AFC East: Dick Jauron

Bills venture into the unknown

January, 6, 2013
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The Buffalo Bills interviewed high-profile coaching candidates Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt and Chip Kelly. But they settled on a lesser-known commodity Sunday in former Syracuse University coach Doug Marrone.

Is Marrone the right choice for Buffalo? Expect plenty of early skepticism.

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Is Doug Marrone the right choice for the Bills?

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Marrone would not have been my first pick from the batch we just mentioned. The Bills haven't been to the playoffs since 1999, the NFL's longest drought. Bills fans are a tortured bunch who need a big name to re-energize the fan base.

The Bills failed to make a splash with Marrone, who was only 25-25 at Syracuse. Based on comments I received this past week, nabbing Kelly would have been more appealing to Bills fans if they wanted a college coach.

However, a low-profile hire doesn't always mean it's a bad hire. It simply means the Bills had better be right. Marrone’s .500 record in college and Buffalo’s poor track record with head coaches makes it a risky choice. The Bills will either look smarter than everyone else or dumber than everyone else in two or three years based on Marrone's performance.

You also knew what Smith and Whisenhunt brought to the table. Both coaches led their former teams to the Super Bowl and multiple playoff appearances. This is what Buffalo is striving for as an organization, and there was comfort in taking the safe pick.

But Buffalo took the retread route twice in the past seven years with Dick Jauron and Chan Gailey. Both choices were disasters. So the Bills deserve some credit for trying something different.

The Bills have a seven-to-10-year stadium lease, a new president in Russ Brandon and Marrone as their next head coach. This is truly a new beginning in Buffalo. Marrone will get the next several years to prove he is the right choice for the Bills.

Buffalo’s next step is to hire the best coordinators and assistant coaches available. Marrone has no NFL head-coaching experience, and that transition will go more smoothly with veteran assistants.

The Bills have quality talent on both sides of the football. Buffalo tailback C.J. Spiller is one of the more dynamic players in the NFL and must be used properly in 2013. Buffalo’s next offensive coordinator must make Spiller the focal point.

The Bills’ defense underachieved this past season but has talented players such as Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Stephon Gilmore. The Bills need a defensive coordinator who can maximize their talent.
The Buffalo Bills are interested in former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith and the feeling is mutual. Both sides reportedly will meet this weekend, as Smith will become the most accomplished NFL coach on Buffalo's interview list so far.

Smith
Whether Smith is at the top of Buffalo's wish list remains to be seen. But for Bills fans, the idea of hiring Smith may open up old wounds left by previous head coaches Chan Gailey and Dick Jauron.

Buffalo's last two coaches were NFL "retreads" -- coaches who were fired by one NFL team but given a second chance in Buffalo. Gailey's failed stint with the Dallas Cowboys and Jauron's failed stint with Chicago were warning signs that neither was a good head coach. The Bills took that chance anyway and ruined the past seven seasons for the franchise.

Smith now has that infamous "retread" label after getting fired this week by Chicago. But if you look more deeply at the numbers, Smith is as intriguing a candidate as he is polarizing.

There are plenty of reasons to believe in Smith, such as his 81-63 record, his 6-3 mark in the playoffs, and one Super Bowl appearance. There also are reasons not to believe in Smith, such as his six non-playoff seasons in nine years and his consistently horrendous offenses in Chicago.

How polarizing was Smith in Chicago? Look no further than the fact that he was just fired after a 10-6 season. That rarely happens. But the spectrum of opinions was so wide with Smith that the Bears decided it was best to start over.

There are good NFL retreads and bad NFL retreads. The Bills had a pair of misses recently with Gailey and Jauron. But if Buffalo goes the same retread route this year with a coach like Smith or former Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Bills better get this call correct.

Comparing Gailey, Jauron eras in Buffalo

December, 27, 2012
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The Buffalo Bills may be in line to hire a new head coach in 2013. Embattled coach Chan Gailey is about to complete his third consecutive losing season with the Bills.

This should sound familiar for Bills fans.

Four years ago, former Bills head coach Dick Jauron completed his third straight losing season. Jauron was brought back by owner Ralph Wilson for a fourth season, and it turned out to be a bad decision. Buffalo started 3-6 and Jauron was fired in Year 4. The Bills hired Gailey the following year.

Three years later Gailey is in the same spot as Jauron. Will Gailey get the same opportunity to return in Year 4? Or will the Bills pull the plug after three years?

The case against Gailey is he has a worse coaching record than Jauron after three years. Jauron had three straight seasons of 7-9, which led the Bills to believe they were close to turning the corner and making the playoffs. Gailey's best year is 6-10 in 2011. He may be able to match that record with a win Sunday over the New York Jets in the regular-season finale. Gailey has won six fewer games than Jauron in the same three-year span.

There isn't a strong case to make for Gailey. But one thing going for him is the offense was ranked No. 14 and No. 19 the past two years, despite an erratic quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Jauron's offenses were unwatchably bad, and Gailey has fixed some of those problems. If the Bills can find Gailey the right quarterback next season, the team could perhaps turn around.

Sometimes you have to look to the past to predict the future. The last time Buffalo was in a similar position, Jauron got a fourth year. But it may be a tougher sell providing Gailey that same opportunity in 2013.

Underrated players: AFC East

June, 10, 2011
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NFC Underrated Players: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A team-by-team look at the most underrated players in the division.

Buffalo Bills

Roscoe Parrish, receiver/punt returner: For five years, Parrish practically begged to be thrown the ball. He made the most of his touches, becoming one of the most dangerous punt returners in the NFL and setting franchise records.

[+] EnlargeBuffalo's Roscoe Parrish
Luc Leclerc/US PRESSWIREBills receiver Roscoe Parrish caught 33 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns last season.
But his listed position was wide receiver, and in the Bills' passing game under head coaches Mike Mularkey and Dick Jauron, the undersized Parrish always seemed to be an afterthought.

That changed last year under new coach Chan Gailey. He played just eight games because of a broken wrist, but Parrish caught 33 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns. The yardage was the most of his career. His touchdowns tied a career high. Two more receptions would have matched a career high.

Miami Dolphins

Kendall Langford, defensive end: On a defense with sack master Cameron Wake, the NFL's highest-paid linebacker in Karlos Dansby, franchise-tagged nose tackle Paul Soliai and Pro Bowl defensive end Randy Starks, a guy like Langford can get overlooked.

Langford, a 2008 third-round pick out of Hampton, has been a starter since his rookie season. Last year, after he gained national fame for being the sap who lost a $50,000 earring on the Dolphins' practice field, Langford produced a quality season for one of the NFL's better defenses. He notched 47 tackles, three sacks, six tackles for losses, two forced fumbles and four passes defensed.

Langford is adept at controlling blockers and was a major reason the Dolphins ranked seventh in run defense (100.1 yards per game) and third in average allowed per carry (3.6 yards).

New England Patriots

Gary Guyton, linebacker: Guyton started only eight games at linebacker last season, and half of those were necessitated by Brandon Spikes' four-game suspension. Even so, Guyton made a mark on the Patriots' defense. The undrafted third-year pro from Georgia Tech recorded 63 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), six passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery (returned for another touchdown).

"Gary is someone that fits in our system very well no matter what that role is," Patriots linebackers coach Matt Patricia said during the playoffs. "He's a very [versatile] player for us. He does an excellent job in whatever avenue we ask him to prepare and play. I think he is a guy who is active and plays for us every Sunday, and whatever that role is, he's going to go out and do it to the best of his ability. It’s something that we have a lot of confidence in."

New York Jets

Brandon Moore, right guard: The Jets' offensive line has had remarkable star power over the past few seasons. Nick Mangold is an All-Pro center. Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson went to the Pro Bowl last season. Right tackle Damien Woody has been to the Pro Bowl and owns Super Bowl rings. Alan Faneca, the Jets' left guard in 2008 and 2009, went to nine straight Pro Bowls.

Then there was Moore, an undrafted and often-overlooked workhorse. "Meat," as he's affectionately known by his teammates, has started 105 straight regular-season games. He was a third alternate for the Pro Bowl last year but still hasn't made it to one. In the Jets' locker room, he's respected enough to be a union representative.

"It's a shame that Brandon doesn't get as much of a nod as he deserves," Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said last season. "You'd be hard-pressed to find a better guard than him in all of football."

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 24, 2011
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills went through a defensive overhaul last year under new head coach Chan Gailey and coordinator George Edwards. They morphed from Dick Jauron's 4-3 Tampa 2 scheme to a traditional 3-4 set. The Bills drafted accordingly, but as the season wore on and they failed to stop the run -- they ranked dead last in the league in rushing yards allowed per carry and per game -- they sunk back into a 4-3 mindset and frequently added another defender to the line. They've also hired Dave Wannstedt as assistant head coach and linebackers assistant. Wannstedt is a 4-3 devotee. All of this adds up to the Bills being interested in the best available defenders they can find, regardless of whether or not they fit into a preconceived scheme.

Miami Dolphins

Rightly or wrongly, the Dolphins' offensive identity the past three seasons has been the Wildcat. Those days would appear to be over. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning and quarterbacks coach David Lee (the man who introduced the Wildcat) are gone. Wildcat trigger man Ronnie Brown and speed-motion back Ricky Williams don't have contracts, and both could be on other teams. The one player the Dolphins drafted specifically to enhance the Wildcat, quarterback Pat White, was released after one season. Miami's new offensive identity has yet to be determined under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Nobody can say for sure what he'll be looking for, but the run game must be strengthened. Head coach Tony Sparano said this week the Dolphins will remain a power rushing team. Brown and/or Williams will need to be replaced, and reliable interior linemen must be found.

New England Patriots

The Patriots are the NFL's most flexible club entering the draft. They own two picks in each of the first three rounds and in three of the top 33 slots. Bill Belichick can go any direction he chooses and certainly will have his staff working the phones for trade possibilities. The Patriots have a rich history of trading back to accumulate more picks, but they might be more open to trading up this year. They have decent youth on the roster, so when you consider the possibility of adding six more players drafted no later than the third round -- plus their picks in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds -- you have to wonder if there will be room for them all on the 53-man roster. The glut of picks also allows the Patriots to select the best available player and not fret about specific needs with any given pick.

New York Jets

The Jets made it to the AFC Championship Game again and will draft 30th. Head coach Rex Ryan has playfully groused about the late position and the fact the Jets will have to rummage for the best player still on the board. The Jets drafted cornerback Kyle Wilson 29th last year and immediately named him the team's starting nickelback and punt returner. That didn't work out. Wilson started six games, made 19 tackles, defensed five passes and returned 15 punts. While that negative experience could entice the Jets to return to their usual ways and move up in the draft for a prospect they truly covet -- as they did with cornerback Darrelle Revis, linebacker David Harris and quarterback Mark Sanchez -- an inability to trade players until there's a new collective bargaining agreement might make that difficult.

Gailey calls out first-rounder Aaron Maybin

March, 22, 2011
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MaybinAP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltBills head coach Chan Gailey says 2009 first-round choice Aaron Maybin has "got to get his own fire going."
NEW ORLEANS -- Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey appeared to gather himself when talking about 2009 first-round draft choice Aaron Maybin.

Gailey sat up a little straighter in his chair, cleared his throat, narrowed his eyes and spoke a little more sharply.

He's a straight shooter. And you could almost see Gailey inserting verbal bullets into the revolver.

Gailey delivered strong words Tuesday morning at the NFL coaches' media breakfast, a traditional event during the annual owners meeting. Gailey declared it was put-up-or-shut-up time for Maybin, an alleged edge rusher who "hasn't shown it in practice or in games."

Maybin knows what's expected of him, Gailey insisted. The kid just hasn't done it.

To be clear, I asked whether the failure came down to Maybin not trying hard enough or simply not being good enough.

"I think he wants to. I think he wants to," Gailey said, leaving pauses between each sentence. "He works at it. I'm glad you [asked that]. I don't want anybody to think he doesn't work at it."

Another pause.

So that must mean he's not good enough, I deduced aloud.

Gailey didn't blink.

"I don't want anybody to think he doesn't work at it," Gailey replied with a raised-brow expression that confirmed the unspoken point had found its bull's-eye.

Gailey's frustration is obvious when it comes to Maybin. Bills fans aren't too pleased either.

Maybin, the 11th overall selection in 2009, has started one NFL game. He was selected to chase quarterbacks, yet has zero sacks. Other prospects still on the draft board when the Bills took Maybin included Brian Orakpo and Clay Matthews.

The Bills were enamored with Maybin's one good season at Penn State. He didn't become Joe Paterno's starter at left defensive end until the third game but recorded 12 sacks and 20 tackles for losses. Maybin was named an All-American and was one of three finalists for the Bednarik Award.

"We all know his speed," Gailey said. "He tried to get bigger as the season went on to handle the run better. But it's more than just getting bigger."

Maybin entered the draft with two years of eligibility left. His game hasn't translated.

Since Maybin entered the NFL, 797 players have recorded at least a half-sack. Of that group, 132 weren't drafted.

"I don't think I've lit very many fires," Gailey said. "We might provide a spark, but he's got to get his own fire going.

"He's got to understand where he is. I always talk to guys about 'This is where we are. This is where we want to be, and this is how we get there.' Individually, guys have got to do that. 'This is where I am. This is where I want to be. Now, how do I get there?'

"We tell him all the time how to get there. He's got to do it. Talking's over. You've got to go get it done."

Maybin was a healthy scratch fives times last year, watching in street clothes. The Bills credited him with four solo tackles. So he must have competed on special teams, right? No, he had zero tackles there.

Bills general manager Buddy Nix said at the NFL scouting combine last month the Bills won't cut Maybin. Nix insisted they will find a way to use him somehow, somewhere.

What Maybin might have going for him is he has considerable room to mature. He turns 23 in two weeks. His progress was stunted by missing his entire rookie training camp, eventually signing a five-year deal worth as much as $25 million. He quickly needed to absorb Dick Jauron's 4-3 defensive system and then had to switch to 3-4 outside linebacker last year under new defensive coordinator George Edwards.

"Right now all it is is potential because he hasn't shown it in practice or in games," Gailey said. "He's got to understand about pass-rush. He's got to understand about leverage and changing direction and not running past the quarterback and all those little things that go into a great pass-rusher's feel for beating an offensive tackle and getting to the passer. He's got to be a better special-teams player. He's got to be better versus the run."

That pretty much covers it.

Titans eyeballing former Bills head coaches

February, 2, 2011
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Should Dick Jauron be sitting next to his phone?

He might want to be on the lookout for a 615 area code on his caller ID.

The Tennessee Titans apparently are gathering former Buffalo Bills head coaches for a job fair.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter report the Titans plan to interview ex-Bills head coaches Mike Mularkey and Gregg Williams for their head vacancy.

The Titans have received permission from the Atlanta Falcons to interview Mularkey, their offensive coordinator. The Titans already have scheduled a Thursday interview with Williams, the New Orleans Saints' defensive coordinator.

Multiple sources also report the Titans plan to meet with New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who served as Buffalo's interim head coach in 2009.

Jauron is the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator now, but why not interview him for a promotion, too?

Mularkey and Williams haven't been head coaches since they left the Bills.

They also are Buffalo's last two head coaches to post non-losing records.

Williams went 17-31 in three seasons. His best year was 8-8 in 2003. He was fired and replaced with Mularkey in 2004.

Mularkey then guided Buffalo to its only winning season in the past 11 years, a 9-7 record and one game out of the playoffs.

Mularkey went 5-11 in his second season and resigned in a bizarre sequence of events. The Bills fired president Tom Donahoe and brought in former coach Marv Levy as general manager. The Bills held a news conference to announce Mularkey would be retained as head coach, but later that day he announced his resignation.

How I See It: AFC East Stock Watch

December, 29, 2010
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills quarterback: Bills fans have been debating the merits of sticking with Fitzpatrick as their franchise quarterback or drafting a prospect. Sunday's meltdown against the Patriots would favor new blood. Fitzpatrick committed five turnovers -- three interceptions and two fumbles. The Patriots turned his first three giveaways into 21 points and romped.

2. Jets' run defense: It took a statistical review a few days after the fact to drop Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall below 100 yards rushing against the Jets two weeks ago. He would have been the first to hit the century mark against the Jets since Nov. 15, 2009. Their streak remained intact for that week only because Bears running back Matt Forte rushed for 113 yards (5.9 average) and one touchdown Sunday.

3. Davone Bess, Dolphins receiver: He's still one of the Dolphins' top players, but his second-half production hasn't measured up to his hot start or the lucrative contract extension he signed in October. That's the definition of a slumping stock. Bess caught his first touchdown pass since Week 7 on a tipped ball that should have been intercepted. He also fumbled a punt return the Lions converted into a field goal and fell down to allow Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy to intercept and score the winning touchdown in a late fourth-quarter collapse that might cost people their jobs.

RISING

[+] EnlargeShonn Greene
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireShonn Greene helped get the Jets' running game back on track Sunday.
1. Chances for another AFC East coaching change: We could be following an AFC East head coaching search for the eighth straight year. The Dolphins would appear primed for change after a dull and disappointing season that can be described as mediocre at best. The Dolphins began the year with Super Bowl aspirations and went 1-7 at Sun Life Stadium. They lost to the Browns, Bills and Lions in their final three home games. It's pretty easy to see Tony Sparano joining Dick Jauron, Eric Mangini, Cam Cameron, Nick Saban, Mike Mularkey, Herm Edwards, Dave Wannstedt and Gregg Williams as AFC East head coaches who either were fired or stepped down since the 2003 season.

2. Shonn Greene, Jets running back: The Jets couldn't find a better time to get their torpid rushing attack in gear. Greene ran 12 times for 70 yards and his first touchdown in 10 games Sunday against the Bears. Greene's 5.8-yard average was his highest of the season.

3. Gary Guyton, Patriots linebacker: He continues to shine while Brandon Spikes is suspended for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Guyton had a strip-sack and two passes defensed in Sunday's victory over the Bills. Over the past seven weeks he has three sacks, an interception, five passes defensed and a fumble return for a touchdown.

Buffalo loses Parrish, Davis for the year

November, 8, 2010
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One player forward, two players back.

Parrish
Parrish
Davis
Davis
The Buffalo Bills made a move last week that should improve their team, claiming Shawne Merriman off waivers. But on Monday they placed two starters on season-ending injured reserve, weakening both sides of the ball.

The Bills lost important receiver Roscoe Parrish to a broken wrist and starting inside linebacker Andra Davis to a nagging shoulder injury.

Parrish suffered his injury late in Sunday's 22-19 loss to the Chicago Bears in Toronto. He leaped high to catch a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass along the sideline and came down awkwardly while trying to stay inbounds.

Parrish will be difficult to replace. After getting mothballed by previous coach Dick Jauron, Parrish was having a breakout season as a receiver. Through eight games, he had 33 receptions (two short of his career-high) for 400 yards (most of his career) and two touchdowns (tying his career-high). His catches and yards ranked second on the team behind Steve Johnson.

"You don't just replace guys that have been that productive," Bills coach Chan Gailey said, "but it's an opportunity for somebody else to step up. Donald Jones will jump into the fray and we'll see what he can do."

Jones is an undrafted rookie out of Youngstown State. He has played in every game but didn't make his first catch until Sunday.

Davis was hurt in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins and couldn't recover. He played in six games, starting four. Davis had 42 tackles, including one for a loss and Buffalo's only interception this year.

Akin Ayodele started in Davis' usual spot Sunday.

Vote yay or nay on Proposition Head Coach

November, 2, 2010
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In honor of election day, don't forget to vote in SportsNation's NFL head coach approval ratings.

The polls are open all week, every week. But early returns show most AFC East fans seem decently satisfied with their men in headsets.

Rex Ryan is the exception this week. Although the New York Jets are 5-2, their home shutout loss after a bye week isn't sitting well with fans. Ryan's approval rating was 44 percent late Tuesday afternoon. He pulled down a 79 percent last week and posted a season-best 86 percent after Week 4.

Bill Belichick has guided the New England Patriots to a 6-1 record and has generated an 89 percent approval rating. Belichick is second only to Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz at 92 percent.

Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano is tied for 10th at 77 percent. Sparano is a popular figure in South Florida, but a lack of touchdowns and too many field goals is keeping his number down.

Even winless Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey is receiving more favorable feedback than Ryan these days. Gailey's approval rating is at a season-high 53 percent after Bills went into overtime on the road two straight weeks.

BuffaloRumblings.com conducts its own approval ratings by the month for Gailey and general manager Buddy Nix.

Gailey closed out October with a 30 percent approval rating after. He finished September at 91 percent and August at 88 percent because of a hopeful training camp and preseason. Nix was at 27 percent for October, his first month under 73 percent since when he was hired.

In case you were wondering, Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress was at 5 percent in the SportsNation poll as of this posting. Childress is overseeing a fiasco with the decision to waive Randy Moss and the Brett Favre ordeal. But Childress still is a point better than Dick Jauron was for the Bills last year.

Could a UFL team really beat the Bills?

October, 21, 2010
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Bill FansAP Photo/ David DupreyIt's been a tough season in Buffalo, where there are whispers of a possible 0-16 season by the Bills.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny laughed, but he wasn't happy to hear the question.

He kept chuckling throughout his response, although it was obvious by the tone in his voice and the look in his eyes that the topic agitated him.

How close would the game be if the Bills played the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League?

"That's saying that we're minor-league, that a minor-league team could compete with us," said Posluszny, perched on a stool at his locker stall Thursday morning. "The thing that makes me mad is we put ourselves in this situation.

Duante Culpepper
AP Photo/Rich PedroncelliThe UFL has several former NFL players, like Sacramento Mountain Lions QB Daunte Culpepper.
"If we're winning games or competitive, then you're not talking to me about this. But it's our fault. It's my fault. I can't blame you or Las Vegas. We've got to fix it."

The Bills are winless through five games and have played so poorly they're already being talked about as a legitimate candidate to finish the season 0-16. They've surrendered at least 30 points in four straight games, something that never had been done in franchise history.

The trend will be difficult to alter Sunday. The Bills will visit the Baltimore Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium.

For much of the season, the Bills have been out of their league.

Some in the UFL, a five-team league comprised of many former NFL players hoping to extend their careers, believe they would have a shot to beat Buffalo.

"I don't think we could compete with the upper two-thirds of the NFL," Locomotives head coach Jim Fassel said. "The lower-echelon teams, I think it would be an excellent game."

Hartford Colonials quarterback Josh McCown, who spent eight years in the NFL, predicted: "It would be fun to watch. I know one thing: There'd be a lot more pressure on Buffalo than there would be on Las Vegas. There'd be some good give and take."

With that in mind, I asked Las Vegas Sports Consultants, the oddsmaking firm that supplies the numbers for about 75 percent of Nevada's legal sportsbooks, to provide a legitimate spread for the Bills and Locomotives.

The Bills would be favored by 10.5 points on a neutral field.

That's a comfortable margin and not necessarily a true reflection of the difference in class between teams from different leagues. Spreads factor all sorts of game situations, and this number was tempered to account for the likelihood the Bills would outclass the Locomotives early and manage the clock for much of the contest.

"If Buffalo needed to win by four touchdowns and their lives depended on it, they probably could do it," Las Vegas Sports Consultants senior oddsmaker Mike Seba said. "But that's not usually the way it goes down."

Most notable about the spread for this fictional game isn't that the Bills are favored, but the number itself.

Nine NFL games, three of them involving the Bills, have featured a spread larger than 10.5 points so far this season. The Bills are 13-point underdogs Sunday against the Ravens, were 14.5-point underdogs to the New England Patriots in Week 3 and 12.5-point underdogs to the Green Bay Packers in Week 2.

Those numbers indicate the Bills are closer to the UFL than they are to the best NFL teams.

"Even though the Bills might be having a tough time, they're still the NFL," said Daunte Culpepper, the former Pro Bowl quarterback now playing for the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions. "I don't think anybody should overlook that. Those players are in the NFL for a reason."

Culpepper has heard this kind of barroom and message-board banter before.

He started five games for the Detroit Lions in 2008. That team became the first in NFL history to go 0-16. People wondered if the USC team that featured Mark Sanchez would give the Lions trouble.

But Culpepper wasn't totally dismissive of the Locomotives' chances against the Bills.

"I've played in the NFL, and I've played in the UFL. The competition is there," Culpepper said. "The ability and the level of play is there. The NFL is the best of the best, but there's only about 1,500 jobs in the NFL. There's more than 1,500 guys that can play at the NFL level."

UFL investor Mark Cuban pointed out the NFL is comprised of younger talent, but because of salary-cap issues and veteran minimum salaries, teams rarely fill out their rosters with the best 53 players available to them. That leaves plenty of NFL-caliber veterans out of work.

Cuban knows a little about sports business. He owns the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and has tried to add Major League Baseball to his portfolio. He nearly purchased the Texas Rangers this year.

"You can argue skill positions may be better in the NFL, but you can't argue experience," Cuban said. "The UFL rosters from the bottom up are far more experienced than the Bills are."

NFL teams are reluctant to take chances on veterans as they accrue experience. A player with four to six seasons in the NFL makes a minimum salary of $630,000. Players with seven to nine seasons must be paid at least $755,000.

The average 53-man NFL active roster had 15.7 players who are 24 or younger as of Wednesday, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The winless Carolina Panthers had 27 players in that category. The Bills had 17.

Three of the UFL's five teams had nine or fewer players age 24 or under. The Locomotives had nine on their roster. The Florida Tuskers had two.

"People are afraid to take a five-year vested veteran and pay him the minimum and get the risk that he might get injured," Fassel said. "There's no question that adds up. All you need is five or six guys get hurt and that's $5 million in your cap."

Many NFL clubs don't spend anywhere near to the salary cap anyway. They commonly save money on their reserve players.

"It's not just Buffalo. It's every team," Cuban said. "The balance of talent versus cost versus winning is not an easy one to create. Sure, some teams may spend more than the Bills, but they all go through the same decision process."

As a result, the UFL can field bona-fide players at positions such as quarterback and running back and stock their coaching staffs with NFL-weathered coaches. Fassel, for instance, guided the New York Giants to a Super Bowl XXXV appearance 10 seasons ago.

Last year, Fassel won the UFL's inaugural championship game with former Bills quarterback J.P. Losman. At the time, I got a strong impression Bills fans gladly would've traded their coach-quarterback combo of Dick Jauron and Trent Edwards for Fassel and Losman.

Still, the consensus, even among the most ardent UFL supporters, is the Bills probably would beat the Locomotives handily.

"I have a lot of respect for those guys," Bills running back Fred Jackson said. He came up through the minors as a low-level arena player and then NFL Europa. "I know there's a lot of talent in those leagues. But this is the National Football League. This is the best of the best. I've got to believe with my whole heart it would be a one-sided affair."

There are no guarantees, though, and that's why this fictional game never would take place. It would be all risk, no reward for the NFL.

The last time a "minor league" was granted such an opportunity was in 1961, when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the more established Canadian Football League beat the fledgling American Football League's Bills in a preseason game.

"As a player for an NFL team, obviously it bothers us that's even a conversation out there," Posluszny said, "that we're playing so bad right now that people think a UFL team can compete with us because they can't.

"Once again, we're 0-5. We haven't proved to anybody that we're a big-time team. It's troubling to us because we're an NFL football team and we should be able to act like it and play like it and win games."

Do you approve of your head coach so far?

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
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I've held off on posting weekly results from the SportsNation's NFL head coach approval ratings until we had a healthy sample of games.

More than a quarter into the season seems like long enough.

Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick lead the AFC East and are tied for 11th overall with tepid 76 percent approval ratings. Of course, they're also coaches who are despised by opposing fans, and those votes get thrown into the hopper, too.

Ryan's rating actually dipped after Monday night's victory against the Minnesota Vikings. He reached a season-best 86 percent after crushing the Buffalo Bills in Ralph Wilson Stadium a week earlier, but he's down 10 points from that.

Belichick has been on a steady climb since bottoming out at 53 percent with a loss to the New York Jets in Week 2. Even with a bye and the controversial trade of receiver Randy Moss, Belichick's rating went up six points this week.

Dolfans have loved Tony Sparano since he became their coach in 2008, but his ratings have dropped three straight weeks, something that has happened only once before in this poll. He never has slipped four weeks in a row. Sparano currently is at 69 percent.

The thrill of newness has worn off for Bills fans with Chan Gailey. His approval rating this week is 17 percent. That's not nearly Dick Jauron territory, and Gailey is comfortably above rock bottom as long as lighting rods such as Wade Phillips (7 percent), Mike Singletary (13 percent) and Brad Childress (14 percent) are still employed.

Gailey's peak so far this year was after a respectable effort against the New England Patriots in Week 3.

Dolphins among NFL's youngest, biggest

September, 18, 2010
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For the second straight season, the Miami Dolphins opened with one of the NFL's least experienced teams.

The NFL this week released its annual demographics report from Week 1 rosters.

The average Dolphin had 3.47 seasons of experience, lowest in the AFC and second-lowest in the league. They carried 13 rookies or first-year players, tied for third in the NFL. They have only four players who are 30 or older, fewest in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeChad Pennington
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireThirty four-year-old Chad Pennington is one of the elder statesmen of the Dolphins.
Just one of their 30-year-old players is a starter: safety Yeremiah Bell. The others are quarterback Chad Pennington, running back Ricky Williams and long-snapper John Denney.

The only teams greener in any of those categories are the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

By contrast, the Cleveland Browns had 18 players who were 30 or older. The Pittsburgh Steelers had 17.

Not much else stands out from this year's annual report in the AFC East, but there are some interesting notes compared to last year.

The New England Patriots had the NFL's oldest roster last year with an average age of 27.19 years. They dropped to 26.34 years old this year. That makes them slightly younger than the NFL average. Lowering the Patriots' average age were 13 rookies or first-year players, tying them with the Dolphins for third in the league.

The Patriots and the New York Jets, however, have three times as many thirtysomethings as the Dolphins.

Around the NFL, teams averaged 26.45 years, 4.35 seasons of experience and 10.5 rookies or first-year players.

Only one club was slimmer than the Buffalo Bills last year. Their average weight was 240.79 pounds mainly because former head coach Dick Jauron liked mobile defenders for his Tampa 2 defense and valued defensive backs.

Under new head coach Chan Gailey, the Bills have switched to a 3-4 defense and bulked up. Their average weight on opening day was 246.81 pounds. They had 13 players who weighed 300 pounds or more, tying them for sixth in the league.

The Dolphins had the second-heaviest club last year at 251.38 pounds, reflective of Bill Parcells' longstanding attitude that bigger is better. They actually got bigger this year, averaging 253.62 pounds, but dropped to third behind Parcells' previous team, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Baltimore Ravens (by two-one hundredths of a pound).

Rapid Reaction: Dolphins 15, Bills 10

September, 12, 2010
9/12/10
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Miami Dolphins opened the season with a 15-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Here's a quick overview.

What it means: Both teams raised more questions than delivered answers. The Dolphins clearly were the better team, but their inability to pull away from an opponent that struggled all day should be disconcerting. The Dolphins dictated on defense for the most part, but on fourth-and-11 from their own 31-yard line, they yielded a 31-yard scoring strike from Trent Edwards to Roscoe Parrish with 5:13 left in the game.

What I liked: The Dolphins successfully played a ball-control game and were dominant on defense despite not having inside linebacker Channing Crowder (groin) and outside linebacker Ikaika Alama-Francis (illness). The Dolphins held the Bills to 166 total yards. The Dolphins had the ball nearly 14 minutes longer than the Bills did.

The Dolphins had a balanced offense. Ronnie Brown rushed for 65 yards. Ricky Williams rushed for 62 yards. Brandon Marshall had eight receptions for 53 yards. Davone Bess had six catches for 51 yards.

Parrish was a weapon for the Bills. Previous coach Dick Jauron rarely used Parrish in the offense and stripped him of return duties. Parrish finished with two receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown and had a 19-yard punt return.

What I didn't like: Bills coach Chan Gailey raved about his three running backs, but none of them cracked 20 yards against the swarming Dolphins' defense. Rookie C.J. Spiller ran six times for 7 yards. Edwards was third in rushing yards with 12 yards. The Bills were intent to throw, and that seemingly was just fine with the Dolphins.

The Dolphins, who have constantly tinkered with their offensive line, were shaky in pass protection against a team that overhauled its defense and was banged up. The Bills sacked Chad Henne three times.

Unsung hero: Brandon Fields dropped a punt on the Bills' 1-yard line with 1:48 to play and the Dolphins clinging to a 3-point lead.

Injuries of note: The Bills lost inside linebacker Paul Posluszny early in the third quarter to a knee injury. Despite missing four games last year, he led the Bills with 115 tackles. Posluszny has a checkered medical history. He played only three games his rookie season because of a broken forearm. He broke his arm again in last year's season opener. A prolonged recovery would be a crushing blow for Buffalo, who lost top backup inside linebacker Kawika Mitchell for the season to a foot injury.

What's next: The Dolphins begin a brutal stretch of games next week with the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome. That game is followed by five playoff opponents over the next six games, with the Pittsburgh Steelers the exception. The Bills play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

Halftime observations from Dolphins-Bills

September, 12, 2010
9/12/10
2:24
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Some quick first-half thoughts from Ralph Wilson Stadium, where the Miami Dolphins lead the Buffalo Bills 10-3 at the break:
  • Miami's big-ticket newcomers, receiver Brandon Marshall and linebacker Karlos Dansby, have influenced the game greatly. Marshall has six receptions for 44 yards. Dansby has been credited unofficially with five tackles and a sack to end Buffalo's opening possession.
  • Dolfans better hope this isn't a regular occurrence. With about four minutes to go until halftime, Brandon Marshall broke free behind cornerback Leodis McKelvin. Chad Henne undrethrew Marshall, who dropped what should have been about a 40-yard gain.
  • Henne is 13 of 18 for 128 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions.
  • Trent Edwards is 6 of 10 for 35 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions.
  • After talking up the fact he had three starting-caliber running backs, Bills coach Chan Gailey opened the game intent to pass, with a no-tight end, four-receiver set (counting rookie C.J. Spller) and Fred Jackson in the backfield. Fans booed the Bills' offense with 5:22 left in the first quarter.
  • The Bills didn't emphasize the run until the second quarter, and it worked. On one drive, Marshawn Lynch had a 15-yard run, and Jackson had a 9-yard run. The drive ended with a 51-yard Rian Lindell field goal.
  • Previous head coach Dick Jauron probably doesn't try to kick from that long. He never showed much faith in Lindell. Gailey obviously likes him and sent him on the field for an unsuccessful 63-yard try at the end of the first half.
  • Miami's Pro Bowl kicker, Dan Carpenter, missed from 46 yards late in the first half.
  • Buffalo has had problems stopping Miami on third and long. Miami has two third-and-10 plays.
  • Bills safety Jairus Byrd has been used in obvious passing situations only. The Pro Bowler has been slowed by his recurring groin injury.
  • There was a half-hearted union salute before kickoff. A smattering of players from either sideline imitated Thursday night's index-finger-in-the-air gesture from Thursday night's game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints in the Superdome.

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