The talking heads have locked into the Buffalo Bills as the most likely candidate for the first overall pick. Don Banks of SI predicts the Bills to go 2-14 (the only team he picks to win fewer than four), while the ESPN Power Rankings have come out, and have the Bills at No. 31; John Clayton has them at No. 32. Pete Prisco of CBS Sportsline also checks in with the Bills at No. 32 in his initial power rankings. Draft Countdown already has the Bills on the clock to pick Jake Locker at #1.
Let’s review the case for why the Bills are perceived to be the worst team in the league:
1. They don’t have a quarterback. This certainly appears true, as Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm may be the least exciting group in the league. Of course, these three combined to start 16 games for the Bills last year. The Bills also fired their offensive coordinator just a few weeks before the start of the season, and I will take the tradeoff of Chan Gailey over the Bills’ offensive coaching situation in 2009. As an offensive coordinator, Chan Gailey coaxed good seasons out of Kordell Stewart, Jay Fiedler, and most recently worked with a highly inaccurate quarterback named Tyler Thigpen and managed to adapt the offense to get something out of it in Kansas City. I don’t see how the quarterback situation is any worse. They aren’t going from Peyton Manning to Trent Edwards here.
2. They have a new coaching staff. Is going from Dick Jauron – who used one lucky season in 2001 and some illicit photos of NFL owners to reach the 53rd most games coached in NFL history - to Chan Gailey really such a dropoff?
3. They play a tough schedule. Maybe. Schedules rarely work out how we think at the start of the year, but it would appear they have a tougher than average schedule in 2010.
4. T.O is gone, and this team has no star power. Owens did very little for the Bills in 2009, so it’s a loss of perception more than anything.
Now, let’s talk about why they won’t be picking the bottom three in the 2011 NFL draft. Passing offense is important, but so is passing defense. Of the teams that have finished with two or fewer wins in the regular season in the last decade, six of them ranked in the bottom three in the league in passing offense efficiency, and six of them ranked in the bottom three in passing defense efficiency. Preventing passing yards is important too, and the Bills did that very well last year. They allowed only 14 passing touchdowns while intercepting 28, and allowed 6.0 yards per pass attempt (No. 2 behind only the Jets).
Defenses are not as consistent as offenses from year to year, and the Bills are switching to a 3-4 defense in 2010, but the Bills would have to drop from one of the best pass defenses to one of the worst in order for those predictions of doom and first overall picks to materialize. The run defense was bad last year, but the Bills also had a myriad of injuries to the linebacking unit, as the opening day starters missed a combined 23 games. The critics may not like the pick of C.J. Spiller – and I’m not expressing an opinion on whether it was the best long term move – but running back is the single biggest position at making a rookie impact, and Spiller looks like a playmaker who can upgrade the Bills.
I know it’s not a sexy pick, and I know why the national pundits pick the Bills to be horrible (namely, they look only at the quarterbacks), but I think the Bills are being overlooked. It’s damning them a little with faint praise, but I just don’t see this team being significantly worse than last year, and they went 6-10 in 2009.