The 2017 Bills — built like a tank

With the new season just 11 days away, I am sure many of this blog’s readers have been anxiously waiting for my annual review of the Buffalo Bills. Well, here it is.
After 17 playoff-less seasons, it seems appropriate that your average Bills fan has become somewhat jaded. We were spoiled by that multi-year playoff run in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and particularly the four Super Bowl years. But alas, that was a quarter century ago!   We are forced to console ourselves with the thought that at least the Bills have been to four Super Bowls. The fans in Detroit, Cleveland, Houston and Jacksonville have yet to experience their first Super Bowl.

17 years is a long time. We’ve gone through three presidents in that time. Nobody even gave a passing glance at Donald Trump the last time the Bills were in the playoffs.

Consider these contrasts:

1999                                                                     2017

Bill Clinton                                                      Donald Trump

Bill Clinton facing impeachment         Trump facing impeachment or 25th Amendment

Balanced federal budget                             Large deficits

The Sabres in the Stanley Cup finals        The Sabres in nearly last place

The Bills in the playoffs                              The Bills in mediocre-ville

Since 1999, of course, Buffalo’s favorite team to hate, the New England Patriots, has won five Super Bowls. New England has had one head coach in the past 17 years.

Side note: both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have New England Super Bowl rings via owner Bob Kraft. Kraft recently gave the $36,000 ring to Trump; Putin sort of stole it from Kraft, who only handed it to Vlad to look at. Presidents can legally only accept gifts valued at $375 or less, so we don’t know whether or not Trump is violating the law by taking his ring. Why would we ever assume that Donald Trump would violate the law?

Playoffs or not, life goes on. The climate and community attitude in Buffalo have improved over the past 17 years. Progress has been made. Places like Canalside and Larkinville are thriving.

But nothing good has been happening on the football field. The team this year hired its tenth head coach and its seventh general manager since 1999. I, for one, am not prepared to get excited about anything that new head coach Sean McDermott or new general manager Brandon Beane has done or might do. SHOW ME!

The team has traded a potentially super star receiver who never lived up to the hype, plus a cornerback who showed some potential. They let a decent running back head off to New England – another one, like Chris Hogan last season, offered up to the great Belichick.

Prior to this year’s training camp I thought that the Bills would settle into their comfort-zone standing with a season record somewhere between 7 wins and 9 losses and 9 wins and 7 losses. Good enough to show some respectability but not playoff potential; not bad enough, however, to get a good draft choice next year.

In the third pre-season game last Saturday starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor went down with a concussion, as did third stringer T.J. Yates. Was that EJ Manuel spotted at the airport on Sunday?

I also forgot that the team’s ownership has worked hard developing an ability to tank a team – to lose enough to get a good draft choice – in a different sport.

My current guess for the 2017 season: 5 and 11.

The trades the team made last year and this year leave them in 2018 with two draft choices in each of the first three rounds, something that could help produce a “franchise quarterback.” Yes, finally.

But then I think about the lowly Cleveland Browns. Over the past four years the Browns have had eight first round draft choices. Eight! They took that largesse and went 1 and 15 last year after a 3 and 13 season the previous year. Who can ever forget Johnny Manziel?

So don’t get too excited about how the Bills might prosper in 2018. We don’t really know how good McDermott and Beane might turn out to be. The team has a long history of incompetent people in those positions. And then there is the NFL role model of Cleveland (and some other teams that can’t fight their way out of a paper bag) regardless of the draft choices they select.

I haven’t watched five minutes of the first three exhibition games this year, and I don’t see much point to looking at the last one scheduled for tomorrow evening. As a former 28-year season ticketholder I think fondly of the idea that I paid real money to see such games in the past. Turning off the television is such a more reasonable and inexpensive option.

A friend recently explained to me how he has come to view the Bills. He says it is like watching a TV series that you find interesting, but not something you get emotionally wrapped up in. Watch the show for three hours this week. Turn it off. Watch next week’s show, and so on. The sun will come up tomorrow regardless of how the show turns out. Most television shows, like most football games, are less than memorable.

That seems to me to be a very reasonable approach to the 2017 Buffalo Bills season. Watch the games like episodes of Chicago Med or The Big Bang Theory. Or spend time with your kids or take a walk on Sunday afternoon. It’s not worth any more commitment or energy than that. And remember, the Sabres 2017-18 schedule starts just a month after the Bills season begins. Enjoy!