Sorry if you've been in withdrawal. The Mailbag was on hiatus because I took three weeks of vacation. It featured a grueling stretch in which I played golf nine times in 10 days, including two Brighton tourneys, my annual Cross Creek golf odyssey and, on the final day, the Bills media tournament.
On the verge of exhaustion, I played in a two-man scramble with Bills GM Brandon Beane at Brierwood. We won with a 69, finishing minutes before the big storm hit Hamburg. I'll confess, I was largely a spectator. Beane is a great stick. If he's as good at making football decisions as making birdies, I'll be hard-pressed to rip the guy.
All that golf, which mainly involved me repeating the same flaws over and over, left me eager for less physically demanding activity, like putting together the Mailbag. Training camp is here. They're all eager and optimistic and -- yes, Bucky -- in the best shape of their lives.
I've learned to be skeptical after a 17-year playoff drought, which directly parallels my time as the lead Bills columnist. Oh, it should be an interesting preseason, with another new regime and so many questions at key positions. But my main question is always, how long until the opener? The Mailbag:
Jim DiSalvo asks: Do you think Pegula/Brandon are just looking for the appearance of a normal functioning organization this year? Winning is not top priority.
Sully: Winning always matters. Beane and Sean McDermott proved that by bringing back Tyrod Taylor, Lorenzo Alexander and Kyle Williams, rather than strip it all down and kiss off the season to get the highest draft pick possible.
But your point is well-taken. Ownership has to be pleased with the public's faith in an untested new regime. Most fans don't have high expectations about this season, but they seem encouraged and confident that Beane and McDermott are competent NFL men who will get things turned around.
It doesn't take much to raise the hopes of Buffalo fans. They sold the most season tickets in history when Rex Ryan came aboard, despite 15 years without playoffs. Build hope and they will come.
Terry Pegula resents the word "dysfunction," which should have its own space on my computer after all these years. The owner doesn't think he should be accountable for past mistakes. So he must see the functional nature of the new regime as a small PR triumph, assuming they live up to the notion.
So while winning is always a priority, the big thing for the Bills is to sustain the sense of professionalism and progress that McDermott and Beane have instilled in the public. People want to believe that the franchise is finally in competent hands. Of course, it is July.
@billssufferer asks: Will Marcell Dareus be a factor this year?
Sully: Hey, did you copyright that handle? Dareus will surely be a factor, assuming he hasn't spent the offseason doing arm curls with a bong. The question is how much a factor, and whether the big defensive tackle lives up to his $100 million contract in his seventh NFL season.
Dareus is talking the talk, but everyone does it at this time of year. He's promised to straighten up before, then done something unfathomably dumb the next day. If I have a well-earned skepticism about the team, it's triple for Dareus, who needs to prove he's motivated to win and be a star.
Switching back to a 4-3 defense will be more to his liking. Dareus had his best season in 2014 in Jim Schwartz's 4-3. He lost his way under Rex Ryan, who lacked the humility to understand that Dareus and other players weren't suited to playing his complicated 3-4 scheme.
But it's too convenient to lay it all on Ryan. Dareus's problems were largely of his own making. He won't have the coaches to blame anymore. At 27, he's right in his prime, but he's on thin ice and can't afford any more lapses of behavior. He's a rare talent, with an equally rare gift for wasting it.
@LouSperanza asks: Do ya think The Judge will hit 60 this year? Will my Yanks make the playoffs?
Sully: It's highly unlikely that Aaron Judge will hit 60 homers. As of Friday, he had 32 in 97 games. At the pace, he would finish with 52, which would break Mark McGwire's record of 49 by a rookie.
Judge has struggled of late, which is no surprise. He was on an unsustainable pace for a rookie, or most any player. In the first two weeks after the All-Star break, he went 8-for-46, dropping his batting average from .329 to .308 and his slugging percentage from .691 to .640. He'll catch fire again, I'm sure.
I think the Yankees will make it. They seem to be hitting their stride and were just half a game behind my Red Sox in the AL East heading into Friday's games. If their starting pitching holds up and Masahiro Tanaka gets anywhere close to last year's form, they'll win the division.
Their bullpen is sensational. They now have three potential closers: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and recently reacquired David Robertson. Meanwhile, the three other guys in the pen (Chad Green Adam Warren, Tommy Kanle) have been close to unhittable, allowing a combined 43 hits in 88 innings!
The Yankees play 14 of their last 17 games at Yankee Stadium, so if they hang around the top until then, they'll have a good chance to win the East and avoid the wild-card game.
@DanJColquhoun asks: Now that Starling Marte is back, and a healthy Jameson Taillon on the mound, do you see the Pirates making a run?
Sully: I would have been more hopeful a week ago, after the Pirates won six in a row. But losing two out of three at Colorado and San Francisco slowed their momentum. The Cubs are bound to pull away in the NL Central, leaving the Bucs in a clump of teams chasing the Rockies for the second wild card.
I don't think their starting pitching will hold up. Taillon has made strides, but he's still learning and has trouble going deep in the games. Giving up 10 runs in three innings to a bad Giants offense on Tuesday was a major step backwards.
Rick McGuire asks: "ProFootballTalk.com" asked fans to pick the biggest snafu in NFL history. What would you say? I nominated the 3 games played with replacement players during the 1987 strike.
Sully: I'm not sure what qualifies as a snafu, but I'd go with the NFL's foot-dragging and denial on the concussion issue before reality and bad PR forced them to work for advances on safety.
Early this week, the news broke that 110 of 111 brains of deceased NFL players showed signs of CTE. The league should be ashamed for pushing back against concussion science for as long as it did.