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Mailbag: Bills need to prove themselves right away

We’re one day from the opener and the mail reflects it. The box is overflowing, mainly with questions about the Bills. The Mailbag will run weekly until the Super Bowl, assuming I don’t oblige my enemies by taking early retirement. No chance of that.

Some brief self-promotion: Bucky Gleason, Vic Carucci and I will join WGRZ Sports Director Adam Benigni for another season of Sports Talk Sunday at 10 a.m. Sunday on WGRZ. On Mondays from 5-7 p.m., Bucky and I will take our radio act to Buffalo Riverworks, where veteran sports broadcaster Bob Koshinski will officiate on 1270 AM.

On to this week’s mail.

@abenton70 asks: Long season, but do you have a pivotal game circled that could put the Bills on the playoff path or the other way to a serious skid?

Sully: How about Sunday’s game in Baltimore? If the Bills are serious playoff contenders, they need to prove it right away by winning a road game against a conference opponent that will compete with them for an AFC wild-card spot.

Despite the loss of Tom Brady for the first four games, I see the Patriots winning the AFC East for the eighth year in a row, and the 13th time in the last 14 seasons. As usual, the Bills will be reduced to vying for one of the conference’s two wild-card berths.

Late in every season, we point to one or two conference losses that compromised Buffalo’s chances. Two years ago, it was a crushing home loss to the Chiefs. Last year, it was consecutive losses to the Bengals and Jaguars in October with EJ Manuel at quarterback.

If you’re looking to circle a couple of games game later in the year, how about the home game with Jacksonville on Nov. 27 and the trip to Oakland the following week? The Jags and Raiders are both seen as rising teams with legitimate playoff hopes. I picked the Jaguars to win the AFC South and get to the conference championship game.

Most oddsmakers give Baltimore, Oakland and Jacksonville – all coming off losing seasons – better Super Bowl odds than the Bills. So if they want to get in, they need to beat the other AFC teams looking to make playoff breakthroughs.

It starts on Sunday. The Bills lost their last four road games last season. So Buffalo fans should circle the Baltimore game, and start circling the wagons.

Jason Sugg asks: I wondered about your thoughts on the Bills drafting Chad Kelly next year if he is available – whether or not Tyrod has a solid year or not, given his flexible new contract.

Sully: There’s no chance the Bills will draft a quarterback high if Taylor plays well enough to warrant picking up the second year of his contract extension, which calls for him to earn $30 million in 2017.

Kelly is a dynamic player. He’s the fifth-ranked college quarterback prospect in the eyes of Mel Kiper and Todd McShay. That would put him somewhere in the second round of the draft. Again, the Bills aren’t taking a QB that high if they’re committed to Taylor. They have too many other needs and you don’t draft a backup that high.

Now, if Taylor flames out, Kelly becomes a viable option. But there are better guys out there. Kelly has a reputation as a gunslinger who tries to do too much at times (like his uncle Jim). The scouts think he needs to show he can read defenses at the NFL level and go through his progressions.

Kelly has had major off-field issues, and I’m not convinced he’s become a model citizen. Rex Ryan likes those kind of characters, but the Bills don’t need a problem child at the game’s most important position.

The Bills are probably tied to Taylor in the long term. If he has another decent year, they’ll ride him for the foreseeable future. So it’ll be awhile before they go after a franchise QB in the conventional manner – by drafting one.

@pcdavis57 asks: Why is such a large portion of Bills fan base not “all in”?

Sully: All in? Does that mean blindly accepting whatever comes out of the mouths of Rex Ryan and management? If everyone isn’t on the bandwagon, it’s because many fans have a hard-earned skepticism about the team and temper their optimism after 16 years without playoffs.

All fans aren’t sheep. They’ve been sold hope for years and felt burned last season when Ryan promised the moon and delivered a dung heap instead. They’re always hopeful, deep down. Buffalo people have an infinite capacity for belief. But they’re tired of words and want to see results.

As my pal Rex Carr says, when you’ve been disappointed so many times, you’re hesitant to put your heart on the table. Of course, a lot can change after a hot start.

Kelly Schlueter asks: Is Fred Jackson retiring?

Sully: Jackson has not retired. I’m told the former Bills star is in great shape (no surprise) and still interested in playing in the NFL.

Jackson signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks last season after his surprising release by the Bills. He operated as Seattle’s third-down back and reached the playoffs for the first time in his career. The Seahawks didn’t re-sign him and drafted C.J. Prosise to be his successor on third downs.

In July, safety Aaron Williams tweeted that it was ridiculous the Bills hadn’t re-signed him. Jackson is 35; he was the oldest running back in the league two years ago. But if the Bills have an opening, it would be nice to see Jackson retire here.

Michael Watkins asks: If the roster stays reasonably healthy, will the Sabres make the playoffs this year?

Sully: I’m not sure what qualifies as “reasonably healthy.” All things being equal, the Sabres should contend for a playoff spot, though they’ll probably fall a little short. They’re on the upswing, but still a little young. Jack Eichel will soon be 20, Sam Reinhart 21. Don’t expect too much too soon.

As far as health goes, the big question is goalie Robin Lehner. He performed like an elite goalie at times last season, but hasn’t played in more than 25 NHL games since 2013-14. Let’s see if he can carry a No. 1 netminder’s load for a full year.

Jeff Shellman asks: If you could play any golf course in the Buffalo area for the rest of time, which would you choose?

Sully: Tough question. To me, golf courses are like bars. All I really ask is that they be open. I’m flattered when anyone takes me to a private club, and Orchard Park and Cherry Hill are two of my local favorites.

One of the benefits of not belonging to a club is that I play everywhere. I’m just as happy at Brighton, which I consider my home course, as Country Club of Buffalo. The idea of having to play one course forever depresses me. I don’t care if it’s Oak Hill.

I’m a public links guy at heart. Sheridan is a fond torment. But if I had to choose one, it would be Terry Hills, the lovely 27-hole layout in Batavia where I broke 100 for the first time. I just wish it could be a little closer to Buffalo.


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