Bills’ future, NFL power rankings and Colin Kaepernick waiting game


The Buffalo Bills have been wandering in the NFL wilderness for years. With another change of general manager and coaching staff, are they turning a corner?

Throughout history, the Buffalo Bills have been a team of streaks. In their American Football League days, the Bills won a pair of league titles while appearing in three straight championship games. Then, from 1966-1989, the team won only a pair of playoff games, struggling in most seasons to sniff a winning record.

In the 1990s, four Super Bowls appearances in a row, only to see all end in defeat. Now, Buffalo is working on 17 consecutive campaigns without a playoff berth, the longest active streak in the NFL.

This offseason, the Bills performed an almost annual rite of finding a new coaching staff. Following the warranted ouster of head coach Rex Ryan, Buffalo appointed Sean McDermott in his place. Not including interims, Buffalo has changed head coaches seven times since 2001.

McDermott, who served as the Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator from 2011-16, was hired by owner Terry Pegula, president Russ Brandon and general manager Doug Whaley. However, Whaley didn’t have long with the organization.

A day after the NFL Draft concluded, Whaley and the entire scouting department was fired, sending shockwaves across the league.

If Whaley was going to be removed, he should have been relieved of his duties along with Ryan at the end of the 2016 season. In that scenario, Pegula could have started the process of first finding a general manager and then adding a head coach, the typical pattern of NFL leadership. instead, Whaley was permitted to populate McDermott’s team through free agency and the draft, only to be canned.

The situation leaves Buffalo is an ugly spot. Should McDermott suffer through a tough first season — which is very possible considering the Bills roster — new general manager Brandon Beane could get antsy for his own pick. Additionally, it stands to reason that Beane doesn’t have the same philosophy as Whaley, so many of his draft picks and signees from this offseason are already part of an outdated regime.

While Beane and McDermott are both from Carolina and share a friendship, those bonds can evaporate quickly with heat applied. Ask Todd Haley and Scott Pioli, friends from their days with the New York Jets before both were hired by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009. After two seasons that saw a 2-14 team win the AFC West, their relationship deteriorated to the point of Haley being fired midway through the 2011 season.

Buffalo has only once been able to sustain continuity throughout its history. Marv Levy coached the team from 1986-97, while Bill Polian was the general manager spanning ’86-92. outside of Levy’s 12-season tenure, the Bills have never had another head coach last more than five years on the job. They are the only franchise save for the recently-minted Houston Texans who can make that sad statement.

If the Bills are going to finally become a playoff team in the near future, it begins with a changed mindset. Beane needs time to fix a flawed roster, and McDermott has to be granted a grace period as he works through challenges that include a limited (if not talented) quarterback, an oft-injured top weapon in Sammy Watkins and a defense that lost two starting corners.

This year will be a trying one in western New York, but if Beane and McDermott are given support and prove a formidable duo, the march toward the respectability is on.

That’s a word that has been long lacking in Buffalo.

Power rankings

Top 10 players to watch in training camp

1. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
2. Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos
3. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
4. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
5. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
6. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
7. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
8. Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
9. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
10. Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints


"“It’s hard for them to travel at times, but will we do that? Yeah,”"

– Washington Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, on whether his corners will stay with designated receivers

Manusky’s comment is interesting on many levels. Many teams, including the Chiefs and Seahawks (who employ Marcus Peters and Richard Sherman, respectively) don’t move their corners. The theory is that a right-handed quarterback will throw more often to the right side (at the left corner) because he’s facing that direction while dropping back. Typically, an offense also puts its top receiver to that side, but might move him if a shutdown corner won’t travel.

The Redskins are letting the rest of the league, and specifically the NFC East know, that Josh Norman will be on the move. In other words, we will see plenty of the vocal All-Pro going against Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant when the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys show up on the schedule.

Washington has a bevy of high-profile receivers on the docket this year, including Alshon Jeffrey, Tyreek Hill, Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, Keenan Allen, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, and Larry Fitzgerald.

Random stat

In September, the Minnesota Vikings sent a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 fourth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford.

The Vikings ended up winning eight games, while the Eagles won seven. In total, Bradford threw for 95 more yards and four more touchdowns. Bradford did manage a completion rate of nine percent better than Wentz, while committing nine fewer turnovers.

Still, a potential future-setting deal for the Eagles, while the Vikings missed the playoffs anyway.

Info learned this week

1. Chargers lock Ingram up long term

The Los Angeles Chargers made their first move since the big move this offseason. On Sunday, the team agreed on a four-year, $66 million deal with a whopping $42 million guaranteed. After starting his career slow with six sacks over three seasons, Ingram has become a force off the edge. In 2015 and 2016 combined, the former first-round choice has 18.5 sacks.

With Ingram and Joey Bosa, the Chargers now have a bookend set of pass-rushers that rivals the other pairings in the impressive AFC West, including Justin Houston and Dee Ford, Von Miller and Shane Ray, and Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

Now that Ingram is signed, the only player remaining with an unsigned franchise tag is Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.

2. Jim Irsay still has big dreams

The Indianapolis Colts seemed destined for the Super Bowl after drafting Andrew Luck in 2012. The team won three straight AFC South titles, advancing one round further in each postseason until a 2014 AFC Championship Game defeat against the Patriots. In the following two seasons, Indianapolis has failed to post a winning campaign, but that hasn’t damped owner Jim Irsay’s expectations, who says the Luck era should end with multiple titles.

The Colts, thanks to a nice offseason led by general manager Chris Ballard and a soft schedule, could get back into the playoffs. Still, this group is far from a Super Bowl contender, and much of that blame falls squarely on Irsay. He allowed Ryan Grigson to scuttle the roster for years, while waffling on whether Chuck Pagano should remain head coach. Ballard was a major step in the right direction, but the dream of a dynasty is simply that at the moment.

3. Kaepernick remains unsigned

The Seattle Seahawks were the only team to give Colin Kaepernick a visit throughout his free agency, but they decided to go in another direction. The defending NFC West champs signed Austin Davis instead, giving the 28-year-old another opportunity. Davis has not thrown a pass since 2015, back with the Cleveland Browns.

At this juncture, Kaepernick is either being blackballed, or is asking for a ton of money comparative to his skills. Without all due respect to Davis, he’s not half the quarterback Kaepernick is, even with his diminished statistics over the past three seasons.

The guess here is Kaepernick signs late in the summer when a starter gets hurt.

4. 49ers sign Dumervil for pass-rush help

After being released by the Baltimore Ravens earlier this offseason, the 33-year-old signed a two-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers on June 5. Dumervil, who has a combined nine sacks in 24 games over the past two seasons, should give San Francisco a boost off the edge while mentoring Reuben Foster.

Dumervil isn’t the player he once was, but he still has some juice and brings a much-needed veteran presence on a rebuilding team. With 99 career sacks, the former Broncos and Ravens star comes to a team that had only 33 sacks last year, with Ahmad Brooks and DeForest Buckner leading the club with six each.

5. Jets readying for tank job

While the Jets took plenty of criticism last week for cutting both Eric Decker and David Harris, they were the right moves for a team on the road to oblivion. New York is not winning anything in 2017, and wasn’t going to even with Decker and Harris in the fold.

If you are going to be bad, be terrible. The league is set up to reward the worst team with the best draft pick, something the Jets are unarguably aiming for. The team has not had a franchise quarterback since the days of Joe Namath. The Jets will have their chance to land with next spring, due largely to an incoming tank job of epic proportions.

History lesson

The AFC East has not seen three teams reach the postseason in a single year since 2001, when the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI. New England was the second seed, while the Miami Dolphins (No. 4) and New York Jets (No. 6) were wild cards.

Parting shot

Looking at the two conferences, there is a stark contrast in projections. The New England Patriots are the league’s (and obviously, AFC’s) best team, but an easy argument can be made that while the AFC is top-heavy, the NFC is much deeper.

In the AFC, the only teams with real hope of dethroning the Patriots are the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs. Many would argue the Oakland Raiders belong on that list, but until the defense improves, the Raiders have no shot of beating Tom Brady in January. The Chiefs and Steelers both have flaws, but both would have a puncher’s chance.

For years, the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals were playoff staples, but neither appears destined for a 17th game. Baltimore has already incurred a few serious injuries, while the Bengals have a middling roster. The AFC South actually presents three intriguing teams, but the Houston Texans have a fatal flaw at quarterback. The Indianapolis Colts have taken steps, but the offensive line and defensive front are major problems. The Tennessee Titans might be the best bet to make noise, although much rests on Adoree Jackson and Corey Davis.

On the NFC side, one could make a real argument for at least a half-dozen teams to represent the conference in Super Bowl LII.

The Atlanta Falcons are defending NFC champs and bring back an ascending roster, while the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers remain annual contenders. We also have the Cowboys and Giants in the NFC East, with an all-out brawl looming for that crown. Lest with forget the Detroit Lions, who are coming off a playoff berth and a subsequently strong offseason. Still, Matthew Stafford and Co. need to prove themselves against top squads.

One team to watch is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who should be playoff bound. Jameis Winston has an embarrassment of riches on the offensive side, while defensive coordinator Mike Smith has turned his unit around.

If any of those seven teams reached the Super Bowl, it would not be stunning (granted, the Lions and Buccaneers would be a mild surprise). Still, the NFC will have a loaded playoff field, while the AFC has one clear superpower, two excellent, well-rounded contenders and a slew of flawed teams hoping to make a charge into the Divisional round.