Monday, December 20, 2010

From 0-8 to 4-10: A Buffalo Bills story

Anybody who follows the Bills knows they weren't going winless all season. Out of their first eight games, two went to overtime and three others were decided by one possession. They aren't a good football team but they fight every week and that alone will get you wins in the NFL, especially later in the season.

They still haven't beaten a team currently over .500 although Miami was 7-6 before Sunday's game, so you can say that stat is false if you want. But we all know Miami isn't good, which is part of the reason people think the Jets aren't good after their Week 14 loss to the Dolphins. But does this mean the Bills are better than the Jets?

No, that's a blasphemous statement. You can use similar opponents to compare any teams in the NFL and you may find an argument that every team is better than every other. The Browns beat the Patriots a few weeks ago; are they better than New England? The Jets beat the Browns who beat Patriots; are they better than New England?

I could go on all day, but the fact is that any professional football team can beat any other on any given Sunday. The odds may be low, but they are never impossible. And the way Ryan Fitzpatrick has played this season, the Bills can be competitive with anybody.

Fitzpatrick won't amaze you with his athleticism or his arm strength, but he's a heady quarterback (and not just because he went to Harvard). The guy just has a feel for the timing of playing quarterback in the NFL. He knows he can't rifle balls into small spaces or into perfect coverage but, much like Chad Pennington used to, he gets rid of the ball that second or two sooner so the ball is right on his receiver when it needs to be.

Fitzpatrick also reminds me of Jon Kitna; a player who has started in the league before but is better served being one of the NFL's best backups. Fitzpatrick's play this season has given him at least a career as a backup and one who can lead a talented team almost as well as its starter. Just look what he's done with the likes of Stevie Johnson, Lee Evans and David Nelson at receiver.

The Bills have a lot of holes along their offensive and defensive lines and elsewhere defensively. Many Buffalo fans are pushing hard for Andrew Luck but even if Luck comes out, I'm not sure he's the Bills' best option. With their current winning ways they may be pushing themselves out of the Luck sweepstakes anyway, which may allow them to fill other needs in the offseason.

The Bills are near the bottom of the league in both sacks and turnovers and they have been gashed on the ground this season. Despite allowing just 28 sacks, their much-maligned offensive line has struggled to open holes consistently in the running game.

Assuming the Bills still end up close to a top-five pick, there are a few impact players that could help them. They could always take Luck if he falls that far but if not, they need a shutdown corner: Nebraska's Prince Amukamara and LSU's Patrick Peterson fit the bill.

They also need help along the defensive line, particularly a pass rusher: North Carolina's Robert Quinn, Alabama's Marcell Darius, Ohio State's Cameron Heyward and Auburn's Nick Fairley are all potential top-10 picks. All of those named except Darius can get after the quarterback and although Darius did have 6 sacks this season he would be more of an asset against the run, something the Bills also need to worry about.

The Bills could also consider a player like Georgia's A.J. Green at the 6th or 7th pick. Green is a stud receiving prospect and while Stevie Johnson is enjoying a breakout season, the jury is out on whether he's a legitimate number-one target.

Buffalo has a few options at the top of this draft and I think most of them are better than Andrew Luck (or Arkansas' Ryan Mallett if Luck is gone). It wouldn't be a mistake to draft him because I don't think Fitzpatrick is a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, but he's good enough with pieces around him that the team won't be a disaster. And they have much bigger holes to fill.

If the Bills don't go defensive line or cornerback in April's draft I will be surprised. But it's December when I'm writing this and we know how much a player's draft stock can rise/fall in the offseason. It should be interesting to see what other players get themselves into the top 10 mix in a few months and who the Bills look to target.

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