The Buffalo Bills don't quite control their own destiny, but they could get there this weekend.
A victory Sunday over the New England Patriots would easily be the biggest of the team's 17-year playoff drought, although it wouldn't clinch the Bills a playoff spot even if everything else shakes out their way. Still, it would set up a thrilling final week of the regular season. Flights not already sold out to South Florida will likely fill up in a hurry. South Beach, New Year's Eve and the death of a miserable streak would be an easy sell for Bills fans.
Let's get to this week's mailbag:
Parmal Bahr asks: Isn't a 9-7 record yet missing the playoffs literally the worst thing that could happen to the Bills?
Jay: No, there are many things that could be worse. I feel like this question is tiptoeing around the “tanking” issue, which is a topic sports fans in Buffalo know all too much about.
There is an obsession in this town, whether you’re for it or against it, with tanking. Yes, it’s better for the Bills to be picking earlier in the draft if they miss out on the playoffs. Everyone knows that. But their chances at the No. 1 pick went out the window when they beat the Jets in the season opener. The Browns are staring at an 0-16 season. The Bills weren’t ever going to challenge them, or the Giants, or the Bears, for one of the top picks.
I get why fans concern themselves so much much with where the Bills are picking. Their chances of landing a franchise quarterback might go up with an earlier pick. That’s not to say the Bills can’t still get there. General Manager Brandon Beane has amassed significant draft capital, which in my mind was done for the purpose of moving up for a quarterback.
That’s not a guarantee of success, though. The Sabres have taught us that simply drafting at the top isn’t enough to build a winner. The tanking conversation is very, very tired.
Adam Williams asks: Do you think this season is a success if we go 10-6 or 9-7 and miss the playoffs?
Jay: I picked them to go 6-10, so of course. Most other preseason projections had the team no better than 8-8. You can roll your eyes at coach Sean McDermott talking about establishing his “culture,” but he deserves credit for leading the Bills through an absolutely miserable stretch in the middle of the season.
How much of that carries over to next season depends on how much roster turnover the team has, but there is reason to feel confident in the direction the franchise is heading under Beane and McDermott.
Moe Greene asks: How far would the Bills have to go for them to retain Tyrod as their long-term starter?
Jay: If by long term you mean beyond 2018, it would have to be a Super Bowl run to convince me of that. I said earlier in the year that if Taylor got this team to the playoffs, he had a good chance of returning for the final year of his contract.
I’ve softened my stance on that now, though. I believe the Bills will move on from him this offseason even if they reach the playoffs. That might be true even if the team wins a game in the postseason. Taylor is due $18 million next year. It’s not unreasonable to suggest the front office feels like it can go into next season with a veteran signed for half that money, Nathan Peterman and a rookie first-round draft pick and feel confident it can get the same level of play from the position.
Benching Taylor in Week 11 showed what the current coaching staff thinks of him. Maybe that changes if offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is fired after the season, but it feels like Taylor is down to his last two regular-season games with the Bills. It’s an odd situation the team finds itself in, because Taylor gives them their best chance to win right now and reach the postseason even if he is a lame duck.
Tim Szczodrowski asks: What’s more likely, try to sign a free agent quarterback like Kirk Cousins or trade for a veteran like Alex Smith or go the opposite route and trade up for a rookie quarterback in the draft?
Jay: Any team that signs Cousins will have to make a massive financial commitment. The Bills could create the cap space to do that, but it doesn’t strike me as likely.
Giving up an asset for Smith also isn’t something I’d be eager to do. Trading up for a quarterback is the likeliest scenario of the ones mentioned above. That doesn’t mean the rookie would start in 2018. Instead, signing a lower-priced veteran to compete with Nathan Peterman and that rookie would make the most sense.
“ATV3” asks: The prevailing thought in the NFL appears to be RBs are — for most part — interchangeable. That being said, LeSean McCoy is a difference maker. Thoughts on chances if he returns and where do they turn to upgrade the primary backup RB position?
Jay: I'd bring McCoy back for another season. I think the chances are good that the Bills agree with that. He's still producing at a high level. That goes against the Bill Belichick philosophy of saying goodbye a year too soon rather than a year too late, but McCoy has made it through this season healthy and prides himself on not taking too many big hits.
As for the backup running back, turn to the draft. Productive players at the position can be found in the middle rounds. That is a definite need in the offseason.
Rick McGuire asks: Jay, if the Bills do make the playoffs, how do you see them matching up against the top seeds other than New England, (Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Jacksonville) who they already know much too well? Could they be a team that might be overlooked and surprise everyone?
Jay: If the Bills do get in, they’re likely to be the sixth seed in the AFC, which is the weaker of the two conferences. That would make them the “worst” playoff team. I’d expect Buffalo to be heavy underdogs against expected No. 3-seed Jacksonville. If Buffalo was to earn the fifth seed, a much closer game could be expected against Kansas City. The Bills did win there earlier this season, after all, even though the Chiefs do look like they’ve figured things out the past couple weeks. I’d put Pittsburgh on a different level than those two teams, even though the Jaguars spanked the Steelers in Week 5. The Jaguars would be an undeniably interesting given the presence of Doug Marrone as their coach. There would be something oddly poetic about the Bills ending the postseason drought going against Marrone. Jacksonville’s defense has been excellent this season, but trusting Blake Bortles has to make any Jaguars fan nervous.
Dave McKinley asks: How much would you like to see Eric Moulds in a Bills uniform right how ... huh?!?
Jay: Moulds is 44 right now, so it would be mighty interesting to see him try and make a comeback right now. Or did you mean in-his-prime Moulds?
Between 1998-2004, Moulds had four 1,000-yard seasons and two more with 900-plus receiving yards. I do put wide receiver on the Bills’ list of offseason needs, although I’m not sure how high up it is after the team used a third-round draft pick to acquire Kelvin Benjamin. Along with Zay Jones, they have two pieces to build around. My priority would be on finding a deep threat.
"behrnsie" asks: What's going on with Seantrel on the health front?
Jay: As far as managing his Crohn’s disease, things seem to be all good on that front. Henderson appears to be maintaining his weight, which is a challenge with that disease.
He has missed some practice time with a back injury recently, the severity of which has not been fully explained. The Bills’ depth at defensive tackle has not made that much of an issue.
Garret W. asks: Why in the world is Mike Tolbert a Pro Bowl alternate?
Jay: Not even Mike Tolbert knows the answer. My colleague Nick Veronica asked him that very question Wednesday. Here was part of Tolbert’s response: “I think stuff like that, Pro Bowl voting, it comes from popularity from the fans and stuff like that. … So it's one of those things where you appreciate it but you know it's a joke sometimes.”
That's a pretty good description of the process that led to Tolbert being named an alternate — a joke.
Brian Walsh asks: Smooth or crunchy? Simpsons or Family Guy? Edwards or Sauve? Cheers or Seinfeld?
Jay: Crunchy. "Family Guy," even though I accept that "The Simpsons" is probably the better answer. I just never watched it all that much. Too young to have seen either play. "Cheers" was a little before my time, so "Seinfeld."
“DeeZee” asks: Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield?
Jay: If you’re asking as a fan of the game in general, Mayfield. He’s fun to watch and has some personality. If you’re asking as a draft prospect, Allen has the prototypical size and arm strength teams look for. Mayfield isn’t as big, but he’s been super productive. They both look like first-round picks.
Mike Digati Jr. asks: Duff’s or Anchor Bar?
Jay: Bar Bill Tavern in East Aurora, followed closely by Elmo’s in Amherst. After careful consideration, those are my favorite wings in Western New York. Now, if you’re taking someone from out of town, the historic significance of Anchor Bar. It’s cool to say “this is where the first chicken wings were served.”
“I Bilieve there’s A Chance” asks: I like banana muffins. Love blueberry. Am I wrong? Banana is good, but blueberry? Forget about it!
Jay: That I will. Merry Christmas, everyone. Thanks as always for the questions.