“I think we should tank the season”.
“Wait, I’m going to change my mind. I think we should try to win the Super Bowl.”
At exactly what point in this NFL season did the Buffalo Bills go from tanking, to competing, to winning it all?
This is a loaded question, for sure. And, as one outraged Bills fan chastised me last week, (after I ridiculously predicted the ascendancy of Sean McDermott to Bills God), … “Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s just slow the heck down a minute!”
But, to Bills fans, this is what almost seemed to happen in the last two and a half months. In August, several of the FamBase (as well as the majority of national football writers) were convinced the front office at One Bills Drive was purposefully giving up the team’s top talents, in order to set up a more desirable situation for future success. This is called, informally, “tanking” a season.
The reality though, was far different than the national and local perception.
In truth, Head Coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane had absolutely no intentions of tanking this season. “We are always looking to improve the future, while remaining competitive”, they jointly informed us.
“Yeah right”, we collectively laughed. “Sure”.
Only…they weren’t kidding.
As they traded away what seemed like some of the best parts of this team’s roster, they also began winning football games.
While keeping the Bills competitively near the top of the AFC East, they began to shape the team’s future. They got rid of poorly committed players and fat contracts. They brought in lesser known names, players willing to do what was asked of them.
And all the while, they built themselves a 4-2 record. Surprisingly in the mix, but still a mystery to predict much more than that.
And then, the Oakland Raiders came to town, fresh off an impressive victory over the AFC leading Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills then pummeled the Raiders into submission, coming out of the game with a 5-2 record.
The coaching staff looked around. They noticed that they were – if the playoffs began now – solidly in the AFC playoff picture.
They looked at their schedule. For the most part, the harder segment of the schedule was complete. Sure, there are still two games against the dreaded Patriots, but wow, the Patriots look sort of…dare we say it? Beatable? There are 3 games left with the other two teams in the division, and those games are certainly winnable.
You can look at the rest of the upcoming schedule for the Buffalo Bills, and you can turn it inside out trying to predict wins and losses, but the bottom line that keeps showing up at the end is this…
For the Buffalo Bills, the 2017 playoff picture is entirely in the hands of one team…the Buffalo Bills.
They don’t need any other AFC teams to lose a game. They don’t need any other AFC teams to beat another AFC team. The playoff future of the Buffalo Bills is entirely in the hands of the Buffalo Bills.
They don’t have to win every game. They don’t even have to win their division, though that is certainly a possible scenario.
And, at some point, probably later last Sunday evening, Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane came to the same conclusion…this is a good football team, and we have until 4pm Tuesday to make it a little better.
However, at what cost?
The future of the Buffalo Bills lay in a treasure trove of 2017 NFL draft pics. Specifically, in the team’s six draft pics that will take place in the first three rounds of next spring’s draft.
But, McDermott and Beane decided the future of the Buffalo Bills was not next year…it was already here. The future was now.
They looked at the team’s current record – they are 5-2. They looked at the upcoming schedule – the playoffs were in their own hands. And then they said, let’s go for it.
Yes, they could wait to improve the team. They could finish this season with the players they have currently, and see how it goes. Then, they would use the draft to build an even better team, one that could possibly compete for the Super Bowl next season.
Or, they could improve the team now, and reach for the Lombardi trophy…now.
And so, they dipped into the college fund, the treasure of draft pics reserved for the future of the organization, and they made a withdrawal. They traded one pick from those cherished six at the top, a third round spot. (they also included a later 7th round pick)
Pretty good decision making. As my Twitter friend @CaptainBuffalo was quick to point out yesterday, instead of having six picks in the top three rounds of the draft, the Bills now have 5 picks and Kelvin Benjamin. And, most importantly, they have Kelvin Benjamin…now.
McDermott, Beane & Company made the Buffalo Bills better this week. They improved the struggling receiving corps, and ratchetted up the offensive firepower in an attempt to support the dominating defense they already have. They made the Bills into a playoff caliber, ultra-competitive team, and one with now somewhat arguably-realistic Super Bowl dreams.
And, they didn’t give away the future to do so.
Musings From Around the NFL
Do you remember when, as a Bills fan, you were feeling all down and out, like the team was a dysfunctional hot mess of losers, and you were ready to maybe give up on them? You do, right? Well, I have three words for you. The Cleveland Browns. We are not Cleveland Browns fans.
There, but for the grace of the Pegulas, goes we.
Hey, here’s something interesting. In the AFC South, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans are tied for first place, each with 4-3 records. Here’s the interesting part: The point differential for each team? Jacksonville is +73. Tennessee? -15
How close did Atlanta get to losing to the entire AFC East? Who would have predicted that in August?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hard Knocks. Am I right?
Fantasy Football Tip of the Week
Resist the urge to play Jay Ajayi this week. Kelvin, too. (That said, if Benjamin catches one pass for his new team, it’ll be in the red zone)
I’d stay away from Trevor Siemian, or his replacement Brock Osweiler against the Eagles, too. But, Philadelphia’s defense? Load up!
How nervous were you last week, when there was a little less than eleven minutes left in the game, and the Raiders scored their 2nd touchdown, bringing them within 13 points. You got that old Buffalo feeling, didn’t you?
And then the Bills did some things that were very un-Bill like. Instead of going three-and-out, and giving the ball back to a hot handed Derek Carr, they went on a five minute and forty-six second, thirty-two yard clock-killing drive. Punting the ball to the Raiders, they then sealed the victory by forcing 3 incomplete passes in a row, getting the turnover on downs. This of course led to Shady’s dash to the end zone, and then Trae Elston’s interception.
Who are these Bills?
They are the 5-2 Buffalo Bills. Doing things that championship teams do.
How nervous are you right now? As you read this? It’s as if the entire population of BillsMafia is just waiting for the other shoe to fall off.
It’s not as if the Bills are going into a tough game against New England, or Kansas City.
It’s the Jets.
I haven’t actually heard the words “trap game”, or even heard anyone say the Bills will lose this game. But, I can see it in their eyes.
The ghosts of seasons past are haunting all of western New York.
So, who ya gonna’ call?
You’re gonna’ call Shady, that’s who you’re gonna’ call.
And you’re gonna’ call Tyrod, and Preston, and Micah, and you’re gonna call the boys up front.
You’re gonna’ call Steve Hauschka. You’re gonna’ call Jerry Hughes, and you’re sure as heck gonna’ call Sean McDermott.
Dial up the victory. Jets Busters!
Buffalo 35 – New York 13
Read me next week.
Editor’s babble: Thanks to Rick Bates for getting us set up for the big game against the Jets and all his contributions to our blog. You can follow Rick on Twitter @MyHammock.