Commentary

Hope for the hopeless

The Lions and Bills haven't reached the playoffs since 1999, but that could change

Originally Published: September 15, 2011
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

As unpredictable as the NFL has been over the years, some things have been very predictable.

Such as, the Buffalo Bills would not make the playoffs.

And the Detroit Lions would not make the playoffs.

Each would fall short, usually way short. It has happened every season since 1999.

Buffalo and Detroit have gone 11 consecutive seasons without making the playoffs, tied for the longest postseason drought in the NFL. While time has moved on, the Bills and Lions hadn't.

But after Buffalo won decisively at Kansas City and Detroit won convincingly at Tampa Bay, the two teams already have emerged as candidates to be some of this season's biggest surprises.

It is, in large part, because of their quarterbacks. On Sunday, Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick and Detroit's Matthew Stafford registered two of the four highest Total Quarterback Ratings in ESPN's new quarterback grading system. Fitzpatrick led the NFL with a 91.2, and Stafford finished fourth with an 87.4, with only Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and New England's Tom Brady between them.

Now, even though it is only one week, it's not too early to think ahead. Buffalo plays its home opener against Oakland, which sets up the idea that the Bills could be 2-0 before hosting the New England Patriots in Week 3. Detroit hosts Kansas City and hopes to win its sixth straight game, including the four it won to close out last season.

It's intriguing to contemplate the possibilities for Buffalo and Detroit because, for now, there's hope for two franchises that have had little of it.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
Tim Heitman/US PresswireTony Romo's struggles in Week 1 sparked a firestorm of criticism on Twitter.
1. Give Romo a break. For a while Sunday night, when he was 20-of-27 for 309 yards and two touchdowns, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo shredded the Jets. Then, minutes later, after he lost a fumble and threw an interception, Romo got shredded on Twitter. He began trending worldwide, the way Jay Cutler did after a knee injury knocked him out of January's NFC Championship Game. Romo was blitzed from everywhere.

• @TheBillWalton: Cowboys-Jets: After missing much of 2010, Tony Romo is back in postseason form by engineering a 4th qtr collapse LeBron would be proud of.

• @NYPost_Hubbuch: Are we sure Tony Romo isn't just Brett Favre in disguise? The stupid fumbles and interceptions are uncannily Favre-like.

• @johnraser: Tony Romo is such a patriot. He did that for NYC.

• @thatsean: Mark Sanchez sent Tony Romo a text saying, "Thanks homie, I owe you one."

It's an example of how quickly our society sounds off and how mean-spirited Twitter can be. Romo is a good quarterback who played to a bad ending. Some, but not all, forgot that. Among all the biting tweets, there was one more reasonable one.

• @Cittyboy: Overreaction Mondays after week 1. Cam Newton is the greatest rookie QB ever, the Steelers are terrible & Tony Romo is a choke artist.

Let's see what 16 more weeks of football have in store -- starting Sunday when Romo gets his next chance, at San Francisco.

2. The Chargers' not-so-special teams. San Diego's special teams can't catch a break. Opposing teams have not missed a field goal against the Chargers in 29 straight preseason, postseason and regular-season games, a streak that dates to Dec. 13, 2009, when then-Cowboys kicker Nick Folk missed a 42-yard field goal. Since then, opposing kickers have attempted 33 field goals against the Chargers and made every one.

3. Vick sideshow unimportant in Atlanta. Heading into Sunday night's game, the focus and headlines will be squarely on Michael Vick's return to Atlanta with the Eagles. But that storyline will only help mask the Falcons' issues. Since finishing the 2010 regular season with an NFC-best 13-3 record, the Falcons have lost their past two games -- to the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs and the Chicago Bears in the season opener -- by a combined score of 78-33. In those two games, the Falcons had 23 offensive possessions that resulted in eight punts, seven turnovers, three touchdowns, two field goals, one turnover on downs and the end of the half or game twice. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan doesn't lose much at home, so getting back to Atlanta is the perfect antidote. But Atlanta has work to do.

4. Just give 'em a chance. Some players shine because of their talent, but for others, all it takes is an opportunity. When tight end Scott Chandler played with the Chargers, Cowboys and Giants, he rarely got the type of chances he did for Buffalo in Week 1, when he caught five passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns. It's not all that different for Redskins defensive tackle Chris Neild, the second-to-last pick in April's draft but a player who forced his way onto the field and produced four tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and one tackle for loss. While Chandler and Neild shined, nine of the 32 first-round picks from April didn't even play. Every year, there's a Kurt Warner or a Tom Brady or another player who shines as much because of his opportunity as his talent. Entering Sunday, few fans knew Chandler and Neild. That's no longer the case.

5. Turning winners into losers. This space has harped on the surprises that football provides. Not surprisingly, it happened again Sunday. Five teams that won their divisions last season -- the Steelers, Colts, Chiefs, Falcons and Seahawks -- were blown out by a combined score of 173-50. It's why football is just like the warning that comes along with mutual funds: Past performance is no guarantee of future success.

6. Beware the numbers. Here's the ultimate example of how numbers lie: In a game in which the Colts were obliterated by the Texans, Kerry Collins threw for 197 yards and moved into 10th place on the all-time passing yards list, 87 passing yards ahead of … Joe Montana. Collins has thrown for 40,638 yards to Montana's 40,551. Collins also has 399 more career passing yards than Johnny Unitas (40,239). So, even if this season goes the way it appears likely to, once Collins settles into retirement, he always can proclaim that he finished his NFL career with more passing yards than Montana and Unitas.

7. Let the comparisons begin. Speaking of all-time quarterbacks and gaudy numbers, Hall of Fame quarterbacks once rang up some impressive numbers. The most yards Fran Tarkenton ever threw for in a game was 407; Jim Kelly had 403, Terry Bradshaw 364 and Bart Starr 321. Yet, in his first NFL start, on the road no less, Panthers No. 1 pick Cam Newton threw for 422 yards, tying Stafford for the most yards a rookie has thrown for in a game. Newton clearly left his mark on the game and the Cardinals. "Cam will be special in this league," a Cardinals coach texted after the game. "Remember what they called Steve McNair? Air McNair? He reminds me of a bigger one. He will be special." But before he's special, he first must play the Packers on Sunday, one of the toughest assignments any young quarterback can have.

8. Rematches galore. Last week, comedian and avid Steelers fan Seth Meyers sent a tweet pointing out that Pittsburgh will have three Super Bowl rematches this season, starting Sunday against Seattle and continuing later this season with the Cardinals and Rams. Meyers also wondered whether it had happened before. Turns out playing three Super Bowl opponents in one season is not as rare as it would seem. In 2009, Denver played Dallas, Washington and the Giants. In 2007, Green Bay played Denver, Kansas City and Oakland. Also in 2007, Buffalo played Dallas, Washington and the Giants. But what an aging Pittsburgh team is trying to make equally rare is becoming the first Super Bowl loser since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to win the Super Bowl after losing it the previous season.

[+] EnlargeLuke McCown
Howard Smith/US Presswire Luke McCown is in for a major payday after replacing David Garrard as the Jaguars' QB.
9. Show me the money. When Jacksonville released David Garrard, it turned out to be something of a financial windfall for Luke McCown, the Jaguars' new starting quarterback. McCown cashed in on a $262,000 bonus in his contract for being active for the Jaguars' first game of the season. Plus, McCown will get an additional $18,000 for each game he's active, which means he could earn up to another $288,000 if he's active for each of Jacksonville's 16 games. McCown also has playing-time incentives that are more attainable with Garrard's departure. McCown will receive $250,000 if he plays in at least 35 percent of the Jaguars' plays this season, $500,000 if he plays in at least 45 percent, $750,000 if he plays in at least 55 percent or $1 million if he plays in at least 65 percent. By starting Sunday, McCown collected $280,000 in bonuses and took a step toward his potential playing-time bonus.

10. Dishing out leftovers. New England has become a virtual farm team for the rest of the league. Twelve players who were in camp with the Patriots this summer were on the opening day rosters of other teams. The roll call of Patriots who have found work on other teams after New England got rid of them: Ty Warren (Denver), Brandon Meriweather (Chicago), James Sanders (Atlanta), Darius Butler (Carolina), Jonathan Wilhite (Denver), Brandon Tate (Cincinnati), Thomas Austin (Houston), Mark LeVoir (Baltimore), Lee Smith, Will Yeatman (Miami), Steve Maneri (Kansas City), Ricky Brown (Oakland). It's hard to imagine that any team ever has produced so many players for so many teams in one summer. They might as well be the Pawtucket Patriots.

The Schef's specialties

•  Game of the week: Philadelphia at Atlanta -- Heard something about some quarterback going back to some city; sounds interesting.

•  Player of the week: Shonn Greene -- Jets get back to ground-and-pound.

•  Upset of the week: Miami over Houston -- Having lost 10 of their past 11 at home, Dolphins can't make it 11 of 12, can they?

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.