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AccuScore: Bills big favorites to beat Jaguars at home

By Tim Graham

In spite of the losses and a sputtering offense, the Buffalo Bills are one of AccuScore's biggest favorites this week.

The Bills will play the ramshackle Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

In AccuScore's 10,000 simulations, the Bills won an impressive 66.7 percent of the time by an average score of 23.9-17.9.

The simulations were run with the assumption Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew will not play. He hasn't been ruled out, but he's not expected to return from his injury this weekend.

When C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson rushed for more yards than the Jaguars, the Bills won a whopping 84 percent of the time. When the Jaguars won the ground game without MJD, they won 55 percent of the sims.

Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne is nearly 2-0 as a starter (an overtime loss and a victory), but he's averaged a pedestrian 205 yards and one touchdown on AccuScore's calculations. When he pushed his yardage to 250 yards and threw for at least two touchdowns with no interceptions, the Jaguars became 54 percent favorites.

AccuScore is 9-2 straight up in Bills games this year, 4-7 against the spread.

As for the postseason, AccuScore's forecast gives the Bills a 12.7 percent chance to make it.

The Bills finish with an average of 6.8 victories in AccuScore's season simulations.

How the locals fared: Week 12

By Jay Skurski

Here’s a look at how the Western New Yorkers and University at Buffalo graduates currently playing in the NFL did in Week 12, and how they've done so far this season.

James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers: The Niagara Falls native got eight carries for 35 yards in a 38-10 loss to the New York Giants. For the season, the 26-year-old Starks has 56 rushes for 189 yards and two receptions for 15 yards in five games (two starts). He missed the first five games of the year because of a turf toe injury for the 7-4 Packers. Up next: vs. Minnesota, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots: Missed the Patriots’ Thanksgiving night win over the Jets because of a broken forearm, which is expected to keep him out at least the next few weeks. Gronkowski has 53 catches for 748 yards and 10 TDs this week. Up next: at Miami, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Doug Worthington, DT, Washington Redskins: The Buffalo native has appeared in two games for Washington this season, making a pair of tackles in Week Four. He’s been inactive the past six games. Worthington joined the Redskins’ active roster from their practice squad prior to Week Three. Up next: vs. N.Y. Giants, 8:30 p.m. Monday (ESPN).

Brett Kern, P, Tennessee Titans: Punted four times for 201 yards in a 24-19 loss to Jacksonville in Week 12. Kern, a Grand Island High School graduate, had a net average of 49.0 yards on those punts for the 4-7 Titans. He’s averaging 48.3 yards on his 50 punts this season. Up next: vs. Houston, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Corey Graham, DB, Baltimore Ravens: The sixth-year pro from Buffalo made his third straight start for the 9-2 Ravens, finishing with five tackles and two passes defensed in a 16-13 win at San Diego. For the season, Graham has 30 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and five passes defensed. Up next: vs. Pittsburgh, 4:25 p.m. Sunday.

Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buffalo native has started all 11 games this season for the 6-5 Bucs, with 37 catches for 625 yards and five touchdowns. Williams finished with three catches for 28 yards in Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Up next: at Denver, 4:05 p.m. Sunday.

Chris Gronkowski, FB, Denver Broncos: Has appeared in all 11 games for the 8-3 Broncos, making his first career catch for Denver in Week Three against Houston. Did not record any statistics in Denver’s 17-9 win over Kansas City in Week 12. Up next: vs. Tampa Bay, 4:05 p.m. Sunday.

UB players

Josh Thomas, CB, Carolina Panthers: Made two tackles in a 30-22 road win at Philadelphia on Monday night. Thomas has played in all 11 games of the season for the 3-8 Panthers, making 22 tackles and two passes defensed. Up next: at Kansas City, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Trevor Scott, LB, New England Patriots: Had one tackle in a 49-19 win over the New York Jets on Thanksgiving night, and has six tackles on the season. Scott, though, could be in line for a lot more playing time this week with defensive ends Jermaine Cunningham suspended and rookie Chandler Jones dealing with an ankle injury for the 8-3 Patriots. Up next: at Miami, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Note: UB graduate Jamey Richard is on injured reserve for the Patriots.

NFL Sunday Outtakes: Parcells, Kiick, DeHaven, Lindell

By Tim Graham

For my latest NFL Sunday feature story, I tried to examine a broad topic with as much clarity and brevity as possible.

I don't know if I succeeded. Trying to determine the value of special teams -- such a nuanced realm -- made for an unwieldy subject, but it was a fun story to write and proved relevant to the Buffalo Bills' 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

As my editors will tell you, I have a tendency to over-research, over-interview and over-write.

Because of that, a newspaper's finite space is my undefeated natural enemy. I'm rarely able to shoehorn all of my material into a print story.

Then there's the stuff that simply doesn't mesh with whatever I'm writing about. Oftentimes my interviews will stray off topic and down some interesting side streets. Why leave it on the cutting room floor?

From now on, rather than waste interviews and data, I'll post worthwhile leftovers on the Press Coverage blog.

Here are the best unabridged quotes and outtakes from this week's special-teams story.

ParcellsBill Parcells on Tony Romo's fumbled field-goal hold in the 2006 postseason:

"It's a football play, and it shows you that everything in football's important, and everything can be game-affecting. I've been beaten on blocked field goals. I've been beaten on field goals where we blocked it and the other team picked it up and scored.

"That particular play took on a lot of importance because it was a playoff game. Unfortunately for me, it was the last game that I coached. I don't think I'm getting over that one any time soon.

"You were in position to win the game on what should be a pretty routine play, and there was nothing wrong with the snap. There was nothing wrong. We didn't have an error on the part of someone else. It just was mishandled. This game is not without human error.

"How many times are you going to have a passed ball affect the outcome of a baseball game? Over the course of the season, it might be one out of 162. I don't know. But it's a game-affecting play. (Writer's note: I tell Parcells I would compare it to having the winning run picked off third base in the World Series; Parcells laughs.) Whatever the lowest-percentage play that could probably happen to change the game ... That takes on a high degree of importance."

LindellBuffalo Bills kicker Rian Lindell on his comical attempt to make a tackle on Miami Dolphins returner Marcus Thigpen's touchdown in Week 11:

"They look at me, and I don't think they expect much. It's such a mismatch. I just play a different sport than all these guys. I really do. It would be as odd as if somebody threw me a basketball and told me to hit a three-pointer.

"And then, the mismatch ... If I had to tackle myself I'd look silly. Then you put a guy in front of me who's a world-class athlete, it's, like, 'Oh, geez.' I should do better than that. I should at least widen him out and fill in the hole a little more. But at least to my face [Bills teammates] didn't say much to me.

"If you don't practice it enough, it's not going to matter. If I go out there for a tackling drill as a one-off, then I'll maybe get run over or beat up. And it's hard to mimic a game situation. It would be like me taking one of these guys and saying, 'Let's go hit three field  goals every six weeks so you're ready for a game.' That's not going to get you ready for a game."

Miami Dolphins running back Jim Kiick on kicker Garo Yepremian's infamous Super Bowl bungle:

"What makes it worse is Mike Bass is running down the sidelines and Garo's got a clean shot at the guy. All he has to do is bump him, slow him down, and Garo didn't even want to get near him. He didn't even want to try to tackle him. At least try to redeem yourself. That didn't make it any better.

"What a lot of the guys don't care for -- and Garo's a great speaker; I don't want to take that away from him -- is that he made a very nice living off that play by giving motivational talks. If I made a mistake that nearly cost my team the game I probably wouldn't try to make money off of it."

Parcells on free agency and the salary cap changed special-teams units for the worse:

"You had good veteran players on your special teams and had been doing it for five or six years. Now, with the salary cap, kids are there primarily to be special-teams players. It's cheaper to have a first-year player, and when you're talking about a $300,000 or $400,000 difference at eight or 10 players, that amounts to quite a bit of money.

"The ability to develop players, to be efficient, is reduced by the lack of contact in practice. Players get their experience in on-the-job training.

"You had five or six veterans on your team that were your core-four members, and that gave you the nucleus of experience that you need on special teams. Steve Tasker was a game-changing player just by virtue of his ability on special teams. He was dynamic."

DeHavenBills coordinator Bruce DeHaven on the evolution of special-teams coaching over the years:

"Frankly, the first three or four years I was in the league there were some games it was like shooting fish in a barrel. You knew you probably were going to have a pretty good game because you watched them on tape and could tell. There were a handful of special-teams coaches in the league where you knew you had to be at your best.

"Now it's to the point where everybody's coached well. The margin for error is a lot slimmer. You've got to work your tail off just to break even. If you're not prepared, it will beat you.

"There was a time 25 years ago where if you weren't real good on special teams it might not make a difference in the game. If your approach is just to get by, it'll beat you. Everybody in the league is just too good at what they do."

AFC wild-card race in focus: remaining schedules broken down

By Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey stood at a lectern in Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon and suggested his team still could pull off what the defending world champions did last year: get into the playoffs with a 7-7 record.

The Bills, of course, must win their next three games to reach 7-7. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson insisted Monday hope is not dead.

"We still got action," Johnson said. "I'm not going to say we're out of it yet. We still got action at being 9-7 and making the playoffs. We've still got to rely on other teams, but I seriously think we can still win out and make it to the playoffs."

With that in mind, let's lay out the remaining schedules of the eight teams in the wild-card playoff mix.

There's little reason to analyze division races because the margins are too great. The New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans lead their divisions by three games with five to play. The Denver Broncos are ahead by four games.

The Bills are 12th in the AFC standings because so many tiebreakers go against them. They'll need to surpass at least six teams to qualify for the postseason.

But the Bills do have the second-easiest remaining schedule of the teams with records between 4-7 and 7-4.

The Jets have the easiest strength of schedule, are one of only two teams in the wild-card mix that will play three other opponents in the group (the San Diego Chargers are the other) and will play the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the regular-season finale.

Here's the schedule breakdown in order of how the teams rank in the standings.

Indianapolis Colts

  • * Record: 7-4
  • * Strength of remaining schedule: .527
  • * Opponents: Lions (4-7), Titans (4-7), Texans (10-1), Chiefs (1-10), Texans (10-1)

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • * Record: 6-5
  • * Strength of remaining schedule: .491
  • * Opponents: Ravens (9-2), Chargers (4-7), Cowboys (5-6), Bengals (6-5), Browns (3-8)

Cincinnati Bengals

  • * Record: 6-5
  • * Strength of remaining schedule: .527
  • * Opponents: Chargers (4-7), Cowboys (5-6), Eagles (3-8), Steelers (6-5), Ravens (9-2)

Miami Dolphins

  • * Record: 5-6
  • * Strength of remaining schedule: .555
  • * Opponents: Patriots (8-3), 49ers (8-2-1), Jaguars (2-9), Bills (4-7), Patriots (8-3)

San Diego Chargers

  • * Record: 4-7
  • * Strength of remaining schedule: .400
  • * Opponents: Bengals (6-5), Steelers (6-5), Panthers (3-8), Jets (4-7), Raiders (3-8)

Tennessee Titans

  • * Record: 4-7
  • * Strength of remaining schedule: .545
  • * Opponents: Texans (10-1), Colts (7-4), Jets (4-7), Packers (7-4), Jaguars (2-9)

New York Jets

  • * Record: 4-7
  • * Strength of remaining schedule: .327
  • * Opponents: Cardinals (4-7), Jaguars (2-9), Titans (4-7), Chargers (4-7), Bills (4-7)

Buffalo Bills

  • * Record: 4-7
  • * Strength of remaining schedule: .391
  • * Opponents: Jaguars (2-9), Rams (4-6-1), Seahawks (6-5), Dolphins (5-6), Jets (4-7)

Chris Kelsay expected to miss time with neck injury

By Jay Skurski

Buffalo Bills coach Chan Gailey said today defensive end Chris Kelsay could miss some playing time after aggravating a neck injury in Sunday’s 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

"Not good,"the coach characterized the injury, which Kelsay revealed last week was actually a torn neck ligament.

As for the potential to end Kelsay's season, Gailey said: "I don't think so, but you never know about these things. We'll have to wait and see how it comes around."

The news was better for fullback Corey McIntyre, who left Sunday's game with an ankle injury.

"Better than we thought. Could have been a lot worse,"Gailey said. "There's a good chance for this week that he’ll get to practice."

Cornerback Aaron Williams and defensive end Mark Anderson remain out of the lineup because of knee injuries.

"It'll be touch and go. They're going to do a little bit of work during the week. But I'd say it's less of a chance than more of a chance right now for those two,"Gailey said. "It hasn't been a setback but it just hasn't moved forward as fast as we had hoped it would."

Stevie Johnson rephrases remarks about Bills' play calling

By Tim Graham

About 23 hours after Stevie Johnson raised eyebrows with provocative comments about the Buffalo Bills' play calling, he revamped his words.

Johnson admitted reporters quoted him accurately after Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium, but claimed he used the wrong words in trying to give an opinion about the Bills' struggling offense.

Johnson said the Bills should turn over play-calling responsibilities to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, suggesting coach Chan Gailey relinquish the role since he is the one who has called the plays since he got here.

"I didn't mean changing the play-call duties and all that," Johnson said this afternoon at One Bills Drive. "I may have said it, but what I meant to say was 'audible,' to give Fitz the ability to audible a little more.

"What ended up coming out was me talking about play calling. But it was really about an audible."

Gailey said he hadn't spoken to Johnson about the remarks and didn't plan to. Wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell did meet with Johnson and then reported their conversation to the head coach.

"Stevie just wants to win," Gailey said. "You say a lot of things. He just wants to win. He's fine.

"You've got to understand it's the heat of the battle. If you don't know a guy, you might tend to get really upset. But if you know a guy, you know where his heart is even though he might not have said it right. I know Stevie."

Johnson was "a little distraught" over how Sunday's postgame comments were construed.

"He loves Chan," Fitzpatrick said. "You look at what Chan has done for him, he didn't really get on the field and play until Chan got here. After last season, Chan had a decision to make: Did he want to bring Stevie back or not? Nobody would've questioned it either way. And he wanted Stevie back and brought him back.

"Steve owes a lot to Chan, and I know he understands that."

What Johnson said:

"How I see it, I think we need to let our quarterback call these plays. He's out there on the field. He sees the adjustments that need to be done. I think we just need to let him make adjustments on the go. I think that's the way we can move the ball better.

"He did it a little bit in the game, and we moved the ball. ... He was hitting C.J. [Spiller], getting his run plays, doing the pass plays, and I just think we should do it more often.

"[Fitzpatrick] knows what to check into and check out of. It's different when you are looking from the booth and say, 'OK, they might be in this' than being out there. That's just my take on it. I just think that he has the ability to control the offense 100 percent. I think we should take advantage of that."

It was the second time in three weeks Johnson seemed to publicly criticize Gailey. Johnson also pointed out rookie receiver T.J. Graham never had practiced the particular play on Fitzpatrick's fateful interception against the New England Patriots.

"I'm not questioning my coach," Johnson said.

Johnson claimed the emotions of Sunday's defeat, in which he gained 100 yards for only the second time in 33 games and forced/recovered a potentially monumental fourth-quarter fumble on an interception, prevented him from choosing his words properly even though the word "audible" is ever-present in NFL parlance.

"It's all frustration," Johnson said. "We're all competitive out here. I wanted that win bad."

Fitzpatrick said he has "a ton of freedom" within the Bills' offense.

Johnson has been in a similar situation before, causing a national stir with an infamous tweet that seemed to blame God for making him drop a would-be touchdown pass in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010.

Video chat: Bills Replay with Skurski, Northrop

Desperate Bills dare to emulate 2011 Giants

GaileyEliGetty

By Tim Graham

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Buffalo Bills have one final trick to rationalize the legitimacy of their crippled playoff hopes.

Their last resort is comparing themselves to last year's New York Giants, who won the Super Bowl.

"I told our players our goal now is to get to 7-7. That's where the world champions were last year," Gailey said after Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium. "That's our goal. But we've got to get to 7-7 and see where everything sits because that's where they were, and they won it all. Let's see if we can get to that."

The Bills are 4-7. Sunday's defeat officially eliminated them from any mathematical chance of winning the AFC East. They're two games out of a wild-card sport.

With five games to play, the postseason still sounds doable. But with tiebreakers, five teams are between the Bills and the final wild card. That means the Bills would need to overtake at least six teams to qualify for the tournament.

As for the Giants comparison, it's ludicrous.

When the Giants were 7-7, they weren't even four calendar years removed from a world championship. A high percentage of their roster owned Super Bowl rings, having knocked off the undefeated New England Patriots.

The Bills have one Super Bowl ring on their entire roster: linebacker Nick Barnett with the Green Bay Packers. He played four games for them because of an injury, none in the postseason.

The Bills have only a handful of players who have won division titles. Unless, I've missed somebody, here's the list (with the team they were on):

  • * Defensive end Shawne Merriman (2006-09 Chargers)
  • * Barnett (2003-04, 2007 Packers)
  • * Defensive end Mark Anderson (2006 Chicago Bears, 2011 Patriots)
  • * Linebacker Bryan Scott (2004 Atlanta Falcons, nine games with 2006 New Orleans Saints)
  • * Running back Tashard Choice (2009 Dallas Cowboys)
  • * Receiver Ruvell Martin (2007 Packers, five games with 2010 Seattle Seahawks)
  • * Defensive end Mario Williams (five games with 2011 Houston Texans)
  • * Fullback Corey McIntyre (four games with 2006 Saints)
  • * Cornerback Crezdon Butler (four games with 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers)
  • * Offensive lineman Thomas Welch (three games with 2011 Patriots)
  • * Tight end Scott Chandler (one game with 2007 Chargers)
  • * Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson (backup for 2009 Minnesota Vikings)

That's an uninspiring, patchwork collection of partial contributors either then or now. Just three -- Barnett, Merriman and Scott -- started for a full season on a division champion. Barnett is the only one of those who starts for the Bills now.

Barnett was asked if the Bills can replicate the Giants' success last year.

"I think so," Barnett said. "Hey, they've got Eli Manning. We've got [Ryan] Fitzpatrick. We've got players who are capable of making big-time plays and getting that momentum.

"Obviously, we don't have it right now. We've got to put this thing together as a full team."

The Giants last year got to 7-7 a much different way than the Bills would. The Giants won three of their first four games and had road victories over the Philadelphia Eagles, Patriots and Cowboys.

Each of the Bills four victories this year has been over an opponent with a losing record.

Last year's Giants also won their division at 9-7. The Bills can't do that.

The Giants not only had a Super Bowl MVP at quarterback, but they also had playmakers all over the field.

On offense, they had Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and a couple Pro Bowl offensive linemen. On defense, they had Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, Antrell Rolle and reliable linebackers.

Their head coach was Tom Coughlin. They had a kicker who attempted field goals longer than 50 yards. They played all eight of their home games in a state-of-the-art stadium. All their games were sold out.

But I guess, other than all that, this year's Bills and last years Giants are exactly the same.

(Photos: Getty Images)

Monday Morning QB chat replay with Tim Graham

Video: Replay [BN]TheHuddle postgame show

The News' Lauren Mariacher and Jay Skurski weigh in with some other thoughts during the [BN]TheHuddle postgame show:

The News' Tim Graham checked in from Lucas Oil Stadium following the Bills' loss to the Colts:

Jay Skurski weighed in on some of the Bills' play-calling during the [BN]TheHuddle postgame show:

The News' Keith McShea asked for Milt Northrop's thoughts following the Bills' loss to the Colts:

Keith McShea and Lisa Wilson award The News' game balls following the Colts' 20-13 victory over the Bills:

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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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]


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 | [email protected]

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