Friday, September 14, 2012

Bills, Syracuse need to take advantage of winnable games this weekend

                In my column for WROC-TV’s web site ( before the regular season kicked off last Sunday, I listed six things that needed to go right in order for Buffalo to end its playoff famine.

                Amazingly, the Bills wound up seeing things go wrong in five of the categories during their opener against the Jets, which explains why they were squashed and why many Buffalo fans are ready to jump off the third deck of the Ralph without a parachute or bunge cord.

                One game does not a season make, but there is major cause for concern.

                The Meadowlands Meltdown raised once more legitimate concerns about Ryan Fitzpatrick’s arm strength and decision-making. Those three interceptions were abominations, and a painful reminder of what we witnessed during last year’s second-half swoon. Fitz need not be a Pro Bowler for this team to win, but neither can he be the interception machine who led the Bills to just one victory in their final nine games in 2011. Consistency still eludes him despite all the off-season work on his mechanics, and you begin to wonder if what we see is what we’re going to continue to get – mediocrity.

                Of greater concern was the play of the supposedly revamped defense – specifically Not-So-Super Mario Williams, who managed just one tackle. If this guy doesn’t live up to the hype that comes with being the most handsomely rewarded defensive player in NFL history, Buffalo is in serious trouble.

                The injury bug already has taken its toll and a unit that appeared to be a strength going into the season – special teams – was burned for a long touchdown return vs. the Jets.

                And, boom, just like that, all the optimism that had been building for six months was gone.

                Fortunately, the Bills have two upcoming games that give them a chance to get well soon. I really believe they will give a more spirited effort in their home opener Sunday against a Kansas City Chiefs team that also was spanked in its opener. I expect better performances from Fitz and Williams. And I would hope that the Bills corners tighten their coverage and stop treating every receiver as if he were Usain Bolt sprinting for the gold.

                I foresee a win over the Chiefs, followed by a win in Cleveland against the Browns next Sunday.

                At least, that’s what better happen, or you can kiss this season goodbye because a home game against New England and road contests at San Francisco and Arizona follow, and the Bills could be looking at a start reminiscent of two years ago.

                 Speaking of teams that need a win . . . Syracuse returns home to play Stony Brook in the Carrier Dome tomorrow. You might figure that a team that went toe-to-toe with the nation’s second-ranked team last week should have an easy time against an FCS (1AA) school. But there’s not a huge difference between a mediocre Division I football program and a good FCS football program. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Colorado, which lost to Sacramento State, or Colorado State, which fell to North Dakota State. The moral of this story is that the Orange better come to play or it could be looking at an 0-3 record.              

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thoughs on Air Marrone and my prediction for the Bills-Jets

I was very impressed with the way Syracuse hung with second-ranked USC, but in the end the cream rose to the top as Matt Barkley showed why he is the Heisman frontrunner and Marqis Lee and Robert Woods showed why they are the best wide receiver tandem in college football. Barkley didn’t force the issue against the game but overmatched Orange defense. He just put the ball in position for Lee (3 TD receptions) and Woods (2) to make plays in the end zone, which they did – even against double coverage. Barkley finished with six TD tosses. That was the most ever yielded by a Syracuse football team.

Still, there is much to be encouraged about if you are an Orange football fan. It’s apparent that their pass-happy offense, triggered by fifth-year QB Ryan Nassib, can put points up against anybody. SU trailed by just five points in the fourth quarter, before the Trojans superior playmakers did their thing to pull away for a 42-29 victory.

I agree with Chris Spielman, the former Ohio State/Buffalo Bills-linebacker-turned-college-football-analyst that SU has the talent to contend for a league championship in the weak Big East Conference. The Orangemen need to shore up a few things – especially on special teams, where they continue to get burned on returns at pivotal junctures. (Head coach Doug Marrone needs to rethink his decision to handle special teams chores.) This team appears to have great upside and should become better as the season progresses. Regardless what happens, they’re going to be fun to watch because of their potency on offense.


It’s a good thing Nassib isn’t on a Stephen Strasburg innings limit or he’d be shut down by mid-season. The Cuse signalcaller is averaging 55.5 passes through two games. Projected over the 12-game regular season, that computes to 666 attempts. Extrapolating his numbers over 12 games, Nassib would finish with 4,752 yards, 36 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.


You may have read or heard that ESPN expert Chris Mortensen tweeted that Barkley wasn’t going to be the only NFL-caliber quarterback playing in yesterday’s game at MetLife Stadium. Yes, Nassib is starting to receive some NFL buzz and currently projects as a mid-to-late round pick. I think he has a ways to go – especially with regards to his touch passes – but he certainly is justifying the look by NFL scouts.


I have the Bills ekeing out a 20-16 victory against the Jets in their season opener today. I think Buffalo’s defense will do a decent job of bottling up the Jets run game (including wildcat QB Tim Tebow) and putting some pressure on Mark Sanchez, who statistically ranks as the worst starting quarterback vs. heated pass rushes. I also believe Buffalo will rely on a heavy dose of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller running the ball, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see both backs out there together for 5-10 plays.

You can read my season-preview Bills column for WROC-TV at I’ll be posting a fresh column off of this game and appearing on FOX 31 and Channel 8’s sportscasts at 10 and 11, respectively, so please check me out.