry from most Division 1 college teams.

And, somehow, they're 2-0.

Two wins over AFC West teams — even though Oakland is much improved — do not a season make. The Bills are tied for first place with New England and the New York Jets in the AFC East heading into Sunday's game with the Patriots, but Bills fans have no clue what to make of a team of cast-offs, overachievers and a few high draft picks who have underachieved during their NFL careers.

After two weeks, the Bills haven't shaken off the first layer of stank from the last 12 playoffs-free seasons. They're chiseling away the stink of crappy football like the guy who cleans the junk off the hulls of big boats. The Bills have played a lot of bad football. Yet, there they are this week, ranked 13th in Don Banks weekly NFL power poll on CNNSI.com — probably their highest ranking since President Clinton was hanging out with interns. They're 11th in Peter King's Fine 15 this week. For a team that has been as consistently bad as the Bills, those numbers alone are a reason to think good thoughts of meaningful football in January for the first time since Doug Flutie and Rob Johnson were playing quarterback.

I've always said it takes at least four weeks of an NFL season to have any clue about the nature of a team. Despite that gaudy 2-0 record, the Bills have just generated more questions — Are the Bills jelling into a playoff contender? Are they just on a soon-to-end hot streak? Did Chan Gailey get the raw end of the stick in Kansas City or is he actually a bona fide NFL offensive guru? Have the Bills found a quarterback solution in Ryan Fitzpatrick? Can an offensive line that wouldn't start for most high school teams continue to keep Fitzpatrick off his back? After last week's game against the Raiders, can the Bills defense stop anyone? Do tiny organisms live in Fitzpatrick's beard? Can anyone understand Buddy Nix, the Bills' general manager who sounds like a character from Deliverance? Are those back-to-back explosive offensive performance a fluke?

Since everything needs a nickname, let's call this week's game Measuring Stick Sunday. Buffalo needs a quality opponent to see what they're made of. Buffalo fans need to see whether or not their team can even hang close to the Pats before they start printing playoff tickets for the first time since the Music City Miracle. Who better to measure yourself against than a team you're lost to 15 consecutive times? The Bills' losing streak against New England is now in second grade, a statistic that makes Bills' fans want to suck their collective thumb. Another spanking will keep Bills fans quiet for a while longer. Playing the Pats tough, even keeping the game close into the fourth quarter, is a sign that maybe Buffalo is on the right track and might even bring Bills fans out of hiding when it comes to talking a little smack.

I'm not feeling the need to break out my lucky Deion Branch jersey quite yet. I see the Pats putting up at least 42 points on the Bills this week in a game that's over halfway through the third quarter. Call it 42-21.

YANKEES CLINCH A POSTSEASON BERTH

Now that the Yankees have clinched the American League East title, here's my quick thoughts on the 2011 season.

I can't believe a starting rotation with two starters — C.C. Sabathia and Bartolo Colon — who should be introduced with their combined weight like a mid-1980s wrestling tag team beat out the Red Sox for the division title. Phil Hughes, the number 2 starter heading into the season, was so bad for much of the season that the only comparison I could come up with for him was Major League 2, when Charlie Sheen forgets how to throw a fastball and gets hit worse than a pinata. Alex Rodriguez ended up missing about two months with assorted injuries, Brett Gardner had a Jekyl and Hyde season and Jorge Posada struggled all year. Despite all the home runs, Mark Teixeira's batting average was under .250 for most of the second half.

I have no clue how this team won the division. That fact is making me a little cautious heading into the playoffs. My thought is the Yankees have to win every Sabathia start, hope Ivan Nova, who I'm hoping doesn't morph into the next Phil Hughes, keeps pitching well and that Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia can keep them in games. I've learned not to count on big offensive performances in the playoffs. If the Yankees are only scoring three runs a game, their pitching will have to hold up.

The postseason is a crapshoot. A pitcher or two getting hot at the right time is just like having a hot goaltender in hockey — you can ride that guy like Seabiscuit all the way to a title. As good as Joe Girardi was in the regular season, he'll have to be even more on top of his game to coax a title out of his team's starting pitching this year.

SYRACUSE MOVES TO THE ACC

As much as I hate to see the Big East crumble, I can't blame Nancy Cantor, Syracuse University chancellor, and Daryl Gross, Syracuse athletic director, for making the jump to the ACC. Half of the Big East is already in the ACC, with Syracuse joining Pittsburgh, Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech. Honestly, don't be shocked if UConn makes the jump too, once the dust starts to settle.

The ongoing conference shakeup really began five years ago. It's just picked up considerable steam since then. Eventually, there will be four major conferences with a total of between 65 and 80 teams and a bunch of minor conferences. It'll be great for basketball and football. The minor conferences will be for everything else — probably keeping travel costs down in the process. Rather than long for the good old days, college sports fans just have to let this ride out and prepare for the future.

For Syracuse, the move makes sense for basketball, which already recruits heavily in ACC territory and has been playing an ACC style the last couple of seasons anyway. The downside is the way ACC officials call games. Syracuse could get 35 to 40 free throws a game in the ACC — and we all know how well Syracuse shoots free throws. Other than that, Jim Boeheim's group won't see too much difference — the Big East has been a tougher basketball conference for the last few years anyway.

The jump really makes sense for football. If Syracuse continues to rebound under Doug Marrone, the football team would still get stung by criticism that the Big East is a soft football conference. At the very least, winning 8 or 9 games in the ACC carries a lot more weight than it does in the Big East — so, if Marrone is able to keep the Orange moving in the right track, the move could reap huge dividends for the program. The ACC has better bowl game agreements for its teams and generates more money with its ESPN contract.

And, it could help exposure in the South, which is where the bulk of the football talent is.

All in all, it's hard to argue with the move.

 
 

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