By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s a lot going on in the NFL. Some of it’s good. Some of it, not so much. But there’s nothing — nothing — going on in the NFL quite like what’s going on in Orchard Park.
It’s there that a collection of human beings — human beings whose job responsibilities include “competently running a billion-dollar football franchise” — have learned in rather harsh fashion that it’s actually inadvisable to enter a season with only two very bad quarterbacks on the roster.
These people — you can start with owners Terry and Kim Pegula, move down to general manager Brandon Beane, and keep going to head coach Sean McDermott — last year led the Bills to the franchise’s first postseason berth since the 1999 season. THE 1999 SEASON! Do you know what the top song of 1999 was? Do you? It was “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega. “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by Eiffel 65 was also a much-beloved jam from coast to coast. That’s how long ago we’re talking here.
As you can imagine, the Bills — and their fans — were pumped. Many a spinal vertebra was piledriven through a folding table in many a muddy parking lot when the playoff spot was secured.
Then the Bills went out and scored three points in that playoff game. After waiting almost 20 years, the playoff dream was over. Just like that. Poof. Good luck in 2036.
And as soon as the postseason ended, the Bills decided it was time to move on from Tyrod Taylor, a quarterback who’s not spectacular but was perfectly capable. When you run down the list of quarterbacks in the post-Jim Kelly era, “perfectly capable” is about the highest compliment that could be dished out. (All due respect to J.P. Losman.) But they had already bailed on Taylor earlier in the year, so it was no surprise to see the organization say farewell as soon as possible — especially after Taylor’s grisly playoff performance.
The Bills probably thought they could find someone better. That’s fine and dandy. They may have been right. But then they forgot to go out and find someone better.
They kept Nathan Peterman around, for one. He threw five interceptions in his first start last year, after the Bills had benched Taylor for no real reason. Peterman also entered that playoff loss on the final drive of the game, after Taylor suffered an injury. Peterman had the chance to lead his Bills to a game-tying touchdown. All he had to do was drive the Bills 56 yards in 1:17. It wasn’t crazy. Instead of leading the Bills to glory, though, Peterman did this:
Fourth-and-3: Peterman rushes for 4 yards, fumbles out of bounds
First-and-10: Peterman completes 14-yard pass
First-and-10: Peterman penalized for intentional grounding
Second-and-20: Peterman throws interception to Jalen Ramsey
So, having seen that, plus the five-interception disaster, the Bills said, “Gotta keep him. Just gotta do it.”
Then the Bills went out and drafted Josh Allen. Why and how Allen was considered a first-round talent is unknown. He played for FBS Wyoming. He wasn’t even great. He threw for 16 touchdowns and six interceptions last year, which was better (?) than his 28 TDs and 16 INTs the year prior. He completed 56.2 percent of his collegiate passes. He threw for more than 234 yards last year … once. He averaged 165 yards per game. When facing actual top-end competition (that is to say, in his collegiate career against Big Ten and Pac-12 teams), he completed exactly 50 percent of his passes, averaging 4.45 yards per pass attempt, and he threw one touchdown compared to eight interceptions. Gross.
Oh, but he’s tall. Like, super tall. And can throw the football a country mile.
So the Bills looked at Allen and said, “Yes. Him. It shall be him. We shall draft him.” The Bills spent the No. 7 overall pick on this fella. Oh, but wait; they didn’t have that No. 7 pick. So they traded TWO SECOND-ROUND PICKS just for the privilege of moving up from No. 12 to No. 7 to select… Josh Allen.
Given Allen’s lack of pedigree, and given Peterman’s multiple NFL face-flops, one might think the Bills would employ an established, “perfectly competent” quarterback to at least serve as a backup plan in the event that neither quarterback looked ready to start on Week 1. One might think this. The Bills did not think this. The Bills just thought to sign A.J. McCarron (four NFL starts) and then … trade A.J. McCarron.
So the Bills entered Week 1 of the NFL season with Peterman and Allen as the only quarterbacks on the roster.
This is negligent. NEG-LI-GENT!
There’s no real-life workplace equivalent to this course of action because nobody in any other field would ever be allowed to fill out a staff in such a way. It’s inconceivable.
And that’s where the Buffalo Bills are right now. Peterman posted a 0.0 passer rating in Week 1. A ZERO POINT ZERO PASSER RATING! He went 5-for-18 for 24 yards, took three sacks, and threw two interceptions. Allen entered in place of Peterman and went 6-for-15 for 74 yards.
This week, Allen will start. If he’s terrible (and he most certainly will be), then the Bills’ plan is to … replace him with Peterman. Maybe Peterman will start in Week 3 … only to be replaced by Allen before halftime. Maybe they can see-saw their way through the whole season. What fun.
This is the Bills’ quarterback situation. It’s dreary. It’s dreadful. And someone from the league office ought to launch an investigation into how a real NFL franchise can enter a season with this quarterback depth chart. It’s borderline criminal.
But it’s not altogether surprising. Since the Pegulas took over, the team went ALL IN on Rex Ryan. It was a new era in Buffalo. Attitude. Swagger. Confidence. Rex Ryan.
That lasted two seasons. Rex was fired after leading the Bills to a 15-16 record.
In the ensuing offseason, the Pegulas fired GM Doug Whaley … just after the 2017 draft concluded. Didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Not much in the past few years has.
And then they went ahead, doubled down, and entered a season with a QB depth chart that reads Peterman-Allen. What a world.
So, now, we can get to this week’s picks, which include 15 actual picks and one automatic loss for the Buffalo Bills.
(Wednesday lines; Home team in CAPS)
CINCINNATI (+1) over Baltimore
Most teams were able to play their first games against actual NFL competition last week. It allowed them to work out their kinks, discover their strengths, work out some of their flaws. A real learning opportunity.
Unfortunately, the Ravens didn’t get that chance to play a real NFL game because THEY HAD TO PLAY AGAINST THE BUFFALO BILLS. Huge disadvantage for Baltimore heading into Week 2. And on a short week, no less. Tough break.
Philadelphia (-3) over TAMPA BAY
With Ryan Fitzpatrick coming off a spectacular four-touchdown, 417-yard performance, this line shows absolutely no respect for Fitzmagic. And … I completely understand why.
In 2014, Fitzpatrick threw six TDs in one game. He followed it up the next week with no touchdowns, no interceptions, and 135 yards.
In 2010, Fitzpatrick twice posted four touchdowns and two picks in a game. Both times, he followed up his performance with one-touchdown, one-interception showings, both resulting in losses.
In 2012, he threw for four touchdowns in a game (… and four picks), and he failed to throw a touchdown in his next two starts, a stretch where he threw a pick and posted a 63.8 passer rating.
He did follow up four-touchdown games quite well twice in his career (in 2011 and 2015) but the point is quite simple: One can never fall in love when the Fitzmagic is flowing. It’s best to step into a well-lit restroom, splash one’s face with cold water, purchase an ice-cold Fresca and go for a walk before making any commitment to that super smart man. Everyone knows this.
NEW ORLEANS (-9) over Cleveland
It says so much about the historic futility of the Cleveland Browns that even coming off their best result in 22 months, they’re still nearly double-digit underdogs against a team that lost while giving up 48 points last week.
It likewise says so much about the historic futility of the Cleveland Browns that I’m not even hesitating to pick the Saints. Last week might have been the Browns’ lone shot at earning a celebration for a long, long time.
Minnesota (-1) over GREEN BAY
If there’s one defense you don’t want to face as you try to gut yourself through a sprained knee, it’s probably Minnesota’s. Even if you’re super-duper talented. Unfortunate timing there.
Miami (+3) over NEW YORK JETS
It’s my “Try-Hard Pick Of The Week,” but hear me out. The Jets looked amazing on Monday night, obviously. They scored 48 points but probably could have scored 70 if they needed to. It was wild. Jets fans and the New York media are all going bananas. It’s an old-fashioned ballyhoo.
But — BUT — much greater Jets teams have struggled to meet sky-high expectations. So take your 21-year-old quarterback who suddenly finds himself as an overnight sensation, take your team (that is still coached by Todd Bowles, by the way) and give them a short week coming off a blowout, and maybe also contemplate the idea that the Lions are an absolute mess … and perhaps the Jets are staring 1-1 in the face. Perhaps.
ATLANTA (-6) over Carolina
It seemed like there was an inordinate number of Week 1 injuries this year. These teams seemed to get walloped the hardest. The Falcons lost Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. Ouch. The Panthers lost Greg Olsen and Trai Turner.
Do injuries like that cancel each other out? I don’t know. But Olsen is a huge loss, and the Falcons will be an actually decent team if they can figure out how to actually score touchdowns. It’s a pesky problem to have, but if they can solve it? Watch out.
Kansas City (+4) over PITTSBURGH
Now, I’d like to clearly state that I don’t believe the Steelers are headed to the toilet just because they tied (essentially lost to) the Browns. Maybe that was a case of a good team looking past a bad team … for hours upon hours upon hours.
But the Chiefs, I believe, are for real. Without Alex Smith holding them back, that offense has some real potential to explode on a regular basis. And Ben Roethlisberger … I just don’t know, man. He just looks like someone who shows up to work every day because he doesn’t have anything better to do. I’m not seeing the passion when I watch him play football.
Also you cannot pick a team a week after it TIED THE CLEVELAND BROWNS. Little known rule of NFL pick-making right there.
Los Angeles Chargers (-7.5) over BUFFALO
Please see the introduction to this column for a detailed explanation. Thank you.
WASHINGTON (-6) over Indianapolis
TENNESSEE (+1) over Houston
LOS ANGELES RAMS (-13) over Arizona
Oakland (+6) over DENVER
Detroit (+6) over SAN FRANCISCO
This whole thing could go one of two ways for the Lions. It’s not at all unreasonable to see this whole thing going sideways for Matt Patricia. The media scrutiny is intense, the Jets are bragging about knowing everything the Lions were doing, and the weight of the ghosts of Romeo Crennel/Charlie Weis/Josh McDaniels/Eric Mangini has already been thrust upon Patricia’s shoulders. That’s a lot to deal with.
But it’s also possible that last week was just a clunker. A big old goof on national TV. A disaster, to be sure, but just a down night.
It’s too early to fully abandon ship on the 2018 Lions.
(Plus — and I admit this is full-on dumb — don’t you think Patricia might have a plan or two on how to capitalize on a known flaw or two of Boy Wonder Garoppolo? Having put a defense against Garoppolo for years on the practice field, Patricia presumably has some solid intel on what The Handsome San Francisco QB can and can’t do.)
JACKSONVILLE (+2) over New England
That Jags defense is too good. It will be a long, hot afternoon for the Patriots’ offense. That’s a unit that lost Jeremy Hill (torn ACL), probably lost Rex Burkhead (concussion) for this week, might have to lean on Sony Michel (didn’t even get to play in his rookie preseason), and of course still doesn’t have Julian Edelman (suspension). It’s a tough task. Even Tom Brady can’t save this one*.
*He probably can.
New York Giants (+3) over DALLAS
The Cowboys stink.
CHICAGO (-3.5) over Seattle
Gotta love the NFL for throwing the Bears on national TV for the first two weeks of the year. The Bears. A team that’s 27-54 since 2012. Wonder how that’ll affect the ratings. Though we can all admit that watching a team blow a 20-point lead is quite captivating.
Last week: 10-5-1