I’m not normally a guy who bets on football, but I did see the betting line for the Bills this week – Bills favored by 2 points, on the road in Jacksonville. That kind of surprised me – Jacksonville’s defense ranked 19th against the pass and 30th while Buffalo’s offense is 29th in passing but 4th in rushing – looked to me that the Bills should have a sizable advantage running the ball. For its part, Jacksonville’s offense ranked 29th on the ground vs. the Bills 7th ranked rush defense and 26th ranked pass offense vs. Buffalo’s 6th ranked pass defense – again, noticeable advantage to Buffalo.
Going into the game the Jaguars were without Maurice Jones-Drew, their leading rusher, and Cecil Shorts, their leading receiver. Obviously this was a favorable matchup for the Bills.
Here’s the funny thing about betting lines – they’re not set to tell you who should win the game and by how much – they are set to balance the betting ledgers and even out the sides taken by the betting public. The lines didn’t say the Bills would win by two points – it said that half the bettors felt the Bills would win by 2 points and half felt they would not.
The betting line also tells me that no matter how favorable matchup the Bills have on paper, not too many people are high on a 4-9 football team on the road in December. Bettors usually aren’t stupid – they know the Bills are in their normal place this time of year – playing out the schedule with an eye on the draft. For me it seemed shocking – call me a homer, but in my view the Bills were destined to win by more than a lousy 2 points.
Betting line aside, Sunday’s game was eye-opening. There’s nothing left to play for this year – I’m watching for next year already – I suspect most fans are in the same boat. I’m not quite sure what to make of what I saw, but I have some deep concerns.
Anyone watching EJ Manuel at the start of the game probably also has concerns about the future of the Bills. Far from showing progress and maturity, Manuel was terrible and terrible isn’t even a strong enough term. Manuel looked absolutely lost and overwhelmed early in the game. His reads were slow and his passes off target. He missed a wide open T.J. Graham on a key third down by throwing a ball that didn’t even reach the receiver on the first hop. The Bills first drive went 4 plays for 1 yard and ended in a field goal courtesy of an interception to start the drive in excellent field position.
The second Bills drive featured a Manuel fumble that went out of bounds and a 12 yard run by the quarterback who was flushed out of the pocket and had no other options. It ended in a terrible interception – Manuel threw a screen pass that looked like a dump-off to a Jaguars player.
The running game was similarly flat. C.J. Spiller came out with his signature run – take 2 strides towards the line of scrimmage, make a cut and either bounce off an offensive lineman or get stuffed by the defense after a loss or short gain. Fred Jackson did not fare much better.
On their third possession the Bills put together a drive that resulted in no points as Dan Carpenter missed a 54 yard field goal. On the first drive of the second quarter the Bills went 3 and out and racked up -9 yards when Manuel was sacked twice.
We all remember years past when the Bills had no offense of which to speak – games would go by without a touchdown and moving the ball seemed like an incredible task. The start of Sunday’s game was like those past years – whatever the Bills did offensively just didn’t work – they went nowhere.
I sat and watched in stunned silence – if this is what Buffalo is going to look like in the future the team is in deep trouble. We can’t go back to the days of Trent Edwards getting sacked and checking down passes that gain nothing. We can’t go back to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s wild inaccuracies and missing open receivers, especially in key situations. We can’t go back to having running backs continually running into a brick wall every time they take a handoff.
I know Manuel is a rookie and I know he’s struggled on the road, but he showed nothing beside some quick feet early in Sunday’s game. Seeing such poor play makes me question whether He can develop into the quarterback Buffalo needs. The organization seems committed to Manuel, but how long does that continue? Do they pass up premium quarterback talent in the draft if it’s available because they are convinced they already have their man?
I have to admit, I’m puzzled about Buffalo’s evaluation of quarterback talent. I have no idea why, of all the quarterbacks with the Bills this season, Jeff Tuel is still on the roster when the team has all but admitted he’s incapable of leading the team in a game. The Bills got rid of Matt Flynn and you may have seen him tear up the Cowboys on Sunday – you’re telling me he wasn’t good enough to be a backup in Buffalo?
OK, things didn’t end that badly on Sunday. Manuel turned his game around and was very efficient for two and a half quarters. As a matter of fact, while he’s not going to win AFC Player of the Week, he did finish with a quarterback rating of 105. The running game got going and finished with almost 200 yards rushing. The Bills won the game 27-20.
I hope we’ve seen Manuel and the Bills offense at the worst – I’m not sure I could stomach anything much uglier than what I saw in the first quarter on Sunday. Against a better team and the Bills would have been in a huge hole with play like that.
I guess what really bothers me is that I have to see a game where Manuel really wows me. He’s looked poised, he’s looked efficient and he’s looked in control, but I haven’t seen the highlight plays I want to see. I want to see Manuel make the type of throws where only his receiver can catch the ball – the throws good quarterbacks make. I want to see some of those perfect throws, perfectly threaded or with the perfect touch. I want to see better downfield throws – Buffalo has the speed receivers to make the deep ball work, but the throws have to be there or it doesn’t matter. Wow me and games like Sunday’s are forgotten.
It’ll be interesting to see how Manuel plays this week. Miami is a quality opponent, but Manuel will have the home crowd cheering him on. It’s time to see what the rookie can do – the future is now and the quicker we can determine whether Manuel’s the man to lead the Bills to the next level the better.