Bills' success putting future talk on hold

December 11, 2019 - 10:59 am

The focus is the next game. Pittsburgh, Sunday night, Week 15. A win and it's the playoffs; a loss and that announcement, while still a likely occurrence, will have to wait.

For the Bills the present matters. A lot.

The future can wait. Of course this is unusual around here during the holidays, to not pre-empt discussion of the next game for a look instead at the next draft. Not booked this year as segments are such call-in favorites as: Would we rather lose this game for our draft status, I comprised a scenario where if these 11 things happen the Bills actually would make the playoffs, and hey guys how's it going I'd prefer not to win this game because I don't want our coach's record (or quarterback's) looking better than it really is.

Sunday's Bills-Ravens game happened to be the first December home game I attended and really cared about in close to 30 years. Sure, all those other games were something, it's just that meaningful was not it. I went to several games in the mid-90s, and a couple in the Flutie-Johnson years, but Sunday took me back further than that, to the early 1990s. Because that's when it was new. Everything after the Super Bowl losses were climbs for changing the history. But the excitement was much greater in the beginning. Isn't it always?

That aspect of the Bills in 2019 is an appealing and intruiging part of the picture: This is a good season, is it also the beginning of something lasting?

I don't know the answer to that, except to say that it might be. The coach is young and driven, and seems as serious as any coach I've ever met in being focused on building lasting success. I think Sean McDermott thinks he knows how to accomplish that. I think you can be that way, but that the NFL is set up to make lasting success very, very difficult.

In trying to analyze a team's future it's easy to start at quarterback. I don't think we know yet what, over time, Josh Allen will prove to be. It's mostly going the way most of us expected to go, if not a little better than that. There was no question the Bills were going to give him the full amount of time to show whether he deserved a long-term commitment. The Bills having a very good defense, which makes the quarterback's job easier in important ways, is also not surprising. Having a schedule this year remotely tougher (or competent field-goal kicking from a few of their opponents) could have the Bills' record at two or three games worse, in which case we'd be talking sternly about what kind of upside Allen at quarterback really brings. (Another game worse than that still and we've have all those questions from earlier in this article. The line in this league is suuuuuuuper fine.)

Do you want to assume that the Bills, under McDermott and GM Brandon Beane, are so stable and cleaned up now that they should have a good team for years to come? Help yourself, but for me that's far from a given. Consider Baltimore: Their quarterback, Lamar Jackson, is the prohibitive favorite to win the NFL MVP award in only his second season in the league. You might think the Ravens are guaranteed successful seasons for many years. I don't think that's crazy, but there's still too much randomness in the game for me to get there. Injuries can derail you, the variance in schedules, the incredible competition. Maybe Kansas City serves the same purpose here, with last year's NFL MVP in what was only his second season as well.

There is a lot to like about how the Bills' future looks. Some of their strategies have been greatly improved this season. Their pass-to-run ratios have gone up and rank near the top of the league (smart); their willingness to go for it on fourth down, also increased (smart); the faster pace on offense in recent games also provides an advantage that some teams willfully pass on. The Bills of the last, oh, 20 years have been one of those franchises, and perhaps they are one no longer.

Maybe they win a playoff game this year, ending that drought at 24 years, and leave everyone feeling good overall about them. Maybe they draft a stud wide receiver in the 2020 first round. Maybe they land a big-money free agent that reinforces their seriousness about winning.

Maybe. But again, right now it's about the present. Pittsburgh. The future can wait.


AND NOW, a fantasy update.

This feels a little bit like the way people talk about their golf games. If you shoot in the 90s, and especially the 80s, you're nowhere near the pro level but you're actually a pretty good player. But most people on that level tend to downplay their ability to play golf -- because to do the opposite, or in this case to be honest, feels awkward and braggy. (You know. "What's your handicap?" "My game hahaha.")

I played in 14 season-long fantasy leagues this year, not including best-ball leagues in which you make no in-season moves. If I had gotten crushed I know I would have written two or three columns in the last few weeks describing the agony, analyzing to try to figure out why it happened.

Instead, I'm still alive in 10.

Lamar Jackson starts for me in eight semifinal matchups Thursday night. No player has meant more to my success -- or, probably, to anyone else's that has him (including Bulldog in his league, by the way). To win though, you need more than just one stud player. You need some combination of landing smart value in the draft, plus diligent waiver-wire work to help you keep pace when players go down. Sprinkle in a smart trade or two, hoping to capitalize on opponents' situations and weaknesses, also goes a long way. (This was tougher for me this year; I don't know why, maybe people are wary of me. I don't make any offer I think the other person would never agree to. If you have a good team and reach out to a struggling one with an offer that helps you more, hey, it's not a level playing field anymore. My thinking is, you don't have to do this, but you've gotta do something!)

At this point I want to cut back on the number of leagues because it really has consumed me. Every morning I look at rosters and waivers -- including today, with 10 semifinal games to play -- and in doing so I've neglected other aspects of my life. I tell people how many leagues I'm in and they usually reply the same way: How do you do it? The answer is, anyone could do it, but you have to make choices. If you do this, other things you may like or need to do drift away. It seems about every day the first thought I have in the morning is about some random NFL player I must just have been dreaming about. I'm 48 years old, yikes. I may have had the same intentions last year but couldn't resist new challenges, new friends, new opportunities, new formats. We'll see what happens.

Good luck to everybody out there in your playoffs. There's a lot of money and bragging rights on the line. May you not lose your matchups on some fluky last-second lateral play.

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