Faith and football often intertwine.
It's common to see players from both teams join together in prayer after a game. A recent trip to Israel funded by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft allowed 18 Pro Football Hall of Fame members, including Bills greats Bruce Smith and Andre Reed, the chance to explore their spirituality in greater depth.
The group took part in "Touchdown in Israel II," an eight-day visit to the country that included stops at landmarks such as the Mont of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Masada, the Dead Sea and the Western Wall. The group also spent an afternoon in Bethlehem and toured an Israeli air force base.
Smith served as an honorary captain during a scrimmage put on by youth and high school football teams organized by the non-profit organization American Football in Israel.
"It exceeded expectations. The historical sites, the spiritual journey, the bonding, the love, experiencing the culture of Israel,” he said. "These are resilient people and, in a lot of cases, there are some things that African Americans have in common, that common denominator with the Jewish people. Having had the opportunity to spend eight days in Israel and particularly the last six days in Jerusalem were amazing. It has been a life-changing experience."
During the trip, the group took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony held at the Kraft Family Sports Complex in Jerusalem, which officially opened Israel's first regulation-sized football field.
"This is something I will always cherish, the time that I had to spend with" Kraft, Smith said. "There need to be more owners like Robert Kraft. He’s a class act. He’s personable. He’s genuine. He cares. He’s my kind of guy."
While on the trip, the Hall of Famers held a meet-and-greet with more than 1,000 fans at Kraft Stadium.
"I think it’s a moving experience, not only to me, but to all the guys are involved in this trip. I can’t thank Mr. Kraft enough for allowing us and giving us the opportunity to be here and not only experience the place, but also the people and what they mean," Reed said. “One thing about this trip that I’ve noticed … is that guys you don’t really know – you just see them at enshrinement week – you’re able to talk to them a little bit more, not about football but about different things, about your family, about whatever comes to mind … when we’re on trips like this, you kind of see what a person is really like and you bond with them in more ways than you think you would… so this is just a great experience to be with these guys other than being on the football side of it – just guys and their faiths and what they feel and how they go about doing things every day. It’s a pretty good thing.”
Reed has been busy lately. He was part of a team of NFL legends that was on the winning side Sunday night during an appearance on ABC's game show, "Celebrity Family Feud." Reed was joined by Marshall Faulk, Anthony Munoz, Rod Woodson and Derrick Brooks in competing for the $25,000 prize for charity against current NFL players Le'Veon Bell, Joe Thomas, Patrick Peterson, Derrick Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins.
Fred Jackson and Boobie Dixon aren't ready to put the NFL behind them.
The former Buffalo Bills running backs are determined to show they can still contribute to a team, and will try to do so this week when they participate in the Spring League Showcase in California. A week of practices will be followed by the game Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Napa.
The Spring League is an independent, instructional league that was created in part to serve as a developmental platform and showcase for professional football talent. It concluded its inaugural season in April with four teams playing six games each. League CEO Brian Woods told ESPN that 10 NFL teams and two from the Canadian Football League sent scouts, while another 20 teams requested practice and game video.
Jackson, 36, hasn't retired despite sitting out the 2016 season. He spent eight seasons with the Bills before being released prior to the 2015 season, then spent one year with the Seattle Seahawks. Dixon also sat out the 2016 season after spending 2014-15 with the Bills. He's a veteran of six NFL seasons. Jackson will play for the Spring League California team that will be coached by Terry Shea, while Dixon will be on the Spring League East team coached by Donnie Henderson, the former Bills' defensive backs coach.
The Bills' current roster sits at 89 players.
Given that teams can take 90 to training camp, the team has an open spot. NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger suggested recently during an epsiode of NFL Total Access that veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin would represent a good use of that open roster spot by the Buffalo Bills.
"I believe that Anquan Boldin is gonna get signed," Baldinger said. "Everybody knows what kind of professional he is, he's been the Man of the Year. I just think a team right now that really is in desperate need of wide receivers is the Buffalo Bills.
"I mean you got Zay Jones who's a rookie, we've seen where Sammy Watkins has struggled to stay healthy. Andre Holmes comes from Oakland. I just think he'd be a great signing in Buffalo."
Boldin in ancient by NFL standards, as he'll turn 37 during the season. But he's coming off a season in which he had 67 catches for 584 yards and eight touchdowns. That's quality production. There are also other examples of receivers at his age having solid years, with former Bill Terrell Owens serving as one such example – he had 72 catches for 983 yards and nine touchdowns for the Bengals at 37 years old.
A veteran of 14 NFL seasons who has 1,076 career receptions for 13,7709 yards and 82 touchdowns, Boldin would be a leader off the field for the Bills' younger players, as well, particularly Jones, the rookie receiver from East Carolina. Boldin would compete with Jones and Andre Holmes for positioning among the team's top three receivers behind No. 1 option Sammy Watkins.
The Bills have $14.809 million in space under the NFL's salary cap as of Monday afternoon. Boldin played last season for the Lions on a one-year contract that paid him $2.75 million.
During the segment, former Bills defensive end Mario Williams was also brought up. Analyst Shaun O'Hara pegged the New York Giants as the best landing spot for Williams, while Baldinger chose the Dallas Cowboys.
If diehard Bills fans are truly convinced this is the year the team ends a 17-year playoff drought, they could profit handsomely from it.
Las Vegas-based online sportsbook Bovada has released odds for each of the 32 NFL teams to reach the postseason. At 6/1, meaning a $100 bet would return $600, the Bills have the sixth-worst odds, ahead of only the Los Angeles Rams (13/2), Chicago Bears (10/1), San Francisco 49ers (10/1), Cleveland Browns (20/1) and New York Jets (20/1).
Conversely, the Bills have 1/10 odds of not making the playoffs, meaning you would have to bet $1,000 to win $100. The Browns and Jets have 1/50 odds of not making the playoffs, requiring a $5,000 bet to win $100.
Not surprisingly, the Patriots are heavy favorites to make the playoffs, at 1/30. That means you'd have to bet $3,000 on the Patriots to make the playoffs to win just $100. The odds of New England missing the playoffs are 15/1, meaning $100 bet returns $1,500 if New England misses the postseason. That's surely a wager Bills fans would love to collect on.