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KC loss puts Bills in vice
by Dave Staba
The Buffalo Bills’ annual visit to South Florida also serves as the team’s lone scheduled prime-time appearance of 2014, a Thursday-night affair that sets up a conundrum for your friendly sports columnist.
The game took place well after the deadline for Artvoice’s print edition, assuring that a large number of readers enjoying this piece already know what happened between the Bills and Dolphins.
Not that it matters a whole lot. We have already hashed through Buffalo’s mystifying Week 10 giveaway to Kansas City over at Artvoice.com, a defeat that brings some clarity to the team’s murky playoff hopes.
The loss to the Chiefs places an ominous requirement in the way of the Bills’ opportunity to reach the postseason for the first time since most people relied on something called a television (TEL-uh-vizh-un) as their primary source for news and entertainment.
To have a shot at the 10-6 record that will likely serve as the cutoff for playoff participation, they will now have to win at least one of their December matchups against Denver, Green Bay and New England. In the event of a loss in Miami, Buffalo will have to beat two of those teams. And sweep the Jets, Browns and Raiders.
For anyone not following along closely, the Broncos, Packers and Patriots are three of the NFL’s leading Super Bowl contenders, including the clear-cut top two in the AFC.
New England (7-2 heading into Week 10) recovered from a shaky first month to lay waste to the rest of the league through October and early November, including a 43-21 pasting of Denver and a 37-22 mauling of the Bills, each involving four touchdown passes by Tom Brady.
Denver (also 7-2) won four straight leading up to the New England game, averaging 37 points per game. Properly humbled by the Patriots, the Broncos thrashed Oakland 41-14 behind five Peyton Manning touchdown passes on Sunday.
Green Bay (6-3) has been slightly less consistently dominant, but most recently showed its full potential in a 55-14 blowout over Chicago on Sunday Night Football, with Aaron Rodgers piling up six touchdown throws—all in the first half.
It’s not just that the Patriots, Broncos and Packers have better records than the Bills. When they are at their best, they appear to be playing a different sport altogether.
Buffalo’s defense, particularly the overwhelming front wall of starting tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams and ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes, has been the best unit on the field for either team in seven of the first nine games (all five wins and the losses to Houston and Kansas City).
The offense, whether quarterbacked by E.J. Manuel or Kyle Orton, tries to do enough to keep the defense’s effort from going to waste.
That formula was enough to sneak by undermanned or under-performing foes like, well, all five of the teams the Bills have beaten. But the offense could not keep up with either the Patriots or San Diego, and its blundering turned winnable games against the Texans and Chiefs into demoralizing defeats.
With injuries stripping the depth chart at running back, the offensive line struggling to perform its most basic tasks and both Orton and Manuel looking like, at best, decent backups more often than not, Buffalo has scored 17 points or fewer in five of its nine games.
The Broncos, Patriots and Packers, meanwhile, have been held to 17 or fewer points a total of four times between them—with all four misfires taking place in September. Since October 1, they have averaged 35, 37 and 40 points per game, respectively.
Buffalo has exceeded 35 points once, thanks largely to the competition between Geno Smith and Michael Vick to see who could turn the ball over the most often (it turned out dead even, though Smith earned the tiebreaker by getting to three the fastest).
Of course, this is the NFL, where things can change in a hurry (see the previously pitiful New York Jets’ win over Pittsburgh last weekend, for instance).
So the groins of Fred Jackson and Sammy Watkins could heal enough to make them fully operational. The offensive line could continue the marginal improvement shown against the Jets and Chiefs. The pass rush, which has notched a league-leading 34 sacks heading into the Miami game, could cause enough mayhem to at least slow Manning, Rodgers and Elway a little.
And in his 11th NFL season with his fourth team, Orton could finally put it all together and be able to keep up with the league’s three best quarterbacks.
All of that could happen. It’s just that there is little basis beyond reckless optimism to think that it will.
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