By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
Watching the Bills self destruct - again - as the snow flakes fell on 60,988 fans who still cared enough to be there to witness the continuing story of the greatest collapse in franchise history, it occurred to me what an incredibly fine line there is in winning and losing in the NFL.
Anyone who follows the game knows about point spreads and favorites and underdogs. Point spreads are predictions in a way, but they are also based on what the oddsmakers think the public thinks about a matchup.
If team A starts the week as a 7 point favorite at home, and lots of money is going on the underdog, the spread will reflect that. By the opening kickoff, team A might be a 5 point favorite. Did team B get better in practice? Sometimes a late injury can be a factor in the changing spread, but usually the home team gets about 3 points, and that's why the Bills were, on average anyway, 1 point favorites over the Dolphins Sunday at the Ralph. That means if the two teams were playing on a neutral field, the Fins would be 2 point favorites, and generally speaking, 4-5 point favorites if they were playing in South Florida.
I just don't get it. The Bills, who were embarrassed 35-8 at Miami about a month ago and hadn't won a game since then, were still considered the favorite? Did somebody think the fact it might snow would make a difference? The snow sure didn't bother Reggie Bush, who ripped the Bills for 203 yards rushing, including a 76 yard touchdown.
It's always amusing to hear people reflect on the great Bills teams of the early 90's that derailed Dan Marino and the Dolphins Super Bowl hopes, suggesting the Bills teams took advantage of playing the Fins in bad weather. No, the reason those Bills teams kept beating the Dolphins was because they had Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, etc. Weather had nothing to do with it.
Trying to predict how these games will turn out is virtually impossible, and it's impressive to me how often the "experts" are close. But when they're wrong, they're often really off, and it's because of that fine line that separates the winners and losers. The team that starts the season usually isn't the team that finishes the season, yet some teams, like New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay recently, seem to overcome injuries and adversity and remain competitive.
Tell the truth. Did anybody see the Kansas City Chiefs beating the Packers 19-14 at Arrowhead Stadium to end their 19 game winning streak and ruin their bid for a perfect season after a 13-0 start?
It seems like ions ago now, but it was the Chiefs at Arrowhead, now minus a couple of their best players, who were blown out by the Bills 41-7 to open the season. Did Romeo Crennel turn the Chiefs into a super team in his first game replacing the fired Todd Haley? No, that isn't it, although it probably didn't hurt.
Chiefs gm Scott Pioli, credited with building the Patriots, was feeling a lot of heat in KC for firing Haley with 3 games left in the regular season, even though the Chiefs were starting to show signs of life after a terrible start and rash of injuries. Pioli brought in Kyle Orton after the Broncos dumped him, and Orton passed for 299 yards to help spring the biggest upset of the season.
The Bills were nearly the opposite, starting 5-2 before imploding. Yes, it really was this Bills team that beat New England, which, for now, put a big crimp in the ongoing Tim Tebow feel good story 41-23 in Denver. This Bills team beat the Eagles, who embarrassed the Jets 45-19 on Sunday. These Bills shutout the Redskins 23-0 in Toronto, yet these Redskins just beat the NY Giants 23-10 on the Giants home field.
While there is a fine line in the NFL, it's the quarterback play that has clearly made the difference in these unpredictable games, and just as clearly Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't the same qb he was through the first half of the season.
Does this mean give up on Fitz? Suppose I'm open to the possibility, as gm Buddy Nix should be. In nearly all these examples of unpredictable scores, and there are many others out there, there were quarterback changes brought about by injuries, and sometimes that turned into a plus, but more often not.
The Bills won't get Andrew Luck in the draft and they've already stated they won't take a qb in the first round. There are virtually no free agents out there who will be available, that "might" be better than Fitz, and how many games would it take to learn that from a qb somebody else doesn't want?
Bottom line, Fitz has flaws, but I still think he's a work in progress who can again be a winner with better personnel around him. While C.J. Spiller is becoming a pleasant surprise, he still isn't Fred Jackson in my mind, but the return of Jackson doesn't have to take away from Spiller's strengths.
It's about the defense. I give them credit for hanging in there against the Fins after the drive killing penalties and interceptions and 3 and out's by the offense, but they simply ran out of gas. They couldn't stop the run all year and that sure didn't change. The Bills special teams are still trying to tackle Devone Bess, who averaged nearly 17 yards on 6 returns, constantly giving the Dolphins good field position.
We haven't touched on coaching yet, but it says here Chan Gailey can get it done if he's given some better personnel. When the Bills were 5-2 he was talked about as a coach of the year candidate. If you give him that credit, and he isn't coaching the same people now, does he also get all the blame for the 7 game skid?
This team, although blown out in San Diego and Miami and Dallas, hasn't quit playing hard, and the leader in that department is Ryan Fitzpatrick. He's durable, takes hits, and somehow shakes off the bad throws by pressing on.
While Gailey and Fitzpatrick are the names some people would love to see gone, the pressure, As I See It, is on gm Buddy Nix and his scouting staff, just like it is on Scott Pioli in KC.
Changing coaches, schemes and quarterbacks isn't always the right answer, even though it might make everybody feel like that means something positive is happening.