Are You Ready!

We’re coming up on the start of the NFL season, folks, so here we go: it’s Prediction Time here at Byzantium’s Shores. Or, in other words, “Let’s all watch as our Humble Narrator goes on record to demonstrate how little he knows about football.” First of all, the usual warning to people who might be newly encountering my football-related drivel: don’t take all this too seriously. I don’t write about football with the intent of seeming like this guy:

but rather like this guy:

OK? Then let’s have at it, in our usual Q&A format!

The Buffalo Bills lost just about every talented player they had in the offseason, and replaced them with nobodies, nothings, has-beens, not-yets, never-wills, and never-wases. Just how bad will they be?

Next question.

OK. How bad will the Bills be?

They’ll be bad. They may avoid the cellar in the AFC East, by mere virtue of the Dolphins being in possibly worse shape as a franchise, but there’s no way they’re better than the Jets, and I’m sure they’ll have their usual result against the Stupid Patriots (hang with them one game until they blow it late with stupid mistakes, and get blown out in the other).

The Bills are young again. They’re new. The roster has lots of holes that are hoping to be filled with guys with three years or less of playing experience. The Bills do have some promising talent on the roster, and if this draft proves to have been roughly about as good as last year’s was, then maybe next year they’ll be in position to start plugging in guys from free agency and start to sniff around the playoff hunt.

Next year.

Yes, I said it — I’m looking to next year already.

I think JP Losman will continue to improve. (Can we stop now with the comparisons of Losman to Rob Johnson? Losman’s already demonstrated ten times the heart, drive, and toughness that Johnson ever did. So they’re both scruffy-looking quarterbacks from Southern California. That’s where the comparison ends. Johnson never gave any kind of impression other than that the only reason he was in the NFL was because, well, that’s what you do after you have a good college career, he never liked Buffalo, and he got hurt so much that it was like he was made of glass. Not like Losman at all.) Maybe the offensive line, with three new guys on board, will settle in and be better than it’s been in years. Maybe Peerless Price finds his form, and maybe the Bills find a tight end who can catch reliably well. It’s on defense that they’re going to have big problems. They will probably be very soft at the line of scrimmage, as they have been ever since Pat Williams left. Their corners are young and mostly untested. So are their linebackers. This defense is a possible disaster-in-waiting.

And yet, I’m not bothered by the departures of London Fletcher, Takeo Spikes, or Nate Clements. All of those guys are getting older, and the fact is that with the problems this team has in terms of talent on the roster, by the time they got good at the other areas, those players would have been beyond the age of use anyway. Spikes is the one that hurts, in my mind: he was a stunning talent and a thrill to watch, but then he suffered an injury from which players do return, but almost never to the level of play that they’d exhibited before. Clements had a good year last year, but I’ve watched him his whole career and he often seems to have motivation issues and makes dumb mistakes of selfish nature. I don’t think he’ll tank in San Francisco, but I don’t think he’s going to be the savior out there, either. And Fletcher? A tackling machine, sure, but he too is getting older. So basically, whether these guys were here this year or not makes no big difference, since they wouldn’t be around when the Bills finally get good again. That being the case, I think it’s best to go with youth.

I know that a lot of Bills fans are impatient to make the playoffs again; I know I sure am. Seven years going on eight as one of the eighteen “also-rans” in the NFL is getting a bit old, but I think a lot of Bills fans never actually realized just how fundamentally poor the roster was in the wake of the Tom Donahoe years as GM: this shows as we see just how few of his chosen players are still around (Losman, Lee Evans, Terrence McGee, and a few others). Once the nucleus is in place, then we’ll see the kind of thing where the Bills can do the plug-in-guys-via-free-agency thing like all the really good teams do. But Marv Levy is still building his nucleus. I like what I’ve seen of this so far (with a few oddball exceptions, like throwing money at Peerless Price).

[I don’t mean to totally rag on Donahoe, who I think genuinely tried to make good football decisions, aside from his bizarre refusal to address the line of scrimmage as opposed to making big deals to land what he thought were star players like Drew Bledsoe and Willis McGahee. It’s just that few of his decisions panned out in terms of good, long-term guys on the roster; several were outright disasters (Williams); and it shouldn’t be forgotten that Donahoe himself inherited a team whose roster was bleeding talent, fast. (Read up sometime on the Bills’ 2000 draft, if you don’t believe me. Not one of the players picked in that draft ever amounted to a thing, and as Gregg Easterbrook once wrote, you can’t whiff an entire draft without entering a period of sustained decline as a franchise.)]

So…how will the Bills do? I personally will be elated if they go 7-9. That would equal last year’s record, but with a much younger roster. If they pulled off 7-9, I’d be fairly optimistic about their future as a team. However, 7-9 is probably the outlier of possible realistic goals for this team, this year. I think 5-11 is more likely.

You know, you’re awfully sanguine about the Bills being in an apparently-unending rebuilding process, in this NFL era when teams can go 3-13 one year and make the conference championship game the next. Doesn’t it annoy you that they’re one of three teams to not make the playoffs in this century?

Sure, that’s irritating, but it doesn’t do any good to get mad at the situation as it exists, right? The way I see it, Marv Levy is now doing what Tom Donahoe should have been doing when he got here. Except for Donahoe’s first year here (2001, when the Bills were coming off their worst draft in franchise history and were in serious salary cap trouble), he managed each offseason as though the team were just a player or two away from being a contender. We now know that wasn’t the case, but that’s how Donahoe managed things, for good or ill. By the time his tenure ended, the team’s talent stock was terribly depleted. No matter who took over, it was going to mean several seasons of rebuilding.

So how much more rebuilding are you willing to put up with, anyway?

Well, I think that this year needs to be the last of the rebuilding years. Going into the 2008 season, Levy will have had three drafts and three free agent signing periods with which to put together a decent team. I think he’s on his way, but if 2008 comes and goes without a playoff berth (or at least a winning record with a serious push for a playoff berth, since it’s always possible in the AFC these days to go 10-6 and still miss the postseason), I’ll start grumbling.

Should Ralph Wilson sell the team?

Of course. Next question.

OK, the Bills are going to stink then. Bummer, dude! So will the Colts repeat?

They could, and I certainly think they’ll be right there, in the mix. I’m not picking them to repeat, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.

Will you vomit all over your keyboard if the team from New England wins it all?

Yes. As my long-time readers know, I can’t stand the smugness of Tom Brady’s default facial expressions, Bill Belichick makes me want to throw up, and I detested the way both of those guys acted when they lost last year’s AFC Championship Game. (Belichick was rude and dismissive, while Brady apparently didn’t even bother to shake the hand of the guy who’d beaten him, Payton Manning. Chalking it up to their shock of actually having lost doesn’t wash; when you’re a pro at that level and you’ve been around as long as those guys have, it should be muscle memory that you shake the hand of the guy who beat you.) Watching those guys lose makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. It makes me feel like a little kitten. Conversely, when those guys win, I think God kills a puppy.

So…will the team from New England win it all?

Probably. I shall now gnash my teeth into oblivion.

They’re a well-managed franchise. They’re loaded with draft picks for next year. They beefed up their receiving corps. Sure, stuff could happen: Randy Moss isn’t a given to do much of anything, their linebackers are old, and Smuggy McBrady (I’ve just now decided that’s what I’m calling him this year) is probably due for a bite from the Injury Gods. Their defense could falter. Lots of things could happen that could keep them from Their Holy Anointed Goal of winning Super Bowl XLII. But if none of those things do happen, then I think they’re favorites to take it all.

Which means that I’ll be buying a new keyboard the morning after the Super Bowl.

Can’t someone else beat them? Won’t someone stand up to the Stupid Patriots? PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

Well, sure! San Diego’s got an absolutely loaded roster, and Philip Rivers is a year older. And if their new head coach was someone other than Norv Turner — talk about recycling a lackluster coach, that’s like if Q from the James Bond movies gave the keys to the Aston Martin not to 007 but to the rookie spy Agent Fred — I might even pick them. And New Orleans is also a complete team that could end the NFC’s losing streak in Super Bowls (currently four games, and 2-8 overall since Denver finally reversed the AFC’s awful Super Bowl trend after the 1997 season). Indianapolis isn’t going to fade, and Baltimore should be there as well.

So who are you officially picking to win it all, then?

Well, let’s pick the division winners first, I suppose:

AFC East: New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore
AFC South: Indianapolis
AFC West: San Diego
AFC Wildcards: New England, Cincinnati

NFC East: Dallas
NFC North: Chicago
NFC South: New Orleans
NFC West: Seattle
NFC Wildcards: St. Louis, Philadelphia

AFC Champion: Baltimore
NFC Champion: New Orleans

Super Bowl Champion: New Orleans.

That’s who I’m picking, folks. Lock it in now, and tune in each week to see how wrong I am! (In the time I’ve been doing this, I’ve picked one Super Bowl exactly right before the season, when I chose the StuPats to defeat the Eagles three years ago. Last year, I was staggeringly wrong, as neither of the teams I picked to go to the Super Bowl even made the playoffs.)

Wait a minute! You said up there that the StuPats would “probably” win it all, and then you don’t even pick them to win their divisiion? What’s up with that?

Well, I picked that way for several reasons. First, the best way to guarantee that your picks will be at least partially wrong is to pick every defending division champion to repeat. Somebody always falters. Second, in the AFC, it doesn’t really matter, does it? The last two AFC Champions have been third and sixth seeds respectively (and both then went on to trounce the NFC top seed in the Super Bowl), and over the last thirteen seasons, AFC top seeds are 3-10 in converting a top seed status into a Super Bowl appearance anyway. And finally, I’ve been picking the Jerks from New England first every year, and I’m sick of it, because I hate them. So there. It’s a totally emotional pick, but then, this is a totally emotional blog, right?

So there you are. Write it down: Saints win it all. In February, when somebody else is holding up the Vince Lombardi Trophy, you’ll all be able to laugh at me in my egg-faced state!

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5 Responses to Are You Ready!

  1. Unknown says:

    On Johnson/Losman:

    As people, a vast difference.

    As to the ability to play quarterback, I think they are closer together than many care to admit. Losman has a much higher ceiling, but I’m not sure he will ever realize it.

  2. Kelly Sedinger says:

    Obviously time will tell, but ability and temperament aren’t completely inseparable. Johnson had lots of ability, but he clearly didn’t have the temperament to succeed — otherwise he would have, even after he left Buffalo. If their abilities are similar, and Losman’s got the temperament (which I think he does), I’m willing to see what he can become. Losman cares, he’s self-critical, and he’s willing to work hard. That means a great deal. Maybe he becomes the great QB who wins the Super Bowl for Buffalo; maybe he just becomes another Joe Ferguson and has a decent and respectable NFL career. Either way, he’s a damn sight better than Rob Johnson.

    (And I was a big Johnson backer during the whole rigamarole between him and Flutie. If Johnson’s career had reflected his effort in that playoff game, he’d have been amazing. Sadly, that was his flash in the pan.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Without a doubt, Losman has more upside than Johnson ever did. Johnson had a major problem of holding onto the ball too long, as if he would have broken out in hives had he thrown it within 3 seconds.

    “…when those guys win, I think God kills a puppy.”

    Too bad you are the Sentential Links blogger, because that is among the most deserving phrases ever.

    I think the Bills’ defense will be a pleasant surprise. Nate Clements is a big loss, but the Bills have depth at cornerback, and I think Ashton Youboty could be a quality starter if given the chance. If the defensive system and coaching are at least OK, the lesser talent level at LB shouldn’t matter as much as it may seem.

    -Mark

  4. Roger Owen Green says:

    I’d love for the Jets to win their division, but they played over their heads last year; I’d be happy if they were 10-6 again.

    But I probably know less about football, at this point, than you do.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m a big Bengal fan, but NE is in a class of their own. New Orleans better improve and in a hurry, no?

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