Don't look now, but the Buffalo Bills are officially "in the hunt."
A pair of victories over AFC teams in their past two games has at least kept the Bills on the TV graphic showing the postseason picture. That leads us into our first question in this week's mailbag. Let's get to it:
Brendan Sweet asks: Any chance the Bills can run the table and sneak into the playoffs again? Or are we better off losing out for a better pick in the draft?
Jay: How about we meet in the middle? No, I don’t think they will run the table — not with a game against the Patriots still on the schedule. My rule is I’m never picking against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, particularly when they have a December home game. I will say, though, that I could totally see them winning four of their final five games. The Dolphins don’t impress me, the Jets are a mess and the Lions aren’t great, either.
Will that hurt the team’s draft status? Of course, but I’d rather see the team take momentum into 2019 from their finish — which they absolutely would by winning five of their final six games — than worry about the difference between drafting eighth or 18th. A top-10 pick can be a bust the same way a player chosen in the bottom of the first round can be a Pro Bowler — like Tre’Davious White might be on his way to doing this year.
The best thing that can happen for the Bills during the final five weeks is Josh Allen making obvious progress. After that, it’s identifying whether young players like Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie and Wyatt Teller can really be counted on to play big roles next year, or whether they just had a couple good weeks.
IDon’tTrustTheProcess asks: Tremaine Edmunds has had a statistically good year and is the athlete McDermott covets in the middle of the defense. He just doesn’t seem instinctive enough or make big plays. Would the Bills consider a move of Edmunds to outside linebacker and a splash at middle for C.J. Mosley?
Jay: Given the investment the Bills made in Edmunds, I’d say it would be a rash decision to change his position after only one season. I agree it would be nice to see a few more big plays, but he does have a sack, two forced fumbles and eight passes defensed. Mosley, for comparison, has no sacks or forced fumbles and just three passes defensed. Edmunds isn’t Luke Kuechly, at least not yet, but that doesn’t make him a bust. Keep in mind that defenses play more nickel than they do base 4-3 these days, so the third linebacker often comes off the field. In that scenario, the Bills have their two every-down linebackers in Edmunds and Matt Milano. There’s reason to hope that pair can continue to grow next year.
Karen Sniadecki asks: So many penalties last week! It was like watching the Rex Ryan-coached Bills teams. What did coach McDermott do this week to address it? Hopefully not just break out the “yes, sir” wristbands.
Jay: We’re not able to watch practice in season outside a 10-minute window at the start, but the officials have been there for it. McDermott knows that the Bills can’t take the 13 penalties they did against the Jaguars and expect to win with regularity. Here was his full answer Monday when asked about the number of flags against his team:
“We can’t ignore those. Whether they’re accurate or not accurate, that’s for another time, but we can’t ignore that and expect to win games going forward. Good football teams don’t beat themselves, and we had opportunities to continue to move the chains. A couple of those were penalties on ensuing first downs there, and we shot ourselves in the foot. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and make sure we get those corrected.”
It's not just a one-week issue for the Bills. The team has been penalized 87 times, according to nflpenalties.com, a total that’s second highest in the NFL. Kansas City is the only team with more with 97, but the Chiefs can often overcome those with their high-powered offense.
Bk asks: Do the Bills have any influence on when their games will be played? This year’s scheduled was ridiculous with only two home games by the end of October.
Jay: Teams can make requests, although they don’t necessarily have to be honored. It’s believed that the Bills campaigned for a home prime-time game this year, which they got in the form of Monday Night Football against the Patriots. Your point about the schedule being back loaded with home games is a good one. Those tickets are always going to be much more difficult to sell. A quick look at StubHub on Friday afternoon showed tickets for the game against the Jets going for as low as $10, the Lions the following week for $7 (yikes) and the last game of the season against the Dolphins for $12. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bills campaign for some more September or October home games next year.
Jim Eimer asks: My offseason prediction: Bills trade for Julio Jones, giving up their one and taking on his contract. Do you have any bold future predictions for the Bills in 2019?
Jay: None as bold as that one. Given the amount of salary-cap space the team is projected to have, it’s not bold to think they will chase a blue-chip free agent or two. That would mean it would have to come in either a trade, like Jim suggests, or a surprise release. We’ve seen an uptick in trade activity around the league in recent years, and we know Brandon Beane isn’t afraid to pull the trigger. Given that it’s so hard to know which players will be made available, I’ll make a prediction based on the current roster: The team moves Dion Dawkins from left tackle to right tackle.
Paul Catalano asks: I see a lot of mock drafts with the Bills taking a cornerback with their first pick. Do you believe with how bad the offense looks at times, they should go offense?
Jay: Yes, 100 percent. It’s an offensive league more than ever before. Look at teams like the Rams, Saints, Chiefs and Patriots. To compete with them, you better be able to score. The argument against automatically picking offense would be that you go against the “best player available” philosophy, but I believe that’s an ideal more than it is a rule. Name a position (outside quarterback) and you could come up with a solid case that the Bills need to add to it this offseason. I’d be shocked if the first round comes and goes and the Bills don’t address their offense.
California Buffalo asks: Why do you think Levi Wallace has been given the No. 2 cornerback spot over Ryan Lewis?
Jay: The simple answer is the team likes what it has seen more from Wallace in practice. Through his first two games, he’s allowed just one catch for 29 yards, according to analytics website Pro Football Focus, so it’s looking like a good move. Lewis played well earlier in the season against Minnesota when he filled in for Phillip Gaines. A couple weeks later, however, Gaines regained that job, replacing Lewis in the first half of the Week 5 win over Tennessee. When the team cut Gaines, they promoted Wallace from the practice squad to the starting lineup, which speaks volumes about the work he must have been putting in during the week.
He’s here asks: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it looks like the Bills could save more than $5 million by cutting Trent Murphy in the offseason. With health issues still impacting his performance, do you think the Bills move on from him?
Jay: You’re not wrong. Cutting Murphy after this season before June 1 would cost the Bills $3.5 million in dead money, but would provide a cap savings of just over $5 million. It’s fair to say the three-year contract he signed was really a one-year-and-then-let’s-see deal. The Bills have liked Murphy’s game, but as the question refers to, health remains the big question mark. If I had to say right now, my gut is they won’t move on from him. It’s not the craziest idea, though, so I wouldn’t say it is off the table.
TNFP69 asks: Do you think that Charles Clay is done at tight end after this year? … A bad free-agent pickup, but that happens.
Jay: Releasing Clay after this season would leave an even $4.5 million in cap savings and $4.5 million in dead money. I’m in the minority that doesn’t view that as a slam dunk. The Bills aren’t in a cap crunch that they would need that $4.5 million in space. Fantasy players can attest to the position being a wasteland. Cutting Clay after this season just opens another hole that will have to be filled. Jason Croom and Logan Thomas haven’t shown that they would thrive in an expanded role. I’d stop short of calling Clay a “bad” free-agent pickup. He was overpaid, but that happens in free agency. He’s no superstar, but he’s given the Bills some stability at the position.
Story topics: Brandon Beane/ Charles Clay/ Isaiah McKenzie/ Jason Croom/ Josh Allen/ Levi Wallace/ Logan Thomas/ Matt Milano/ Phillip Gaines/ Robert Foster/ Ryan Lewis/ Sean McDermott/ Tremaine Edmunds/ Trent Murph