This week's Bills Mailbag looks ahead to a couple of looming contract situations, ponders a divisional realignment (please, no) and sizes up the final six weeks of the regular season. Let's dive right in ...
BMac: Does it make sense to start extending some of the key players like Jordan Phillips or Shaq Lawson?
Jay Skurski: It makes sense for the Bills, but it might not make sense for the players. Phillips has seven sacks, which ranks second among defensive tackles in the NFL behind only two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. At this point, Phillips might want to take his chances on the open market in search of a bigger pay day. The Bills will have the money to do just about anything they want in free agency, but starting with their own is a good plan. It sends a good message to the locker room: Play well here, and you’ll get paid. I’d expect there will be a high priority put on retaining Phillips. Lawson is more of an interesting question. He wasn’t drafted by this regime, but has arguably played better than Trent Murphy. Lawson is probably never going to be an elite pass rusher, but he’s played an important role this season on a good defense. I’d want him back, too, but wouldn’t get in a bidding war for him.
Scotty Plummer: Why being up 10 with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter against Miami were we throwing the ball and snapping it with 20 seconds still on the play clock and not trying to eat up more time?
Skurski: I don’t have a big issue throwing the ball in that situation. If offensive coordinator Brian Daboll calls three consecutive runs and the Bills have to punt, he’s going to be criticized for going conservative. The issue with running the play clock is a fair criticism in that situation, although if the Bills were trying to run the offense with pace, waiting for the play clock to wind down would have given the Dolphins an opportunity to better communicate defensively what they wanted to do.
SS: Should the Bills give Dez Bryant a look?
Skurski: Sure. Why not? It doesn’t cost anything to look. This team still needs playmakers. I’m skeptical Bryant would be able to contribute all that much given how long he’s been away from the game, but there’s no harm in bringing him in for a tryout.
Joe Zanghi: I really worry about linebacker depth. Why didn’t Buffalo go after Zach Brown or Preston Brown? Veterans with good experience.
Skurski: Both of those players have been let go by the current front office. That’s not to say a reunion would never happen, but they are low on the priority list for the Bills. It’s reasonable to be worried about the linebacker depth. An injury to Tremaine Edmunds or Matt Milano would obviously have a big impact on the defense. I’m not sure even Preston Brown or Zach Brown would provide that much of an upgrade over the Bills’ current backups, though. They would have to get up to speed with the scheme. With that in mind, it’s entirely possible the Bills think some other free agent would be a good fit, should they need to go that direction.
bk: I know Ralph Wilson didn’t want to change divisions because of the rivalry with the Dolphins, but wouldn’t it make sense for the Bills to change divisions with the Ravens?
Skurski: Geographically, sure. But I’d ask you to think of me in this scenario. Would you really want me to go to Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati every year instead of Miami, Boston and New York? Come on, bk, I’m a good guy. Please, NFL, don’t do that to me. (Seriously, I don’t find the need for realignment to be all that big of a priority for the NFL, although I’m sure Bills fans would love to escape having to play New England twice a year.)
Justin #PanchoPower: How do you dress so well on the road? Tricks for keeping clothes wrinkle free when traveling?
Skurski: See, now this is exactly the type of boost I needed after bk tried to bring me down. This is the best question this mailbag has seen in a while. I usually bring a garment bag and ask a flight attendant to hang it up in the front of the plane. If that doesn’t work, there aren’t any real secrets. Just get that Marriott iron out and go to work.
Johnny D: As the Bills get closer to the playoffs, are there any good “who to cheer for” websites?
Skurski: The New York Times has a playoff machine that’s fun to use and easy to find with a quick Google search. Take this week’s games, for example. If the Bills beat the Broncos, they have an 80% chance to make the playoffs, based on 33,201 simulations. If you add in the following results – Bengals over Steelers, Dolphins over Browns, Jets over Raiders – the Bills’ odds shoot up to 90%.
Rick McGuire: Sean McDermott downplayed the idea that the offense played much better once Brian Daboll moved up to the coaches' box. I did note one factor that may have played a part: Daboll wasn’t constantly in Josh’s face, which I think rattles his confidence. He seemed more relaxed. Your thoughts?
Skurski: That’s a question that’s probably best answered by Allen – not that he would ever publicly admit to feeling rattled. I thought the biggest reason the offense took a step forward (aside from the fact it played the Dolphins) was that things were streamlined for Allen. He was put in a position to “play free,” as coach Sean McDermott said last week. It’s important not to overload the second-year quarterback with information, and the Bills made sure that didn’t happen last week. Allen and Daboll seem to have a great relationship on and off the field, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the coaching style not meshing with the player.
Ed Helinski: With your extensive knowledge and gut feeling about this year’s team, what will prevent them from reaching 10 or 11 wins and missing the playoffs?
Skurski: An inability to consistently score enough points. Here are the rankings of the six defenses remaining on the Bills’ schedule: 4, 7, 11, 14, 1, 13. There isn’t a cupcake on that list. There are other factors to consider, like whether the Bills’ shaky run defense will falter or the special teams will continue to be an issue. The biggest, though, deals with the offense’s ability to score.
PINK: Do you think that Browns loss will hurt us?
Skurski: It certainly has the possibility to. If the Bills go 3-3 down the stretch, they should be good. If they go 2-4 to finish 9-7, tiebreakers might come into play. That could include the Browns, who have a cake schedule the rest of the way. If they find their way to nine wins, the Bills have to get to 10, because Cleveland had the head-to-head tiebreaker. Had Buffalo pulled out the game against Cleveland, they would be in a great position for the playoffs. As it stands, they are in a good position at the moment. A loss against Denver would put them in a tenuous position.
Scott D. Outterson: Would a failure to make the playoffs have any ramifications, or would it just be another mulligan for McBeane?
Skurski: I don’t think the phrase “just another mulligan” is fair. How many have they really received? In their first year, they went 9-7 and ended the playoff drought. They took a step back last year, but it was clear what they were doing. General Manager Brandon Beane cleaned up the salary cap and made this offseason about building around Allen. They obviously aren’t a finished product. Allen’s development continues to be the most important piece of the puzzle. If he can become a franchise quarterback, the Bills are in great shape for the future. If he never gets there, this front office and coaching staff are smart enough to realize it may come at the expense of their jobs. There are some notable draft-day mistakes, but every franchise has those. I say this all the time, and it’s worth repeating: The best thing I can say about the Bills’ current leadership team is they have a plan. I don’t know if that plan will work, but at least it exists.
Trent Mazzanti: Would you take the Bills minus-3 on Sunday?
Skurski: I did in our weekly NFL picks – although that should not give you any confidence, since I’ve been brutal at picking games. I’ve been on with my Bills picks, though, going 5-0 against the spread since the bye week. I expect a close game Sunday. The Bills have been better in those situations, with a 3-2 record in games decided by one possession. Denver is 2-5 in such games. I expect the Bills’ defense will perform up to its usual standards. The question will be whether Josh Allen and Co. can ride the momentum from the Miami game to enough points against a strong Denver defense. I say they do, barely. Bills, 20-16.
Dave: Will the Bills finish 8-8 or 9-7? Is anyone honestly thinking they could finish better than that?
Skurski: They absolutely could finish better than that. They need to start by handling their business against Denver and the Jets at home in the season finale. That gets them to nine wins. After that, they would need one win out of the following four games: At Dallas, home against Baltimore, at Pittsburgh, at New England. The Steelers looked less than impressive against Cleveland. The Bills played New England tough earlier this season, and the Patriots’ offense is in a bit of a rut. Dallas on a short week is a tough ask, but the Cowboys did lose to the Jets earlier this year. Baltimore might be the toughest of those games, but at least it’s at home. The Bills absolutely have a chance at winning one of those games and thus getting to 10 wins.
Samuel Angelo Nasso: Bills beat Kansas City, Oakland beats Indianapolis on wild-card weekend. Oakland beats New England and Buffalo beats Baltimore in the divisional round. Getting tickets for the AFC Championship Game in Buffalo?
Skurski: See, Dave, look at Samuel here. He clearly thinks getting to 10 wins – and beyond – is possible. He’s dreaming big. To answer the question, I’ll have a press pass in your scenario, so I won’t be buying a ticket. Dream big, kids.
Dave Universal: What’s the square root of 212?
Louis Stromberg: Big Allen faceoff coming up: Brandon vs. Josh. So, please rank the following Allens: Allentown, Woody Allen, MTV’s The Challenge, Ray Allen, the Allen Band Booster Association.
Skurski: 5: Woody Allen – gross. 4. The Allen Band Booster Association – Real talk: I had to Google this. Are we talking about the charity in Texas? If so, I’m sure they are lovely people, but they’re up against some heavyweights here. Also, Louis, how in the world out of all the “Allens” did this one make it? 3. Allentown – It’s fun, but a lack of parking prevents it from being ranked any higher. 2. MTV’s The Challenge – Shout out to C.T. That guy was a beast. 1. Ray Allen – He was a pure shooter, he was Jesus Shuttlesworth and he loves golf. An easy No. 1.
Thanks for all the questions this week!