NFL Week 3 Review – Bills At Browns

The Bills won their first road game in over a calendar year on Sunday when they defeated the Browns in Cleveland by a score of 24-14.  The victory may have come with a price however as running back C.J. Spiller appeared to suffer a shoulder injury in the game.  While Spiller’s injury doesn’t seem to be as bad as it originally appeared to be, the Bills may have to play a crucial division game against the Patriots this week without him.  Here are some thoughts on the game on Sunday:

  • Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 TDs since his last INT

    Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a different quarterback since the Cromartie interception.  Fitzpatrick capped off a nightmare day against the Jets in week 1 with an interception to open the 3rd quarter that Jets CB Antonio Cromartie returned for a touchdown.  He’s been a changed man since that play.  Fitzpatrick was a workman-like 22 of 35 for 208 yards and 3 TDs on Sunday.  Fitzpatrick has thrown 8 touchdowns without an interception since that Cromartie pick.  He’s also only been sacked once and he wasn’t even touched on the play.  He lost the ball in the rain and fumbled which qualifies as an official sack.  A team that’s built to produce in the trenches simply needs a game manager at quarterback and Fitzpatrick has been exactly that over the last two games.

  • The Bills offensive line is very, very good.  Obviously C.J. Spiller is a special talent and nobody works as hard as Fred Jackson.  But even when both of those guys were lost Tashard Choice stepped up and ran for 91 yards on 21 carries.  Choice isn’t the home run hitter that Spiller and Jackson are but the line gave him a hole pretty much every time that he touched the ball to generate a solid 4 or 5 yards on every carry.  As I mentioned earlier the line technically didn’t give up a sack again either.  Cordy Glenn has been a revelation at left tackle.
  • T.J. Graham celebrated his 1st career TD on Sunday

    The Bills receiving corps is a work in progress but it’s getting better.  Stevie Johnson had his best game of the year thus far with 61 yards and a touchdown on 7 catches.  Rookie T.J. Graham had the most productive day of his young career with 3 catches for 24 yards and his 1st career touchdown.  Donald Jones bounced back from being in the red last week with 5 catches for 42 yards.  The unit as a whole isn’t very deep without primary slot man David Nelson but this unit will have to do at least until Spiller and Jackson are back healthy.  These guys did their jobs on Sunday.

  • Mario Williams is quelling those early concerns by the week.  A huge red flag went up when big ticket free agent Mario Williams was basically a no-show against the Jets on opening day.  Williams got more involved last week against the Chiefs with some pressure and a fumble recovery.  This week he finally got on the board with a sack and a half.  Williams has put some pretty consistent pressure over the past few weeks and is starting to look comfortable in the Bills defense.  Maybe he wasn’t such a waste of money after all.
  • Kyle Williams is back to form.  During the off-season Kyle Williams said that he was feeling the best he had since he was playing at L.S.U.  That certainly seemed like hyperbole at the time but Williams has looked like the Pro Bowl player he was in 2010 before he lost most of 2011 to injury.  Williams is showing that explosive first step that has made him so difficult to block early in his career.  He has already recorded 3 sacks from the inside so far this season.
  • Arthur Moats and crew were active in the run game on Sunday

    The linebackers had their best game of the season on Sunday.  Nick Barnett, Arthur Moats and Kelvin Sheppard were all active in the run game on Sunday.  They took advantage of the lack of options that the line was giving the Browns running backs and didn’t let them get to the outside.  All of these guys are playing a new position in the Bills revamped 4-3 defense and it looks like they are getting more comfortable.

  • Chan Gailey has had two good weeks of excellent play-calling.  Gailey has been out-coaching his defensive counterpart over the past two weeks and it’s paid dividends for the Bills, particularly at a time when their depth is weak at the skill positions.  It must have been especially sweet for Bills fans to see Gailey run circles around Browns defensive coordinator and former Bills head coach Dick Jauron early in the game on Sunday.  Gailey will have to pull another rabbit out of his hat this week in New England.

This week’s game against the Patriots is obviously a huge game that will determine just how much of a contender the Bills really are.  This is not a prediction by any means but I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller out there.  All news has been optimistic for Fred Jackson over the past few weeks so I expect at least he will be in the lineup.  I expect it to be a raucous crowd at Ralph Wilson Stadium.  I’ll be there myself in what should be quite the atmosphere in Orchard Park.

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NFL Week 2 Review – Chiefs at Bills

Well, week 2 went a hell of a lot better than Week 1 did for the Bills.  Facing a near must-win situation already in Week 2 the Bills came out swinging and dominated the Chiefs on both sides of the ball.  The Bills really fed off of the home crowd to get to 1-1 going into a relatively tough stretch that takes them on the road for 3 games next month.  Here are some thoughts on the Bills’ 1st win of the season:

  • Cordy Glenn got downfield to block for C.J. Spiller

    Let’s talk about the best unit of the day for the Bills.  No, it wasn’t C.J. Spiller but rather the big guys in front of him.  The offensive line for the Bills had an outstanding day.  Cordy Glenn looked like a beast out there, running down the field and blocking for Spiller.  Eric Wood looks healthy and the unit as a whole looks very strong.  Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t been sacked in the 1st two games and Spiller leads the league in rushing.  I’d say that they are off to a pretty good start.

  • C.J. Spiller gets it.  I know it’s like beating a dead horse by now but C.J. Spiller looks like a totally different player in year 3 than he did in years 1 and 2.  He said this week that he has given up trying to hit a home run on every run rather than taking what he is given.  He has slowed the game down and letting his blockers make the plays before he finishes them off.  There’s concern about his workload or whether or not he is playing over his head right now.  Spiller will only have to carry the bulk for a few more weeks however until Fred Jackson returns.  The Bills will likely rely heavily on the run game, particularly with the strong offensive line, throughout the late winter months.
  • Fitzpatrick looked just alright.  He didn’t make mistakes but he missed Scott Chandler badly twice when he was open.  He will definitely benefit from a run-first mentality.  As mediocre as he’s been he leads the league in passing TDs.
  • Kyle Williams looked like his old beastly self on Sunday

    The defensive line finally showed up.  Mario Williams’ day was another modest one on the stat sheet although he did get a fumble recovery.  His presence, along with that of fellow DE Mark Anderson, was certainly felt though as they collapsed the pocket and made Matt Cassel step up and play in front of the pocket.  That resulted in 5 sacks up the middle, 2 by Kyle Williams, 1 by Marcell Dareus, 1 by Alex Carrington and 1 by MLB Kelvin Sheppard.  Kyle Williams looked like his old, pre-injury self by collapsing the pocket and beating his man all day.  When this line is on it will be very tough to block.

  • Cordy Glenn wasn’t the only rookie with a great day.  Stephon Gilmore shook off a tough start after a rough game against the Jets in week 1.  Gilmore was targeted early and often and held his own against Chiefs receivers Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston, and Jon Baldwin.  While it was a good showing the rookie can’t rest because teams will likely still key on him in the passing game.
  • The old man can still play.  The Bills had some cornerback troubles early on in the season but Terrence McGee came off the bench on Sunday to contribute with a strong game in pass coverage.  McGee is a great guy for the young guys to lean on but I think he proved that he can still play with his performance last week.  Of course it is easier to cover receivers when the defensive linemen are in the quarterbacks grill right off of the snap.
  • Leodis McKelvin ran back into the good graces of the Bills mafia on Sunday

    Leodis can’t cover but he can still contribute.  Leodis McKelvin has been a disappointment ever since he was drafted in the first round by the Bills in 2008.  He has trouble locating the ball when it’s in the air and also has trouble making a play on it.  McKelvin was downgraded to 5th cornerback for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs but it didn’t get him down.  He returned a punt for a touchdown to put the game away in the 3rd quarter.  McKelvin may not see much of the field on defense but if he keeps his head in the game he could be a key contributor to the special teams unit.

The Bills embark on a tough 4 game stretch this weekend when they head to Cleveland to face the Browns.  This is a pretty important game for the Bills.  The Browns are a beatable opponent but the Bills have lost 9 of the last 10 road games.  If the Bills want to be in the conversation in December they will need to win at least 2 of the next 4 games.  This one might be the easiest of the bunch.  Regardless the Bills will likely try to take the “one game at a time” approach and try to take care of business in Cleveland and then start preparing for the Patriots a week later.

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The Red Sox And The Demise Of The Big Markets

The Boston Red Sox looked like a juggernaut last season in the run-up to September.  They had spent the previous two off-seasons signing big-name free agents (John Lackey, Carl Crawford) and making a blockbuster trade (Adrian Gonzalez).  As the Red Sox ran through the competition all summer it seemed like they had created a monster that would last for years, only to be matched by the rival Yankees in the American League and the free-spending Phillies in the National League.  Of course we all know what happened to the Red Sox post-September but it’s interesting to point out that the Yankees and Phillies both went out of the MLB playoffs with a whimper in the 1st round, losing to Detroit and St. Louis respectively.  The Cardinals went on to defeat the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

Beckett’s bloated contract was taken on by the Dodgers in full

While the Red Sox were at a crossroads going into the season with the firing of Terry Francona and hiring of Bobby Valentine the other big money teams seemed to be on solid footing.  The Phillies added the Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, among others, with a big contract.  The Yankees landed Hiroki Kuroda.  Other teams got into the mix – the Tigers spent big money on Prince Fielder.  The Angels spent a small fortune on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.  The Marlins went on a spending spree that included contracts for Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle.  Texas spent big money to secure the services of Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish.  Then, after the season was underway, Magic Johnson and co. bought the Dodgers from Frank McCourt and traded for pretty much everyone that they could get their hands on.  Despite the Red Sox falling flat on their faces in 2011 spending money seemed to still be all the rage among big market major league clubs.

Fast forward to September 18th, 2012.  The Red Sox have been long dead and buried.  They have already traded two of the three big ticket items that they bought in their spending spree.  Again it started with the Red Sox but it doesn’t end there.  Fielder and the Tigers are clinging to playoff hopes, dealing with a 3 game hole in the AL Central.  They are 5th in the AL Wild Card standings.  Pujols and the Angels are 3rd in the wild card race as well as in the AL West.  They stand 3 games behind the Orioles in the race for the last wild card.  As for the team with the largest payroll in MLB, the Yankees, they cling to a .5 game lead over the Baltimore Orioles.  Yes, I said the Orioles.  The Yankees have the 3rd best record in the AL behind the Texas Rangers and, I kid you not, the Oakland Athletics.  A team with upwards of 190 million in payroll for the season may have to go play a game in the Oakland Coliseum just to qualify for the wild card round of the playoffs.

The Heath Bell contract became a disaster for the Marlins only a few months into it

Over in the National League things aren’t much better for the big spenders.  We’ll start with the biggest failure of all, the Marlins, who are the only big spending team with a worse record than the Red Sox at 65-83.  The biggest disappointment however might be the Phillies who are limping to a late season wild card push with an even 74-74 record.  Then there is the LA Dodgers, the team that took on the complete salaries of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Joe Blanton all in the span of less than a month.  They currently stand at 76-71, 1 game out of the 2nd wild card.  If the season ended today the Braves would host the Cardinals in the play-in game to see who faces the best team in baseball, the Washington Nationals.  The Cincinnati Reds would host the San Fransisco Giants in the other series.

So there you have it – if the season ended today only 4 of the teams in the top 10 in payroll coming into the season (Yankees, Rangers, Giants, Cardinals) would qualify for the playoffs.  That doesn’t even count the Dodgers who were 12th in the league in payroll coming in.  Conversely the team with the 2nd lowest payroll, the Oakland Athletics, would host the American League wild card play-in game to go with the 2nd best record in the league.  I think it’s safe to say that your money doesn’t go as far as it used to on baseball’s free agent market.

The Red Sox were ahead of the curve in shedding payroll just as they were ballooning it.  This off-season it will probably be a good time for some of the other big-market clubs to do the same.  After all, Dodgers president Stan Kasten said that he hasn’t found a spending limit yet and will be sure to take on some of those bad contracts.  Either way baseball seems to be re-revolutionizing itself into a more parody-resulted league and that can be nothing but a good thing.  But one thing could be taken away about the results of the teams with multiple heavy contracts in the clubhouse – we know for a fact that the Red Sox had major issues internally – based on results, isn’t it safe to say that they probably weren’t alone?

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Steve Sabol Passes at 69, His Voice Will Live On Forever

Steve Sabol passed early Tuesday from brain cancer at the age of 69.  Although not everyone may know Sabol by name anyone who has followed the NFL over the past 50 years will certainly know his voice.  His father Ed, who Steve watched get inducted into the Hall Of Fame last summer, founded NFL Films in 1964.  Steve had worked for them since the beginning when he was only 20 years old.  He has been widely regarded as one of the voices of the NFL since then, narrating many of the pieces produced by NFL Films.  He was also a frequent guest on shows on both the NFL Network and ESPN joint productions.

Steve Sabol 1942-2012

More than that Steve, his father, and the rest of the crew at NFL Films brought the NFL to a whole new level for being a pioneer in bringing more than just the games into your living room.  They were the ones who started miking up the players or putting cameras in the locker room.  The one constant through it all was Sabol.  Sabol wrote much of the material for legendary voice John Facenda as well as narrating and hosting the NFL Films productions himself.  He became the president of NFL Films in 1995 when his father retired.  Of the over 100 Emmy Awards won by NFL Films Steve had his name personally on 35 of them.  Steve and his father Ed won a lifetime achievement Emmy award from the National Academy of Television Arts and sciences in 2003.  They cited NFL Films for “revolutionizing the way America watches football and setting the standard in sports filmmaking.”

Peter King revealed a few great Sabol quotes earlier on Twitter.  When asked if he had a favorite NFL player Sabol would remark that asking that question of him was akin to naming his favorite noodle in a spaghetti dinner.  When faced with his own mortality after his brain aneurysm last year he said this “They talk about heaven, I don’t know what’s waiting for me up there.  But nothing can duplicate my life down here.  That life cannot be better than the one that I lived down here.  The football life.  It’s been perfect.”  The NFL has blown up into a lexicon of American culture over the past 50 years and all along Steve Sabol caught the action on camera and told the stories on film.  One day he will have a bust in Canton just like his father.  Unfortunately he will not to enjoy that day with his father like Ed Sabol did with him.  They say people aren’t immortal but I’m not so sure that’s true…thousands of football memories will live on for generations with Steve’s voice.

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Bills Look To Rebound In Home Opener

The Bills had high hopes for the 2012 but many of those hopes came crashing down when they were routed on opening day by the Jets 48-28.  However as Bills fans know from experience, one game does not a season make.  After all this is the team that won their opener on the road against the Chiefs last year 41-7 on their way to a 5-2 start before the season came crashing down and they finished at 6-10.  Maybe they are trying reverse psychology this season?  Either way Bills fans are on edge after the big loss to the Jets and winning their home opener will go a long way in calming the fears of the masses, particularly with what could be the easiest road game on the schedule, at Cleveland, in Week 3.  Here are some things to look for in Week 2 for the Bills:

  • Mario Williams needs to produce for the Bills today

    Will the Bills d-line be able to put pressure on Matt Cassel?  The Bills had no pass rush to speak of in week 1 due to a strong performance by Mark Sanchez who made good, quick decisions.  The Bills CBs are talented but raw and will need to lean on the veteran defensive line to create pressure.  They didn’t do it last week and they absolutely must this week.  Mario Williams needs to show up or he’ll have a lot of people questioning the big investment made in him after only two games.

  • Which Ryan Fitzpatrick will show up for the Bills?  The bad Ryan Fitzpatrick showed up for the Bills last week, they need the good one this time around.  Fitzpatrick had a huge day in the season opener against the Chiefs last year, throwing for 208 yards and 4 TDs.  It will be a tough task without his top slot receiver David Nelson who was lost for the season in Week 1 after he tore his ACL.  The Chiefs do have a banged-up secondary (more on that in a second) so Fitzpatrick will have a chance to take advantage.
  • Will the Chiefs try to injure Stevie Johnson?  Last year Eric Berry was lost for the season after Stevie Johnson blocked him low in the Bills/Chiefs match-up last year on opening weekend.  Not only did Berry criticize Johnson for what he considered a cheap hit in the immediate aftermath but he also opined that their may have been a bounty on him after the Bounty Gate story broke out.  To me it sounds like a cock-eyed conspiracy theory and simple sour grapes from Berry but that hasn’t stopped him from obsessing over it.  The funny thing is that last week Fred Jackson was hit by Jets safety Laron Landry in a manner not all that dissimilar from the way Johnson hit Berry but when asked on Twitter if it was a dirty hit Jackson said it wasn’t and plays like that happen in football all the time.  I guess that’s what separates a guy like Freddie Jackson from a guy like Eric Berry.
  • Will T.J. Graham be ready to step up in for David Nelson?  Rookie receiver T.J. Graham was a surprise healthy scratch last week.  Coach Chan Gailey said that Graham was still picking up the offense.  I hope Graham really picked it up in the last 6 days because the injuries to Nelson and Jackson will force Graham to play early and often on Sunday.  He will likely play on the outside with starting receiver Donald Jones moved into the inside on 3-man sets.  If you hadn’t noticed by now, Gailey is rather fond of 3 and 4 receiver sets.  Hopefully Graham is ready to go because they will need him this week.  The Bills don’t figure to add another veteran receiver until at least Jackson returns to the lineup.
  • Marcell Dareus will be plating with a heavy heart today after the loss of his brother

    How will Marcell Dareus play after dealing with his personal tragedy?  While the national sports scene has been fixated on the Bills poor opening week performance the mood in Buffalo has been different.  The mood quickly changed in Orchard Park last week when Marcell Dareus learned that his brother was shot to death in Alabama on Sunday night.  Dareus comes into the home opener with a heavy heart.  The kid has been a leader in the Bills locker room since his first game as a pro last season.  It would be tough to lose a sibling under any circumstance but I can’t imagine going out and playing a game just 6 days afterwards.

Between the expectations coming into the season, the performance last week, the home crowd this week, and the team rallying around one of their leaders it will make for high emotion at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.  All eyes will be on the defense on Sunday as fans are ready to see the team’s investment both through the draft and free agency start to pay off.  Ryan Fitzpatrick will be under the microscope as well.  If he has another poor performance then fans and pundits will start talking about whether or not Tarvaris Jackson is a better starting option and I can tell you that neither Fitz nor the Bills mafia wants to have that conversation.  With the pressure on this is a must-win for the Bills.  Usually games in week 2 of the season aren’t must win but if the Bills don’t start winning now you have to question if they ever will, at least for this season.

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Is Karma Coming To Get Bill O’Brien And Penn State?

Bill O’Brien has had a rough start at PSU

Bill O’Brien made a risky move in the off-season when he left the AFC champion Patriots as well as several potential head coaching positions in the NFL for the ehad job at Penn State.  O’Brien took the job before he even knew what sanctions would be levied down by the NCAA.  A bold move it was for O’Brien, maybe even a noble one,  but if he didn’t get reminded how hard the job was actually going to be when the NCAA leveled some of its toughest sanctions ever he certainly has in the first two weeks of the FBS season.

The Nittany Lions hosted Ohio in week 1.  While Ohio is not exactly a pushover it was a game that you expected Penn State to win.  Penn State got off to a good start in Happy Valley when they unveiled O’Brien’s pro-style offense and jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead.  In the 2nd half the Nittany Lions simply didn’t show up.  They were outscored 21-0 in the 2nd half en route to the 24-14 opening weekend loss.  Penn State almost looked like they didn’t want to be out there in the 2nd half…it was suddenly as if they couldn’t accomplish anything that they wanted to.  It was almost like karma came to get Penn State in that 2nd half.  But it wasn’t half as bad as the karma that they faced a week later.

Kicker Sam Ficken was the goat in PSU’s 2nd game

Penn State went to the University of Virginia for their week 2 game.  Again Virginia was a formidable yet beatable opponent.  It wasn’t so much that the entire team failed to show up for this one so much as one player – kicker Sam Ficken.  Ficken had an awful day missing an extra point and was 1 out of 3 on field goal attempts heading into the final drive.  Penn State moved the ball down to the 27-yard line to set up a 43-yard game winning field goal by Ficken, giving him a chance to redeem himself.  Ficken missed his 4th field goal of the day and Penn State lost the game by 1, 17-16.  Not only did he miss the game winning field goal but he also missed that extra point that would have put the game in overtime.  Last week, after the game, Penn State’s backup kicker walked off the team.  I guess if I couldn’t beat out that guy I would quit also.

Bill O’Brien will have to be patient at Penn State.  He will certainly be enticed by offers from other teams in both college and the pros over the next few seasons but it seems like O’Brien is legitimately interested in playing things out in Happy Valley.  Days like last Saturday and the one before will test his will but at the end of the day he needs to remember that it’s nothing personal and the football gods just need to take it out on somebody.  The karma will eventually go away, it’s just a question of when.

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NFL Week 1 Review – Bills at Jets

After an off-season of hope this one was a bitter pill for Bills fans to swallow.  The Bills were coming in with a wave of momentum and the Jets looked to be a mess on and off the field.  he Jets came to play and they shocked the Bills early, going up by 21 points in the 1st quarter en route to a 48-28 opening day win.  To many in Buffalo the bubble seems to have burst already.  Maybe they aren’t who we thought they were but the truth is that they have a heel of a lot of time to make up for it.  Here are some individual thoughts on the game:

  • Spiller ran past the Jets defense on the way to 169 yards on Sunday

    Regarding CJ Spiller, the lone bright spot for the Bills.  It looks as if CJ has finally figured out the tempo of the pro game.  If he continues to progress and improve as he has he could truly be an elite offensive weapon.  Earlier in his career Spiller was doing too much dancing and spending too much time finding the hole.  Spiller is shifty and quick.  Once he finds a hole he has to attack it.  That’s exactly what he’s started to do.  Between last week’s performance in relief of Fred Jackson and the last 5 games he started last year for the injured Jackson he is averaging just a hair under 7 yards a carry.  That’s a huge number for an NFL running back.  Spiller stills ahs some growing up to do but the Bills can win without Fred Jackson if they have to, provided other things go right.  Spiller will not be the problem.

  • Where is the new and improved defense?  Dave Wannstedt was hired to fix the Bills defense.  Clearly the Jets had an effective offensive game plan.  Use quick drops before the 4-man front can get to you and take advantage on the Bills young CBs who were playing 5-6 yards off of the receivers.  So where were the adjustments.  Despite Sanchez getting rid off the ball too quickly for the 4-man front to get to him the Bills brought extra guys only 4 times the entire game.  Stephon Gilmore has a reputation for being a physical corner yet he was giving the Jets receivers a cushion.  When you hire a coach with Super Bowl winning experience you except Super Bowl caliber coaching.  Wannstedt needs to bounce back this week against the Chiefs.
  • Sanchez excelled throwing the ball on Sunday

    Give credit where it’s due.  Mark Sanchez was ridiculed since the day the Jets acquired Tim Tebow.  He had a lot to prove.  The entire team did but Sanchez in particular.  And he put his money where his mouth is.  He shook off a very bad INT on the opening drive and played a great game.  He spread the ball around and threw the ball confidently.  For weeks we heard about a QB controversy leading up to week 1.  Entering week 2 there is no quarterback controversy.  This is Mark Sanchez’s team (for now).  The Jets locker room has become a happy place (for now).

  • Fitzpatrick was Jekyll on Sunday.  He still has the potential to be Hyde.  There is no way to mince words.  Ryan Fitzpatrick single-handedly put the Bills in a deep, early hole in the 1st quarter with two bad passes.  Then, while they still had a chance to come back in the 2nd half, Fitzpatrick gave up a pick-6 on the 1st drive.  He’s had bad days like this in the past.  Sometimes he’s bounced back, sometimes he hasn’t.  Losing David Nelson is a big blow but Donald Jones seems ready to step up and rookie T.J. Graham will get some important time early.  I said this last year but the Bills should really work tight end Scott Chandler more into the offensive game plan.  He’s a tremendous mismatch for most linebackers and safeties with his 6-7 frame.  And he catches pretty much everything.
  • The Bills offensive line is a good unit.  I know what that says about Fitzpatrick’s day but the truth is that Fitzpatrick’s mistakes weren’t because he had people in his face all game.  They opened up huge holes for C.J. Spiller.  The middle of the line is stout with center Eric Wood and guard Andy Levitre.  Rookie Cordy Glenn held his own at left tackle.
  • Football isn’t everything.  Marcell Dareus had a bad day on Saturday in the Meadowlands but it pales in comparison to what him and his family are dealing with now.  On Sunday Marcell’s brother Simeon Gilmore was shot and killed in his native Alabama.  Gilmore was 20.  Obviously football seems very small in light of the tragedy and while Marcell is a big part of the Bills team I hope that he takes all the time that he needs to deal with this tragedy.  Condolences to the family of Simeon Gilmore.

The Bills open the home docket of their schedule this Sunday in Buffalo against the Chiefs.

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It’s Go Time

There probably isn’t a better weekend in America year in and year out the NFL’s opening Sunday.  Every team goes into that first week tied for 1st place.  Then teams spend the next 16 weeks trying to make the playoffs for a shot at the Lombardi trophy.  What makes the NFL so unique and exciting is that every game is an event.  There is a week of build up to the game and then the game itself.  It’s the only sport like this and that’s what makes it so popular.

Ready for liftoff…

If you are a Buffalo Bills fan, which I have been since I was 7 years old, today is a more exciting opening day than we’ve had for the better part of a decade.  It’s not just about the prospect of having a better team.  It’s not just that the Bills went out and spent big money on Mario Williams.  My fellow Red Sox fans can now relate to having to root for that unlikable team.  Well Bills fans have been doing that for over a decade.  Even their last playoff team was marred by a quarterback controversy between two unlikable guys.  The previous opening day starters before the current one, J.P. Losman and Trent Edwards were, for the lack of a better term, a couple of stiffs.  Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Harvard educated man who looks like a lumberjack, is an easy guy to root for.  Picked in the 7th round of the 2005 draft he played for 2 teams before settling in Buffalo as the starter.

Starting receiver Stevie Johnson was a 7th round pick.  The other two starting receivers, David Nelson and Donald Jones, went undrafted.  Running back Fred Jackson was undrafted out of Division III Coe College.  His other stops before finally making it to the NFL included the Arena League and NFL Europe.  These are the type of guys that you love to root for as a sports fan.  Even the high draft picks like Marcell Dareus, Eric Wood,  C.J. Spiller, and Aaron Williams are likable players.  Good ‘ole southern boy Chan Gailey is a likable coach.  This team is different from the team in years passed.  Maybe it’s because the team has finally invested in keeping it’s own players.  Maybe they just finally “get it” up in Western New York.

Of course the games still need to be played but something can be said for hope.  In years passed Bills fans were excited by opening day but it was more blind faith that drove them.  Now there is finally substance to the hope in early September.

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The Red Sox And Showtime’s “The Franchise” – A Match Made In Heaven

A major image crisis has emerged for the Boston Red Sox over the last 12 months.  Pretty much everyone from John Henry down to the clubhouse guys, with the exception of a few players, now seem to have a negative reputation in Boston.  The fans of Red Sox Nation are quickly becoming disenchanted.  They desperately need to do something to repair their image and it may take more than just becoming a winning team again.

Showtime could have a winner with “A Season with the Red Sox”

The people at Showtime developed a winning concept a few years ago when they created “The Franchise”, a show that piggy-backed off of HBO’s “Hard Knocks”, but instead of following an NFL team through just training camp it follows an MLB team throughout the entire season.  It is a great concept and it makes for really good TV.  Their problem is that in the first two seasons they followed two teams, the San Fransisco Giants and the Miami Marlins, that were out of the playoff hunt by the all-star break.  The most exciting thing about following these two teams in the last two months of the season was the trade deadline.  Now granted the Red Sox were pretty much out of the playoff race by the break as well but I’m guessing they could have kept us entertained quite a bit after the All-Star break.

If it seems like a risky proposition to put these Red Sox players behind a camera in the clubhouse and beyond it’s because it is.  God forbid things get even worse next year it will be embarrassing for the Red Sox but, hey, at least it will make for some compelling TV.  But it’s easy to see that the potential reward far outweighs the risk.  The Red Sox need an image clean-up and while there is a lot of work to do behind the scenes between now and opening day there may not be a better way to introduce the new Red Sox to Red Sox Nation than by putting them on “The Franchise”.  What better way to introduce a new manager to the Red Sox faithful, particularly if he is a young less well-known up-and-comer?  What better way for the fan base to feel more comfortable about it’s own players by actually seeing who they are off the field?  Too many times do you hear a fan or a media-type talk about a player like they know them personally.  None of us truly know any of these guys personally but at least if we got a peak of how they carried themselves behind the scenes then we might feel more comfortable about making a judgment on them.

Superstars like Jose Reyes showed their human side on “The Franchise”

Many new players have not been fully embraced by Red Sox Nation in past years, particularly ones with larger contracts.  I can’t help but think that maybe Red Sox Nation would have embraced Adrian Gonzalez a bit more if they knew a little more about him.  There will be a new generation of Red Sox players coming up next sure.  Guys like Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway and Felix Doubront will all have prominent roles with the team.  The Sox will have to go out and bring in some role players to fill in their roster as they retool it.  They’ll also have to bring in veteran pitching.  And of course there is the manager.  The question of Bobby Valentine’s impending exit from Boston is becoming more of a “when” rather than an “if” which means that the Red Sox will likely have their 3rd different manager in 3 years.  Every time that these Red Sox owners have made a managerial change they have gone for the polar opposite of the guy they are replacing.  Look for a young less-known up-and-comer to replace Valentine.  It could be a tough place to break in for a guy like that in a market where a winner is expected year in and year out.  Getting to know the guy behind the scenes might make Red Sox Nation more comfortable with him early on.

If you watched this season of “The Franchise” you know a lot about rookie closer Steve Cishek, an unknown when the season began.  You might have a better view of highly-paid superstar Jose Reyes after watching the show and seeing him lead the Marlins with his jovial, laid back attitude.  You would have gotten to know role players like Justin Ruggiano and Greg Dobbs.  And of course you would have laughed at Ozzie being Ozzie.  At this point, with the exception of a few guys, I feel like I know the Marlins players more than I know the Red Sox guys from watching this season of The Franchise.

As I said before it’s a risky proposition for the Red Sox organization.  As a Red Sox fan it seems like a win/win.  If they are good and you love the team you will likely love them even more by going behind the scenes and watching how they turn the franchise around.  The love affair between the Red Sox and their fans that has been fractured over the past few seasons could be re-ignited.  On the flip side if the Red Sox have another disaster behind the scenes like they have had during the past two seasons then at least we will can still be entertained by the club.  For Showtime it’s a no-brainer.  Getting the Red Sox or the Yankees on “The Franchise” would be akin to obtaining the holy grail for Showtime.  The Yankees have no reason to do it but the Sox have plenty.  So why not?

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