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Bills notebook Buffalo will not have top-five pick

The Buffalo Bills had three days off after upsetting the Cincinnati Bengals over the weekend, giving them extra time to celebrate a win over an AFC playoff-bound team and a division winner. You know it's been a long season when even their good games could come back to haunt them.

Buffalo's victory might have raised the team's spirits in the holiday season, but it guaranteed the Bills of having a worse pick in the NFL draft. In fact, the win Saturday cost them a top-five pick in April, taking into account what the other nonplayoff teams did over the weekend.

Start the chant now: "Fin-ish slow, Buff-a-lo."

The Bills, who return to practice today, will have between the sixth and 14th picks overall in the 2006 draft. They are the 20th-ranked team in the NFL through the first 15 games. If the season ended today, they would have the 12th pick in the draft based on record and tiebreakers.

Strength of schedule is the first tiebreaker, so the team with the easier schedule gets the better draft pick. It will not be determined until all games are concluded and all records are added up. Conference record is the second tiebreaker. Buffalo and Cleveland, for example, are both 5-10 and have identical strengths of schedule (.520). The Bills have a better conference record (2-3) than the Browns (0-5), so Buffalo would pick one spot behind Cleveland.

Tennessee (4-11), Oakland (4-11), Cleveland (5-10), Arizona (5-10), Detroit (5-10) and St. Louis (5-10) all are capable of catching the Bills in the standings. Buffalo can catch Baltimore (6-9) and Philadelphia (6-9). The draft order is muddled going into the final week and depends on where each team, and their opponents, finish.

Houston (2-13) and four 3-12 teams -- the Jets, Green Bay, New Orleans and San Francisco -- are guaranteed to have better draft picks than Buffalo.

Eternal optimists might suggest the Bills are better off without a top-five selection. Buffalo grabbed right tackle Mike Williams with the fourth pick overall in 2002. He's likely to be waived during the offseason after losing his starting job to undrafted free agent Jason Peters this year.

Williams was the Bills' only top-10 pick since 1987, when they took Shane Conlan with the eighth selection overall.

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The Bills are almost certain to make history this season, but not the kind they had in mind. Never before has their offense and defense, both ranked 29th going into the finale in New York against the Jets, been outside the top 25 in the same season.

Both units are having one of the team's worst statistical seasons since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

The Bills' offense is on pace for 4,043 total yards, the lowest output for a nonstrike season since 1972, when they had 3,733 yards and finished 4-9-1. Buffalo is ranked 29th in passing with 2,343 yards, which puts it on pace for 2,499 for the season. The Bills haven't finished with fewer than 2,500 yards passing in a nonstrike year since 1978, when they finished 5-11.

Defensively, they're on pace to surrender 5,641 total yards this season, which would be second most in team history. They allowed 5,809 in 1983, when they finished 8-8.

Through 15 games, the Bills have allowed 5,289 total yards and gained 3,791 for a 1,498-yard difference. Unless they gain 144 more yards than the Jets do Sunday, the differential will be the worst in history. They gained 1,355 fewer yards than they allowed in 1968, when they finished 1-12-1.

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Wide receiver Eric Moulds could be down to his final game with the Bills, but they should know that history suggests he'll have a better season next year.

Every year since he became a full-time starter in 1998, Moulds has followed a 1,000-yard season with one in which he didn't reach the milestone. He had 1,000 yards or more in '98, 2000, 2002 and 2004. This figured to be a down year.

Moulds has 73 catches for 720 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games this season. In 2003, when he suffered from injury problems, he had 74 catches for 780 yards and one TD. However, he's averaging 9.9 yards per catch, the worst of his career. He has just three catches this season of more than 20 yards, also a career low.

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Bills linebacker London Fletcher already has surpassed his career high in total tackles with 149, according to league statistics. He needs seven solo tackles to reach his career high (105). . . . Receiver Lee Evans had 18 catches for 234 yards and one TD in his first eight games, 28 catches for 492 yards and six TDs in his next seven contests. . . . Terrence McGee was selected to the Pro Bowl last season after averaging 26.3 yards on 52 kick returns. He wasn't selected this year while averaging 31 yards on 40 returns.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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