In 2008, after the Bills jumped to a 4-0 start, I pleaded with their energized fans to proceed with caution. Their record looked suspicious. They hadn’t played particularly well. They didn’t beat anyone particularly good. Plus, Dick Jauron was the coach and Trent Edwards was the quarterback.
Simply, it didn’t add up.
News flash, I’ve never been the most optimistic guy when it comes to Buffalo sports teams. I’m guessing it comes from watching the Bills lumber through 2-14 seasons and miss the playoffs for two-thirds of their existence. For years, they’ve made it difficult to fathom they’re doing anything right.
And yet this year seems different.
There’s no getting past the Bills’ 3-5 record as the season reached its midpoint, but this team appears better than the one that started 4-0 five years ago. It’s based on little more than the eye test and examining a mediocre league. The Bills are going in the right direction. In 2008, they were going backward.
“We’re excited,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said. “I know it sounds crazy. People are going to go, ‘What the hell is going on with this guy?’ ”
Dude, trust me, I’ve been there. It’s difficult to explain, but it makes sense when you examine everything from various angles. Marrone isn’t one for phony optimism. More than anything, he’s a realist. He took a close look at how his first season has gone, and believes the Bills are very real, indeed.
Buffalo has lost twice this season by a field goal or less. Poor play-calling, combined with Tom Brady, beat them in the opener. Santonio Holmes’ 69-yard touchdown with 1:16 left cost them against the Jets. Two big plays in the fourth quarter killed them against the Browns. They lost to a good Cincinnati team in overtime.
The Bills’ three wins also have been by a field goal or less. They beat Carolina in the final seconds when EJ Manuel threw a touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson. Kiko Alonso secured a victory with a late interception against Baltimore. The Bills were in trouble against Miami until Mario Williams forced a fumble late in that game.
Every week, it comes down to a handful of plays. An optimist could argue that the Bills could easily be 7-1. A pessimist could argue they could just as easily be 0-8. Bill Parcells, who coined the phrase “you are what you are,” was a very wise man. But the record alone doesn’t indicate how teams are trending. The math eventually takes over.
Kansas City is 8-0 this season, the only undefeated team in the league. They are what they are, too.
Here’s what they aren’t: a Super Bowl team. In fact, there’s a very good chance the Chiefs will not win the division. There’s an outside chance, but a chance, they will miss the playoffs.
How can that be, you ask? Their record is terribly deceiving.
Kansas City’s opponents are a combined 20-41 this season. The Chiefs haven’t beaten a single team that currently has a winning record. Dallas was their only opponent that is .500. Three others – Jacksonville, the New York Giants and Houston – had two wins or fewer. Six of their opponents are ranked 22nd or worse in points per game.
Buffalo’s opponents have a combined 36-25 record this season. Five of their eight opponents are .500 or better, including three – New England, Cincinnati and New Orleans – with two or fewer losses. The Bills are learning the hard way now, but it could help them down the road.
What’s the difference between Bills and Chiefs, other than five games separating them in the win column? Not much, really.
The Chiefs have a good running game, a conservative quarterback, a very good defense and more depth. But nobody should be shocked if the Bills handed the Chiefs their first loss Sunday.
No, I’m not a homer. And I’m not getting soft. I’m merely formulating an opinion based on what I see and a few other factors. The Bills are a long way from making the playoffs, but the postseason remains within reach. The Chiefs have all but nailed down a spot in the postseason, but it’s hardly guaranteed.
Look for Buffalo to close the gap in the coming weeks, especially if the Bills score an upset Sunday. Kansas City’s final seven opponents, after Buffalo, have a 29-19 record. Their schedule includes two games against Denver, a better team that’s trailing in the division with a 7-1 record.
The Bills’ final seven opponents, after the Chiefs, currently are 17-35. It includes back-to-back games against Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, winless in 15 games. New England is the only team that has a winning record. Doug Marrone looks like the right coach. EJ Manuel, sidelined for now, appears to be the right quarterback.
It’s starting to add up.