Jerry Sullivan: An uplifting Bills six-pack from Mr. Positive - The Buffalo News

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Jerry Sullivan: An uplifting Bills six-pack from Mr. Positive

Column as I see 'em, Week 11:

Evidently, my tone was perceived as a trifle negative after Sunday's win. So in keeping with the holiday spirit, I've decided to bring back Mr. Positive to put an optimistic spin on the Bills' season.

The Bills are 5-5 with six games left and might need to win them all to reach the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. Who says it can't happen? Remember how they reeled off six wins in a row in 2004 after I wrote them off at 3-6? Since this is an upbeat column, we won't get into the finale against Pittsburgh.

In a down year in the NFL, they could go 5-1 or run the table. Considering the utter mediocrity of the league, it's maddening that they're not in a more favorable position. Success tends to run in cycles. Look at Arizona, Cincinnati and Green Bay. But somehow, the cycle never manages to land on the Bills.

The remaining schedule is a bit soft. In fact, ESPN's Football Power Index gives them a 30 percent chance to get in, better than Miami (which is 6-4), Baltimore (which beat them), Indianapolis and Tennessee. They're two games out of a wild-card spot, but when you win games, teams tend to come back to you in the standings.

Here are a few reasons that Mr. Positive feels you should feel good about each of the Bills' remaining half-dozen games.

Home vs. Jacksonville: The Jags are a 2-8 mess with a head coach (Gus Bradley) who should have been fired by now. Rex Ryan will have the Bills juiced to atone for last year's debacle in London. Blake Bortles has thrown a pick six two weeks in a row. Doug Marrone, the Jags' assistant head coach/offensive line, makes his return to Buffalo. He won't get out of town with $4 million this time, or a win.

At Oakland: Classic trap game. The Raiders are better on the road and will be looking ahead to division road games at KC and San Diego. They're leading the AFC West, but they're a bad defensive team, last in the league in yards per play. Tyrod Taylor should have a good day. They're also the most penalized team in football, by a lot. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski has been erratic on deep kicks.

Home vs. Pittsburgh: These aren't your father's Steelers. They had lost four straight before struggling to beat the Browns on Sunday. The defense is below average and the offense hasn't been very good away from home. Ben Roethlisberger is averaging 337 yards passing at Heinz Field, 236 on the road. The Bills haven't beaten them since 1999 and have lost nine of the last 10, so they're due.

Home vs. Cleveland: Come on, it's the Browns. Rex won't allow them to be the first team to lose to them this season. The Bills have a better record than the Browns during the playoff drought. They'll win. Maybe it'll be 6-3.

Home vs. Miami: The Bills make up for letting one get away in Miami. Ryan Tannehill has been terrific during the Dolphins' five-game winning streak, but he's always been a clown show in Buffalo. In four trips to Orchard Park, he's winless by an average score of 25-10. Tannehill is averaging 193 passing at the Bills, with two total TD passes and 16 sacks. Mr. Positive can see another W.

At the Jets: Who's going to be quarterbacking when they meet on New Year's Day in New Jersey? Chris Christie? It'll be payback time for that embarrassment in Week Two. Jets will be running for the bus. Imagine if the Bills are the team needing to win to make the playoffs this year and Ryan Fitzpatrick gets revenge for last year's finale in Buffalo. Sorry, Mr. Positive went out of character there.

* * *

Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott has 1,382 yards from scrimmage through 10 games, putting him on pace for 2,211 for the season. That's one yard shy of Eric Dickerson's record of 2,212 scrimmage yards by a rookie, set in 1983 for the Rams.

Elliott has a battle going with Arizona's David Johnson for the scrimmage lead. Johnson, who had 160 rushing and receiving yards in the Cardinals' 30-24 loss to the Vikings, is up to 1,373 scrimmage yards, just nine behind Elliott.

Johnson has at least 100 combined yards in all 10 games this season. The NFL doesn't keep records of those streaks, but I scanned a lot of the game's great players and it's rare for anyone do it 10 games in a row. Thurman Thomas and O.J. Simpson never did it. Neither did Jim Brown. Dickerson had 10 straight 100-yard scrimmage games in his rookie year.

Barry Sanders had 100 combined yards in the last 15 games of the 1997 season, which has to be the record in a single season. Marcus Allen did it in 14 straight games in 1985, when he set what was then the NFL record for scrimmage yards with 2,314.

Allen's record has been surpassed by several players. Chris Johnson has the record of 2,509 yards, set with the Titans in 2009. Marshall Faulk is second with 2,429 for the 1999 Rams. Tiki Barber had 2,390 for the Giants in 2005. Johnson didn't have a 10-game streak of 100 yards. Barber had 11 in a row in '05. Faulk had 100 scrimmage yards in the last nine regular-season games of 1999 and the first two in 2000.

The last player to string together 12 consecutive games of 100 scrimmage yards was Adrian Peterson of the Vikings in 2012.

* * *

Steve Smith Sr., a certain Hall of Famer, became the 14th player in history with 1,000 catches when he grabbed a 22-yarder on the first play of the second half in the Ravens' loss at Dallas. Smith finished with eight catches for 99 yards.

Smith passed Hines Ward (up for the Hall this year), who finished with exactly 1,000 receptions. Smith is now 13th with 1,005. He's eighth all-time in receiving yardage with 14,448. He's 132 yards behind Marvin Harrison, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past summer.

At 37, Smith is one of the best ever at his age. He has 44 catches for 516 yards and three TDs in eight games. An ankle injury kept him out of two games. He was on a Pro Bowl pace last year when he went down with an achilles injury after seven games. In his last 16 games, dating to the 2014 finale, Smith has 98 catches for 1,276 yards and six touchdowns.

Not bad for a "senior."

* * *

This year's fantasy prospect in the weekly installment of "Is He Owned" is Patriots rookie wideout Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell, a fourth-round pick from Georgia, career bests of  four catches and 98 yards and his first NFL touchdown in New England's 30-17 victory at San Francisco.

Mitchell hauled in a perfect 56-yard throw from Tom Brady on third-and-8 in the fourth quarter, increasing the Pats' lead to 27-10. He has 11 catches for 193 yards on the season and receiving steady playing time, mainly because of his blocking skills in the running game.

I checked four ESPN leagues on Monday and Mitchell was available in three. That's not surprising, since the Pats have so many other options. But with Rob Gronkowski sidelined, he could be worth a look. He does play with Brady.

* * *

A year ago, the NFC East had a combined record of 26-38, the second-worst in the NFL. They're 27-12-1 after Sunday and have already passed last year's win total. Of course, they're feasting on the AFC North, which has some struggling teams and the winless Browns. The NFC East is 10-1-1 against the AFC North.

* * *

Tyrod Taylor said it's rare for teams to make fourth-quarter comebacks in the NFL, but the Lions have trailed in the fourth in all six of their wins. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has completed 71 percent of his passes for 766 yards in fourth quarters this season. He was 8-for-9 for 118 yards against the Jaguars.

* * *

In what should be good news for the NFL's ratings, none of the six teams who will be playing on Thanksgiving have losing records. The Turkey Day lineup features Vikings-Lions, Cowboys-Washington and Steelers-Colts.

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