By Tim Graham
Can the Buffalo Bills field a top-five defense?
The question was posed to NFL Network analysts Warren Sapp and Willie McGinest, retired defenders with nine Pro Bowls and four Super Bowl rings between them.
They each declined to put the Bills in such elite class, although McGinest was more diplomatic than Sapp was.
"Wow, that's tough," McGinest said. "I've got my list right here. When I look at the top-five defenses: Pittsburgh, Houston, Baltimore, San Francisco, the Jets surprisingly was in there.
"I think some teams lower down, I think the Philadelphia Eagles will move up. I think the Dallas Cowboys, the Chicago Bears will do a better job.
"I don't think [the Bills] will jump in the top five unless that offense is just on fire."
Before McGinest could finish those last few words, Sapp blurted "No. No is the answer you're looking for."
I happen to agree, and that shouldn't be viewed as an insult. The Bills' defense has been a customary walkover. Upper third in the NFL would be a dramatic improvement.
Starting with last season and moving backward, the Bills have ranked 26th, 24th, 19th, 14th, 31st, 18th and 29th in total defense and 30th, 28th, 16th, 14th, 18th, 10th and 24th in points allowed.
The last time the Bills had a top-five defense was under Mike Mularkey in 2004, when they finished second in yards and eighth in points. The season before under Gregg Williams, the Bills finished second in yards and fifth in points.