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Sully's Mailbag: Playoffs would be a relief, win or lose

On the whole, it was a productive week for the 'Bag, although there wasn't a single question about Sunday's game against the Colts. That tells you how uninspired most Bills fans are by the prospect of watching two mediocrities battle in the snow at New Era.

Based on prices on the secondary market, people are basically giving tickets away. My old pal Rex Carr wrote to inform me he was done investing his emotions in Buffalo teams and was selling his ticket. He's holding out for $5. On to the mail.

Michael Sansano asks: If the Bills sneak into the playoffs as the sixth seed, they could be one-and-done with a big loss. Could our regional psyche tolerate that?

Sully: That's been a popular question lately. Would it really matter if they snapped the playoff drought, only to get drilled on the road in a wild-card game? Some people think it's a low standard and that fans should be shooting a lot higher.

But breaking the drought would be a meaningful achievement, one that would bring joy to beleaguered Buffalo sports fans. This isn't just any drought, it's the longest drought among the 123 teams in the four major professional sports. Dumping that albatross would be a welcome relief.

The standard should be higher, of course. I remember when the question wasn't whether the Bills and Sabres would make the playoffs, but how far they would go. From 1988-99, the Bills appeared in 21 playoff games. The Sabres, who have the second-longest playoff drought in hockey, played in 92.

We haven't seen a playoff game since the Sabres lost the seventh game of the first round at the Flyers nearly seven years ago. It's sad to think that just getting there has become some kind of lofty achievement.

Delusional Bills fan asks: I’m happy Bills tickets are $4. Two bad teams playing each other late in the season. On Stub Hub, 49ers-Texans cheapest seats are $48. Cowboys/Giants $75 for nose bleeds. Glad we live in a small market where the laws of capitalism still work?

Sully: Right now, I wouldn't pay a dime to watch these two teams. I laugh when I think of the Sabres fans who were supposedly afraid to give up seasons during the drought, because they were afraid they'd be locked out when the good times rolled.

But it's not such a great idea when tickets are selling for peanuts on the secondary market and the stadium isn't sold out. This is the NFL, remember, a league where the commissioner can be paid $40 million a year to help the owners line their pockets.

The NFL can't be thrilled to see tickets going for a song. Yes, Buffalo fans are among the most loyal in the league. Many early-season crowds around the league are embarrassing. But it's a small market, and Buffalo will be judged more harshly.

If the situation persists, the NFL will be more inclined to push the Pegulas to build a new stadium, with fewer seats at much higher prices like the places you mentioned. They're not out for the little guy. As you said, this is capitalism.

@daveallenwriter asks: What are the odds that the Bills keep both Jordan Matthews and Kelvin Benjamin next season?

@BataviaPartyZne asks: What do you do with Matthews, let him walk in free agency or try to resign him for low money after a bad season?

Sully: They'll likely keep Benjamin and let Matthews walk. The Bills will almost surely pick up Benjamin's $8 million option for 2018. They didn't give Carolina third- and seventh-round draft picks for Benjamin so they could cut him after less than half a season.

The Benjamin deal was a sign that they wanted to build the passing game around Benjamin and rookie Zay Jones. Matthews is primarily a slot receiver. They Bills would like to use Jones more in the slot and will look for more speed in free agency and in the draft.

Matthews, 25, was plagued by injuries and didn't contribute much before going onto IR. He came with a third-round pick from the Eagles for Ronald Darby. So it's not as if the Bills need to re-sign him to save face. And Philly certainly doesn't seem to miss him.

@buffalowingwear asks: Can New England wrap up home field advantage before we play them on Christmas Eve and if so, do you think they'll sit their starters?

Sully: The Pats and Steelers are both 10-2, so New England would have to win its next two and Pittsburgh lose two for the Pats to clinch by Christmas Eve. The Pats play in Pittsburgh next Sunday, which will be tough. The Steelers host the Ravens this Sunday. The Pats are in Miami.

So the odds are against the Pats game being meaningless. Even if they've clinched by then, Belichick isn't likely to sit starters in the penultimate game. Remember, he played Tom Brady for a half in a meaningless 2014 finale.

 

@mmuma77 asks: Is it too early to consider replacing Phil Housley or does the severe lack of talent buy him time?

Sully: It's too early to fire him, but not too soon to consider it a bad hire. Housley looks and sounds like he's over his head. He was fortunate to coach a loaded defense in Nashville, which made him a hot candidate, especially in the eyes of an owner who loves former Sabres.

The Pegulas are finding out the hard way that it wasn't all Dan Bylsma's fault. Maybe they were overachieving with Byslma! Yes, they lack talent, but they've regressed under Housley. Coaches get fired for less in the NHL all the time, so Pollyanna Phil could be on a short leash if he doesn't get results very soon.

Rob Mignoli asks: What's your take on Big Ten and ACC going to a 20-game conference schedule. It's being pitched as being "good for college basketball".

Sully: Good for those power conferences, bad for top mid-majors who rarely get non-conference games against those schools, making it virtually impossible to make a strong case for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Teams in the power conferences boost their stock by playing each other and limiting their chances to get beat before league play. The rich get richer in college hoops. These expanded schedules make it even more so. Boo.

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