“Sauer Notes” AFC East Breakdown: Buffalo Bills
In the aftermath of the NBA Finals in which we saw LeBron James bring home Cleveland a title, we as sports fans won just as much. The winnings are we no longer have to hear Clevelanders whine about their half-century of title-less existence or their overcompensation for it. But there was another secret too: Cleveland never had it the worst of any sports city. There was another that hasn’t had nearly as much publicity that had, and continues to have, it far, far worse.
But first, let’s address the whole idea that Cleveland was the apex of sports frustration. This narrative happened after Boston finally won a World Series years before Cleveland experienced the Decision, a one-word metropolitan travesty that followed The Drive, The Fumble and The Modell and was incontrovertible proof of some sort of Cleveland jinx. Let’s face it, ‘The Decision’ was far easier for LeBron to leave Cleveland than anybody lets on. Would you want to stay in Cleveland and continuously be mocked for not being able to win a title with Mo Williams being your number two? ‘The Fumble’ is far overrated in folk-lore too. Earnest Byner’s touchdown would have only tied the game at 38 and you know John Elway was going to get Denver in field position with 1:12 left on the clock anyway. If you can’t stop a team from going 98 yards in fifteen plays spanning over five minutes long, that’s not considerable reason to for a decade of weeping, rather it is pathetic defense to be honest. The only pity-party worthy experience for Cleveland fans is Art Modell’s decision to take the team to Baltimore, although it happened quickly it was absolutely absurd. While you cry me a river, I will be here to remind you that had the Browns won either ‘The Drive’ or ‘The Fumble,’ you were certainly going to be rocked by the Redskins and Giants in the Super Bowl just the Broncos did.
Buffalo is not your new Cleveland, it was your old one. The city in upstate New York has always had it far worse than The Cleve, which could at least enjoy a history of Jim Brown and Bob Feller and Larry Doby and Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn. It was an old history, but there’s a definite honor in being the franchise of the greatest football player in history. Buffalo’s best player was O.J. Simpson. Once a well renowned supernatural football player and beloved across America for his charismatic appearances on commercials and NFL broadcasts that consumed the hearts and minds of men and women. From touchdown to trial, Simpson turned fame into infamy as everybody watched on live television. Everybody has their own opinion on Simpson and rightfully so, the younger generation who weren’t alive or old enough to see Simpson’s life unravel on live television can now conclude their own opinion as shows like “The People v. O.J Simpson: American Crime Story” and “O.J: Made in America” depict the life of O.J and the role of the racial inequalities in the case surrounding the murder of wife Nicole Brown.
The town loves its Bills and its Sabres and had the ultimate agony of losing four-straight Super Bowls in the early 90s. Therein lies the pain of Buffalo: If Scott Norwood makes that kick to win the 1990 NFL title (played in 1991) they’d still currently have the second longest streak among cities with two teams. But it wouldn’t matter. Buffalo would be living high off that Super Bowl for decades. It just takes one. Buffalo craves it. Buffalo needs it. But your pity? Buffalo wants none of it.
The Bills missed the playoffs for the 16th straight season. They only have two winning years over this period while finishing 8-8 in 2015. Their defensive-minded head coach Rex Ryan couldn’t replicate the success of Buffalo’s defense in 2014 (4th in points and yards allowed) and a major drop off in sacks (44 in 2014 and 21 in 2015 [31st]). They allowed 70 more points than their previous season, which ranked about league average. The Bills’ offense scored the most points since 2002 (379 as well). Tyrod Taylor did a respectable job as the starting QB thanks to his ability to run the ball. Ryan returns for his second season as the head coach. Over seven years in the NFL as the head coach, Ryan has a 54-58 record with two playoff appearances. Greg Roman returns for his second season as offensive coordinator, which was the same job he held from 2011 to 2014 with the 49ers. Dennis Thurman will run the defense for the second straight year after working under Rex as defensive coordinator for the Jets in 2013 and 2014.
2015 AFC East Standings
- New England Patriots 12-4
- New York Jets 10-6
- Buffalo Bills 8-8
- Miami Dolphins 6-10
2015 Statistical Recap
Points For: 379 (12th)
Total Yards: 5775 (13th)
Passing Yards: 3343 (28th)
Rushing Yards: 2432 (1st)
Turnovers Committed: 19 (8th)
Points Against: 359 (15th)
Total Yards Against: 5702 (19th)
Passing Yards Against: 3972 (28th)
Rushing Yards Against: 1730 (16th)
Turnovers Caused: 25 (12th)
2016 Buffalo Bills Draft
Round 1 (19): Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
- The Bills hit on this one. They addressed a need and got great value in a player who wasn’t expected to fall as far as No. 19. General manager Doug Whaley said Lawson will be an immediate starter opposite Jerry Hughes in what Whaley previously said this offseason will be more of a true 3-4 defense. Lawson is considered an excellent run defender who has room for growth as a pass-rusher. The Bills could use help in both categories after receiving lackluster play last season from Mario Williams, who is now with the Miami Dolphins.
Round 2 (41): Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama
- The Bills paid a steep price to move up eight spots in the second round, giving up their No. 49 pick, their No. 117 pick (fourth round) and a 2017 fourth-rounder to select Ragland at No. 41. It was worth it. Ragland was widely considered a mid-to-late first-round pick, so selecting him in the early-to-mid second round is good value. Between Ragland and Lawson, the Bills have added two immediate starters to their front seven and addressed glaring needs on their defense after the departures of Mario Williams and Nigel Bradham.
Round 3 (80): Adolphus Washington, DT, Ohio State
- This is another good pick as value aligns with need. Washington was a projected late Day 2 or early Day 3 pick who can provide depth at both 5-technique defensive end, 3-technique defensive tackle and 0-technique nose tackle in Ryan’s multiple-front defense. After making the selection, Whaley said the Bills’ defense has “improved tremendously,” at least “on paper.”
Round 4 (139): Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State
- This was hardly an unexpected pick for the Bills, who needed to add another quarterback before the upcoming season. With starter Tyrod Taylor entering the final season of his contract and an extension far from imminent, and the team unlikely to pick up EJ Manuel’s fifth-year option for 2017, the Bills were widely expected to add a young prospect at the position. It’s hard to argue with Jones being the best quarterback on the board at No. 139 after Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott was selected by the Dallas Cowboys at No. 135. This is a smart pick for the Bills, who have had a strong draft to this point.
Round 5 (156): Johnathon Williams, RB, Arkansas
- We’re at the point in the draft where players selected are less certain to make the 53-man roster. Williams isn’t a lock to make the Bills’ opening-day roster, but if he does, he will add depth behind Lesean McCoy, Karlos Williams and Mike Gillislee. It has been a while since Jonathan Williams played in a live game; he missed all of last season with torn ligaments in his foot. Bills player personnel director Jim Monos said Saturday that he believes Williams would have been a third- or fourth-round pick if not for his injury.
Round 6 (192): Kolby Listenbee, WR, TCU
- At No. 192 overall, Listenbee isn’t a lock to make the Bills’ roster, but he has a chance to carve out a role at a position where there is little certainty. The loss of Chris Hogan as a restricted free agent to New England opened up the depth chart at the position, with Marquise Goodwin, Leonard Hankerson, Greg Salas, Jarrett Boykin, Greg Little and Dezmin Lewis already set to battle for a roster spot during training camp. Listenbee said on a conference call shortly after being drafted that he can be the fastest player in the NFL; Goodwin, an Olympic athlete, might have something to say about that.
Round 6 (218): Kevon Seymour, CB, USC
- Seymour ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which was tied with Bills sixth-round pick Kolby Listenbee for eighth best among all 2016 combine participants. Seymour will be added to a mix at cornerback alongside veterans Mario Butler, Sterling Moore, Corey White and Javier Arenas. His best shot to make the 53-man roster will be as a fourth or fifth cornerback who carves out a role on special teams.
2016-17 Buffalo Bills Schedule
When NFL schedules are being released each year, we as fans await to see which division our team’s division will step toe-to-toe with for that year. You can map these divisions out pretty easily as they are rotated in a four-year loop, but who wants to calculate this in their free time? In the 2016-17 season the AFC East will be battling it out with the “black and blue” division that is the AFC North, and also the very defensive nitty-gritty division that is the NFC West. That is why the Bills sit right behind the Jets (.531) and Patriots (.523) ranked with the tenth toughest schedule as opponents had a .520 winning percentage last season. Do not let the defensive landscape of these divisions fool you into thinking not many points will be scored. The Bills will have to face off with quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton and counterparts A.J Green/Tyler Eifert, Russel Wilson, Carson Palmer, and not to mention Tom Brady. Fortunately the scheduling gods favored Buffalo: they will only get him once with the four-game suspension looming. They have two prime-time games which are noted below. The first of the prime-time games will be the Bills home opener against the Jets on TNF. In their second matchup they will travel to Seattle in a contest on MNF, where another drought lies as the Bills have not won a Monday night game in 17 years (five MNF games over that span).
Week 1: @ Baltimore Ravens
Week 2: vs. New York Jets (Thursday Night Football)
Week 3: vs. Arizona Cardinals
Week 4: @ New England Patriots
Week 5: @ Los Angeles Rams
Week 6: vs. San Fransisco 49ers
Week 7: @ Miami Dolphins
Week 8: vs. New England Patriots
Week 9: @ Seattle Seahawks (Monday Night Football)
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: @ Cincinnati Bengals
Week 12: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 13: @ Oakland Raiders
Week 14: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 15: vs. Cleveland Browns
Week 16: vs. Miami Dolphins
Week 17: @ New York Jets
Buffalo led the NFL in rushing yards (2432) in 2015 while gaining 4.8 yards per carry with 19 rushing TDs. Their line allowed 42 sacks with 79 QB hits on 465 pass attempts, which delivered a 9.0 percent sack rate (6th highest in the NFL). The Bills finished 30th in negative runs (57) with 45 of those failures coming on the outside. Their upside in rushing was created by a league leading 70 runs of 10 yards or more. C Eric Wood, G Richie Incognito, and T Cyrus Kouandjio all graded out as plus run blockers with Kouandjio only being on the field for 334 plays last year after Buffalo drafted him in the second round in 2014. Cyrus is expected to be the starting RT in 2016. LT Cordy Glenn had success in pass protection while only ranking as league average as a run blocker. His overall game continues to improve. John Miller struggled in his rookie season in 2015 with a groin issue and high ankle sprain while showing risk as a pass and run blocker. He’ll compete with Cyril Richardson for the starting right guard job who the Bills released in early September in 2015 leading to no snaps all year. Overall, Buffalo has upside as a run blocking team as long as they play from the lead. They need to improve as a pass blocking team when the team becomes one-dimensional when chasing in the scoreboard.
Tyrod Taylor– The Bills made the right choice riding Taylor as their starting QB in 2015. He won five of his first seven starts while missing a pair of games in Week 7 and 8 due a left knee injury. Over his first seven games, Tyrod completed 124 of 176 passes (70.4 percent) with 11 passing TD and four interceptions. The league seemed to catch up to the Bills’ passing game after week 10. Over his last seven starts, Taylor had a much weaker completion rate (57.8) while continuing to minimize the damage in turnovers (two INT and one fumble). His only bad game as far as mistakes came in Week two against the Patriots (three INT). Overall, he had four games with three TDs or more in 14 games. His legs are a clear asset as Tyrod finished with 104 rushes for 568 yards and four rushing TD. His upside as a passer is really limited due to a low number of passing attempts per game (27.1). In 2015, he only attempted over 40 passes once with no 300-yard passing games. Taylor looks to be a solid game manager that fits well within this system, but he lacks the explosiveness to be playable on an every week basis in the fantasy game. He finished as the 14th best QB last season, and the fact that he averaged 40.6 rushing yards per game providing you with a decent floor and works well as a QB2 if you like to play matchups. I do believe he has injury risk based on three issues in 2015 – ankle, knee, and shoulder. He is an upper echelon backup for one QB leagues, with the ability to supplant your starter if Tyrod has a plus matchup and your starter has a difficult one. In two QB leagues he is a high-end QB2 and in a couple of the weeks may outscore your number one.
Cardale Jones (QB)– Jones has the size (6’5” and 245 lbs.) and arm strength NFL teams desire, but his resume at college was extremely short (166/269 for 2322 yards with 15 TD and seven INT). Injuries at QB at Ohio State in 2014 led to him starting three games at the most critical time of the year. He led the Buckeyes to three impressive wins over Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon to win the College National Championship. In those three games, he threw for 742 yards and five passing TD while also rushing for another 90 yards and a TD. In his 23 games in his college career, he never lost a game in which he played. In his junior year, he split playing time with J.T. Barrett leading to minimal success (1459 passing yards, 193 rushing yards, and ten combined TDs). Cardale looks to be a winner, but he’ll need time to develop in the NFL.
LeSean McCoy– After five games in 2015, McCoy only had 229 combined yards with seven catches and one TD while missing two games due to a hamstring issue. Over his next eight games played, LeSean regained some of his explosiveness that he showcased in his days in Philly. He gained 921 combined yards with 24 catches and four TD, which projected over a full season to 280.2 Fantasy points in PPR leagues or a solid back-end RB1. He suffered a knee injury in week 16 limiting him to 37 combined yards while missing week 17 as well. In the offseason, McCoy was involved in an incident in a nightclub in Philly, but no charges were filed. In his career, LeSean has four 1000 yards seasons while only scoring 47 TD in 102 career games. The Bills attempted 509 rushes in 2015 with RBs delivering 394 runs for 1815 yards and 15 rushing TD. Karlos Williams is a talented back who will steal goal line TD and touches from McCoy. This season LeSean should be in line for 250 to 275 touches leading to 1300+ yards and half dozen TD. His floor should be somewhere from 200 to 225 fantasy points if he does indeed stay healthy for all 16 games, which is a big IF. The Bills have said that they will limit his work in training camp and preseason games to keep his legs fresh coming into his age 28 season. Adrian Peterson famously has not participated in preseason games in years, not to compare the two but the Bills know he has a lot of miles on those legs and want an increase of touches from his career third-lowest 203 total touches in 2015.
Karlos Williams– Despite only playing RB for one year at Florida State as a converted safety, there was a lot to like about Karlos Williams in his limited action in 2015. He had two 100 yard rushing games despite having nine and 12 rushes in each game. He scored nine TD in his 11 games played. In his two games with starter snaps, Williams gained 167 combined yards with five catches and two TD. He averaged 5.6 yards per rush. His one black mark was five missed games due to a concussion and a shoulder issue. Karlos has high upside and impact value if ever given the full ride with Buffalo. He needs to prove he can stay healthy. We can expect him to get 150+ touches with a chance at double digit TD. He’s an excellent handcuff to McCoy, but his success in 2015 will lead to him having a high price point.
Johnathon Williams– Over three seasons with Arkansas, Williams gained 2321 yards rushing with 16 rushing TD. He caught 26 balls for 345 yards and six more TD. His best season was his junior year when Jon had 1255 combined yards with 11 catches and 14 TD. He missed his senior season due to a left foot injury that required surgery. Williams has a nice combination of power and quickness. His game will be exciting when he breaks free in the second level of the defense. Jon runs hard with solid open field ability and vision. His ball security issues in college won’t be tolerated in the NFL. He’s an injury away from offering serviceable value.
Sammy Watkins– Even with a 25 percent drop in targets (128 in 2014 and 96 in 2015), Watkins was able to deliver a solid WR2 season (60/1047/9 or 194.2 Fantasy points – 14.93 Fantasy points per game). His catch rate (62.5) was much improved over 2014 (50.7) while adding more length to his catches (17.5). Sammy had five 100 yards receiving games over his last nine starts with growth in his targets in four of his last six games (10, 4, 12, 10, 6, and 15). Over his last nine games, Watkins caught 49 passes for 900 yards and seven TD on 78 targets. This projected over 16 games would be 97/1600/12 on 139 targets. There’s a lot to like here for this 23-year-old player. Sammy has scoring ability (15 TDs in 29 career games), big play ability (16.2 yards per catch in his short career), and no real competition for targets. His only strike would be the style of the Bills offense (run first), which will limit his upside in targets when Buffalo plays from the lead in the second half. His next step is 75+ catches for 1250+ yards and double-digit TD. Unlike last year when I predominantly told owners to stay away from the Bills passing game as a whole, this is the only share of the aerial attack you should invest in. Nevertheless, buyers should beware and be careful of where you draft or which dollar value you assign to Watkins. He is in a very volatile situation. In 2015, Watkins had six games with six or fewer targets, and six games where he had four or fewer receptions. With the running game being paramount in Greg Roman’s offense, Watkins is better suited for standard leagues as he can do major damage on minimal receptions.
Robert Woods– Rather than make another slight step forward in 2015, Woods struggled to get into a rhythm with new starting QB Tyrod Taylor. He caught 47 of his 80 targets (58.8 percent catch rate) for 552 yards and three TD. Robert only had two productive games (9/84/1 and 5/106) in his 14 games played. His season ended after week 15 due to groin injury. Over three seasons in the NFL, Woods has 152 catches for 1838 yards and 11 TDs on 269 targets. His game lacks explosiveness (12.1 yards per catch). In 2015, the Bills only threw 271 passes to the WR position leading to 168 catches for 2390 yards and 16 TD. I expect Watkins to receive more than 50 percent of the WR action on this team, which leaves minimal upside for Woods. Robert has a decent chance at 60+ catches for 800+ yards and five to seven TD as Buffalo doesn’t have a lot of WR talent behind him on their roster. With the volume of this passing game only being able to support one viable WR for fantasy purposes, Woods does not hold much if any value on draft day. But if Sammy Watkins were to go down with injury, Woods would then become a very usable WR3 type asset.
Leonard Hankerson– After struggling to find his identity in the NFL over his first four years of his career, Hankerson flashed his upside as the third WR for the Falcons in Week 2 (6/77/1) and Week 4 (6/103/1). He suffered a rib injury in mid-October following a hamstring issue leading to multiple missed games. Atlanta tried to slip him into their injured reserves, but they were forced to waive him leading to the Patriots signing him in the middle of December. In the end, he didn’t catch one pass after week 5. In his career, Leonard has 107 catches for 1408 yards and nine TD on 174 targets while playing in four different years. Even with a solid training camp, you should temper your expectation as 27-year-old WR with injury risk, and sketchy NFL resumes rarely turn into impact players, let alone the notion that this is a run-first(second and third) offense.
Charles Clay– Clay had had a tough time replicating his success in 2013 when he caught 69 balls for 759 yards and six TD on 102 targets over the past two seasons. He struggled with a knee issue in 2014 limiting his explosiveness and upside. His game appeared to be back on the uptick after catching 31 passes for 324 yards and two TD on 45 targets after six games last year. Charles lost his value in the Bills’ offense when Watkins returned healthy leading to only 21 catches for 204 yards and two TD on 32 targets in his next seven games. In Week 14, he suffered a back injury that cost him the rest of the 2015 season. Last year Buffalo threw only 103 passes to the TE for 719 yards on 66 catches with three TD. Even with 90 percent of the TE production, Clay would only be in line for 60 catches for 650 yards and minimal TDs. He’ll start the year at age 29 after with back-to-back seasons limited by health issues. At best, Charles is a backup Fantasy TE with more risk than reward. Overall I’ve been satisfied with all the moves and draft picks under GM Doug Whaley, but paying Clay Gronk-type money to be utilized in a very run-heavy offense makes little to no sense. It may be different if Clay was a solid blocking TE, but frankly that’s not the case either. Furthermore, you can’t prove your blocking prowess, let alone catch passes if you can’t stay on the field.
Dan Carpenter– Dan returns for his fourth season as the kicker for the Bills. After having plus field goal attempts in 2013 (36) and 2014 (38) leading to 67 successful kicks and a plus kick rate (90.5), Carpenter had a regression in his opportunity in 2015 (27 field attempts and only 23 FGs made). Over the last three seasons, Dan is 13-for-19 from 50 yards or longer. For his career, he’s made 84.8 percent of his FG attempts. The NFL moved back the length of extra-point kicks in 2015 and Dan missed six of his 40 chances. Buffalo runs the ball well so they will score TD when they are in close. Carpenter is nothing more than a matchup play due to the Bills’ offense lacking explosiveness.
The Bills were only league average in run defense in 2015, but teams only attempted 24.6 rushers per game (6.5 percent below the league average). They allowed 1730 yards rushing on 394 carries while minimizing the damage in TD (10). Their best run defender by far is DT Marcell Dareus, who had a huge drop off in sacks (2) in 2015 after setting a career high in 2014 (10). Dareus missed Week 1 due a suspension while battling a knee and neck issue late in the season. The rest of the defensive line lacks impact talent with Kyle Williams on the downside of his career and third round draft pick Adolphus Washington expected to earn the other starting job. Washington looks like a better fit inside of a 4/3 system. Buffalo is supposed to run a 3/4 system in 2016.
The Bills allowed 30 passing TD last year while allowing the 14th most passing yards (3972). Receivers only gained 6.8 yards per pass attempts with QB completing only 57.6 percent of their passes (3rd lowest rate in the league). As I mentioned earlier, they had the second lowest number of sacks (21) in the NFL.
Their two starting CB Ronald Darby and Stephon Gilmore played well in pass coverage while getting league average results from their safeties. S Corey Graham did a nice job in run support. They need S Aaron Williams to regain his top form after missing 13 games in 2015 due to a neck injury that required surgery. Overall, this secondary should grade above average if all players return healthy. Gilmore is still a bit overrated when asked to cover elite WR talent.
Buffalo made an effort to add more talent at linebacker in the draft with the primary focus being upgrading their run defense. For the most part in 2015, no linebacker appeared to be a difference maker with LB Jerry Hughes having the best skill set to attack the QB (10 sacks in both 2013 and 2014).
Overall, this defense has one impact player with talent in the secondary. They need to find a way to attack the QB from the outside without committing too much additional personal. From a fantasy perspective, I view the Bills defense as a backup option with upside at times when they have the right matchup.
With the Bills cap-space limitations they were forced to sit out of the first wave of free-agent signings, and expected not to make any big splashes this offseason. They did shore up their offensive line by signing OT Cordy Glenn to a one-year $13.7 million-dollar contract, and locking up G Richie Incognito to a three-year $15.75 million-dollar contract. Under head coach Rex Ryan, the Bills roster will gain another year of continuity and camaraderie. They have made some small coaching changes, along with adding some much needed depth to important positions. They may have lost players like LB Nigel Bradham, CB Leodis McKelvin (no more muffed punts and continually being beat over the top), and Mario Williams (who did not want to play here anyways), and they replaced them with quality draft picks. We know that OC Greg Roman would run the ball 65 times a game if he could, but obviously the Bills will have to throw the rock too, and I expect an uptick in Sammy’s targets this year. Don’t expect to see the sack total we saw two years ago when they led the league with 51. But I also expect the Ryan brothers to improve upon last year’s abysmal total of 21. With the offensive and defensive units both possibly taking a step forward in 2016, I can only give them a one game improvement, finishing at 9-7. Considering that I believe there are three viable playoff contenders in each AFC division (excluding the Titans, Browns, Chargers, Dolphins), we will see a 17th consecutive year of missed postseason action, extending the longest playoff drought in major sports today (the first time on any sports platform that I hope to be wrong).
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly: Join Lou Landers and Kyle Amore live on Thursday June 23rd, 2016 from 8-10pm EST for episode #19 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Weekly. This will run every Thursday as a live broadcast that will take live callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will be the first of 2 episodes covering the MLB Draft. This week we will cover the American League side of the draft.
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Major League Fantasy Football Weekly: Join Lou Landers, Zak Sauer, and Coach Jeff Nelson live Saturday June 25th, 2016 from 1-2:30pm EST for episode #24 of Major League Fantasy Football Weekly. We will run our show on Saturday until August 27th, and then move back to Tuesday nights from 8-10pm EST on September 13th. This is a live broadcast and we do take callers at 323-870-4395. We will discuss the AFC West from a NFL and fantasy football perspective.
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