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Press Coverage chat with Tim Graham

Jim Kelly rooting for Tim Tebow to wreck Jets

KellyTebow

By Tim Graham

Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly made an appearance Thursday on the NFL Network and delivered notable opinions on the Buffalo Bills' playoff outlook and the New York Jets' decision to acquire Tim Tebow.

Kelly claimed the Bills not only could get into the postseason as a wild card, but added "they could even win the AFC East this year." He called the Bills' revamped defense Ryan Fitzpatrick's biggest asset because it "shortens the field with turnovers, sacks, fumbles."

But Kelly spent more time chatting with "NFL Total Access" host Andre Siciliano about the Jets' quarterback situation.

Kelly publicly lobbied for the Bills to draft Tebow and took him out to dinner when he visited the Bills before the 2010 draft. Two years later, Kelly is rooting for Tebow's presence to become a problem for the Jets.

Siciliano asked Kelly how he would feel if he were Mark Sanchez, the incumbent who helped get the Jets to the AFC Championship Game in two of the past three seasons.

"No. 1, it wouldn't make me feel very good, the job security a little shaky," Kelly said. "But as a Buffalo Bills fan now, I hope there's so much turmoil during training camp. I hope Tebow plays great, he pushes Sanchez and all of a sudden the locker room's coming apart because you've got to remember they open with the Buffalo Bills first game of the season."

Kelly questioned the Jets' decision to add Tebow without getting rid of Sanchez.

"I really, to be honest with you, don't know what [the Jets] really were thinking," Kelly said. "I mean, Mark Sanchez is a quarterback now who's going to be sitting there every single game if he plays bad ... No. 1, you know Jets fans. They're going to start booing.

"I think a lot of the pressure's on Sanchez not only to start off hot, but continue game after game after game playing steady. And if he doesn't, you know you're going to hear the boo birds. You're going to have people wanting Tim Tebow in there."

(Photo: Associated Press)

Early line: Buffalo underdog in only seven games

By Tim Graham

A couple days ago on the Press Coverage blog, we dissected the reasons why Las Vegas originally set the Buffalo Bills' over/under wins total at 7 and has moved it to 7.5.

To recap, it has to do with enticing action at the betting windows and is not necessarily a true representation of what Las Vegas oddsmakers think the Bills' record will be.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants already has established preliminary betting lines on every game except for Week 17, when the best teams generally rest their top players for the postseason.

So let's take a gander at LVSC's lines for the first 15 Bills games.

We'll see they are favored to win eight of them and likely would be for the game that's off the board, too. Based on the line for opening day against the New York Jets at the Meadowlands, the rematch in Ralph Wilson Stadium likely would be a pick game or have the Bills a slight favorite.

Either way, the Bills are underdogs for only seven games.

The most impressive stretch begins in Week 11, when the Bills are favorites for five straight games.

Week 1 at New York Jets (Bills +4)
Week 2 Kansas City Chiefs (Bills -2.5)
Week 3 at Cleveland Browns (Bills -1)
Week 4 New England Patriots (Bills +5.5)
Week 5 at San Francisco 49ers (Bills +7.5)
Week 6 at Arizona Cardinals (Bills +3)
Week 7 Tennessee Titans (Bills -3.5)
Week 8 Bye
Week 9 at Houston Texans (Bills +7.5)
Week 10 at New England Patriots (Bills +11)
Week 11 Miami Dolphins (Bills -2.5)
Week 12 at Indianapolis Colts (Bills -1)
Week 13 Jacksonville Jaguars (Bills -5.5)
Week 14 St. Louis Rams (Bills -6)
Week 15 Seattle Seahawks (Bills -3)
Week 16 at Miami Dolphins  (Bills +3)
Week 17 New York Jets (no line)

AFC East's best: No. 21 Sebastian Vollmer

By Tim Graham

VollmerMugA countdown of my top 25 AFC East players continues, one weekday at a time ...

The choice

New England Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2010, his second season in the NFL but his first as a full-time starter. He allowed only one sack for a 6-yard loss, according to STATS Inc.

Vollmer's followup season was ravaged by back and ankle injuries that limited him to only six regular-season games. But his importance to the Patriots was underscored by coach Bill Belichick's decision to insert him into the starting lineup for the Super Bowl after missing all of December and January.

ProFootballFocus.com still rated Vollmer the NFL's seventh-best right tackle last season.

Fast fact

Vollmer is a native German who didn't start playing football until he was 14, didn't start playing tackle full-time until his junior year of college and wasn't invited to the NFL combine.

How acquired

Selected in the second round (58th overall) of the 2009 draft.

Hint about No. 20

It'll either be the first Miami Dolphin to appear on the list or Tim Tebow.

Picks to date

21. Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots right tackle
22. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots tight end
23. Marcell Dareus, Bills defensive tackle
24. Antonio Cromartie, Jets cornerback
25. Eric Wood, Bills center

He scored Bills' 1st Super Bowl TD, now suing them

By Tim Graham

The running back who scored the first Super Bowl touchdown in Buffalo Bills history is suing the team.

Don Smith, a running back and kick returner on the 1990 squad, is among the plaintiffs in a concussion-related lawsuit filed Wednesday in Tampa, Fla.

What makes this lawsuit unusual compared to the scores filed before it is that specific teams are named as defendants. The Bills are one of them.

DonSmithGettyAll three players in the lawsuit -- star tight end Jimmie Giles, defensive lineman Arron Sears and Smith -- played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The lawsuit also includes every other team they played for. 

The lawsuit accuses the NFL, Buccaneers, Bills, Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and the Riddell helmet company of negligence and fraud for withholding information about the dangers of concussions and head injuries.

The 146-page complaint, obtained by The Buffalo News, is written vaguely. There are no specific incidents of negligence outlined or examples given. Smith's accusations against the Bills read exactly the same as Giles' accusations against the Oilers, Buccaneers, Lions and Eagles.

"The problems Don has are from repeated concussions, short-term memory loss, difficulties with concentration," attorney Wayne Ferrell said from his office in Jackson, Miss. "His problems are not necessarily totally disabling, but they certainly present problems for Don.

"It's from going back into a game when they shouldn't have played, and the medical evidence as far back as the 1930s and 1940s says that if you have one brain injury you're more susceptible to having another one. We think the NFL, including the teams, hid this information from the players. They encouraged going back into the game and finishing the game."

Smith, a 1987 second-round draft pick from Mississippi State, spent three seasons with the Buccaneers. He earned the team's Ed Block Courage Award in 1988, when he returned from a broken leg and back surgery that wiped out his rookie season.

The Bills obtained Smith as a Plan B free agent in 1990. He played every game, helping the Bills win their first AFC championship.

Smith was a depth player for Buffalo. He rushed 20 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns and added 21 receptions for 225 yards. But his 1-yard plunge in Super Bowl XXV gave the Bills a 10-3 lead. Smith also was the lead kick returner all season.

The Dolphins picked him up in Plan B free agency in 1991, but he didn't make the team and retired.

Ferrell noted one of Smith's concussions came against the New York Giants, although he wasn't sure if it was in Week 15 matchup or in Super Bowl XXV.

"He shook it off and went back into the game and played," Ferrell said. "Those injuries were cumulative for him."

Smith has had off-field problems. In 1993, he was videotaped buying a pound of cocaine with $9,500 stuffed in a Kentucky Fried Chicken box. He pleaded guilty and went to prison. Smith was unavailable to comment Thursday.

The Bills referred all lawsuit questions to the NFL.

"The NFL and its clubs have long made player safety a priority and continue to do so," NFL spokesman Brian McCarty said in an email. "Any allegation that the NFL or its clubs intentionally sought to mislead players has no merit. It stands in contrast to the league's actions to better protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."

Paul Anderson, an attorney who runs ConcussionLitigation.com, reported the lawsuit broke new ground. Anderson counted 93 previous concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL, but none of them singled out a particular club.

"Our intentions weren't to be trail blazers," the plaintiff's lead attorney, former Eagles defensive back Charles Emanuel, said from his office in Stuart, Fla. "Our intent is to protect the rights of our clients, and based on the information that's out there, we feel the teams are as culpable as the NFL.

"It may be a tougher road for us to hoe, but we wanted to name the teams each player played for. The teams are members of the NFL. The teams would have the persons who deal directly with the players and would know more about players' injuries and make judgment calls on players returning to a game after concussions."

Ferrell added the attorneys representing Smith, Giles and Sears want to keep their case at the state level. They do not want to have their lawsuit absorbed into class-action or multi-district litigation along with other NFL-related concussion cases because they want to maintain more control over their clients' interests.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Bills roundup: Jairus Byrd a hungry ball hawk

By Tim Graham

Chris Brown from BuffaloBills.com takes an in-depth look at safety Jairus Byrd's ball-hawking tendencies.

As the article explains, Byrd's knack for turnovers is part natural ability, part mentality.

"I always want to continue to do what I do, get my hands on balls," Byrd told the team's official website. "I want to score when I get interceptions. I want to get more turnovers and punch the ball out, but I think the mental part of the game is big. Anytime you start progressing the thing that separates you is just anticipation and just the mental part of the game. That can develop along with the physical stuff, but the mental game is what takes you over [the top]."

The story is an interesting read that also gathers input from defensive backs coach George Catavolos and safety George Wilson.

Elsewhere around the cyberyard:

* BuffaloRumblings.com writer Aaron Lowinger, using data from Football Outsiders, takes a look at kicker Rian Lindell's effectiveness from long range.

* Bleacher Report blogger Erik Frenz scans the Bills roster and finds only one potential Hall of Famer.

* Josh Bauer of Buffalo Rising delivers his Bills-oriented 2012 fantasy football preview.

* Who can argue with this Univision story that shares Jim Kelly's thoughts about Ryan Fitzpatrick's importance?

Poll: Will the Buffalo Bills reach the playoffs?

By Tim Graham

Earlier today, a Press Coverage item caused a flurry on my Twitter feed.

A panel of 22 ESPN analysts predicted the Buffalo Bills would be among the teams to make the playoffs after not getting in last year.

Many readers retweeted with pleasure, but several others laughed off the notion of Buffalo reaching the postseason for the first time since 1999.

So let's vote on it. What do you think?

NFL schedule change affects one Bills game

By Tim Graham

The NFL has moved its Sunday doubleheader kickoffs back to 4:25 p.m. this year, a decision that will affect one Buffalo Bills game: Week 5 against the San Francisco 49ers.

Doubleheader games usually begin at 4:15 p.m. to give the early games a chance to finish, but the cushion isn't always enough.

"In researching the kickoff time shift, the NFL analyzed games from the 2009 to 2011 seasons and found that 44 games required part of the audience to be switched to a mandatory doubleheader game kickoff," the NFL said in a statement. "With a 4:25 p.m. kickoff time, that number that would have been reduced by 66 percent to only 15 games."

About 40 start times have been nudged back for this season. The game in San Francisco was Buffalo's lone 4:15 p.m. kickoff.

The Bills' other later starts are 4:05 p.m. in Week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals and Week 15 against the Seattle Seahawks and their only primetime game in Week 11 against the Miami Dolphins.

ESPN predicts Buffalo headed to playoffs

By Tim Graham

The Buffalo Bills' playoff prospects have been a topic of discussion lately at ESPN.

ESPN polled 22 analysts about the five teams that will make the playoffs this year after not getting in last year. The Bills were a consensus pick to qualify for the tournament.

Herm Edwards likes what the Bills have done to address their defensive shortcomings and is high on Bills head coach Chan Gailey's offensive system. Edwards was Kansas City Chiefs head coach when Gailey was offensive coordinator.

"The Buffalo Bills, with their schedule, they have a chance to maybe win nine games and get into the playoffs," Edwards said on "SportsCenter." Edwards ranked the Bills ahead of the New York Jets in the AFC East.

Edwards called Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick "more like a point guard in basketball" because "he's a distributor of the football" who got sacked only 23 times last year.

"Right now, the Bills have an edge offensively in this sense: They've been together now," Edwards said. "The Jets are coming with a new offense. They want to run the ground and pound. That's fine, but you still have to be able to throw the football.

"This is what the Buffalo Bills are able to do. They can throw the ball. They put you in space. They run a lot of shotgun, spread offense. They have skill players that can catch and run."

In an "NFL Live" segment, ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth joined Edwards for some additional Bills playoff talk. Schlereth said the real Bills are more like the team that started the season 5-2 than the one that lost eight of its last nine games.

AFC East's best: No. 22 Aaron Hernandez

By Tim Graham

HernandezMugA countdown of my top 25 AFC East players continues, one weekday at a time ...

The choice

The third-best receiver on your team usually doesn't rate among the division's elite, but when you're from one of the NFL's most prolific passing offenses, it's more than plausible. After all, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus might be the fourth-best defensive lineman on his team, and he ranked No. 23 on this list.

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was third on his team behind the NFL's leading receiver (Wes Welker) and the NFL's touchdown king (Rob Gronkowski). Hernandez missed two games but caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns. He would have led the New York Jets and the Bills in receptions and finished two catches behind Miami Dolphins leader Brandon Marshall.

The only tight ends with more touchdowns than Hernandez last year were Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Jermichael Finley. With Gronkowski hobbled in the Super Bowl, Hernandez had eight receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown.

ProFootballFocus.com charted Hernandez for 503 yards after catches, sixth among all wide receivers and tight ends, second to Gronkowski among tight ends and 184 yards more than the next closest AFC East tight end, Dustin Keller.

PFF also had him down for 23 tackles missed or broken, most among all NFL receivers and tight ends.

Fast fact

In his final four regular-season games, Hernandez had 25 catches for 387 yards (15.5-yard average) and two touchdowns and five rushing attempts for 45 yards.

How acquired

Selected in the fourth round (113th overall) of the 2010 draft.

Hint about No. 21

He had a breakout season in 2010, but was plagued by injuries last season.

Picks to date

22. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots tight end
23. Marcell Dareus, Bills defensive tackle
24. Antonio Cromartie, Jets cornerback
25. Eric Wood, Bills center

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | tgraham@buffnews.com


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | mgaughan@buffnews.com


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | jskurski@buffnews.com

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