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How the locals fared: Week 16

By Jay Skurski

Excuse the holiday delay. Here’s a look at how the Western New Yorkers and University at Buffalo graduates currently playing in the NFL did in Week 16, and how they've done so far this season.

Brett Kern, P, Tennessee Titans: Punted eight times for 376 yards in a brutal 55-7 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 16. Kern, a Grand Island High School graduate, had a long punt of 54 yards and a net average of 34.4 on those punts for the 5-10 Titans. He’s averaging 47.4 yards on his 77 punts this season. Up next: vs. Jacksonville, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Corey Graham, DB, Baltimore Ravens: The sixth-year pro from Buffalo made his seventh straight start for the Ravens on Sunday, finishing with two tackles in a 33-14 win over the Raiders. For the season, Graham has 58 tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and eight passes defensed for the 10-5 Ravens. Up next: at Cincinnati, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buffalo native has started all 15 games this season for the 6-9 Bucs, with 57 catches for 931 yards and eight touchdowns. Williams finished with seven catches for 132 yards and a touchdown in a 28-13 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Up next: at Atlanta, 1 p.m. Sunday. 

Chris Gronkowski, FB, Denver Broncos: Has appeared in 14 games for the 12-3 Broncos, making his first career catch for Denver in Week Three against Houston. Did not play in Week 15's 34-12 win over Cleveland because of a hamstring injury. Up next: vs. Kansas City, 4:25 p.m. Sunday.

James Starks, RB, Green Bay Packers: The Niagara Falls native was inactive for the Packers' 55-7 win over Tennessee in Week 16, the third straight game he's missed because of a knee injury. Starks, 26, has 71 rushes for 255 yards and one touchdown and four receptions for 31 yards in six games (two starts). He missed the first five games of the year because of a turf toe injury for the 11-4 Packers. Up next: at Minnesota, 4:25 p.m. Sunday.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots: Missed his fifth straight game, a 23-16 win at Jacksonville, because of a broken forearm. Gronkowski should be able to return for the postseason for the 11-4 Patriots. He has 53 catches for 748 yards and 10 TDs this week. Up next: vs. Miami, 4:25 p.m. Sunday.

Doug Worthington, DT, Washington Redskins: The Buffalo native played in his fifth game of the season, but did not record any statistics in a 27-20 win at Philadelphia. Worthington, a St. Francis graduate, joined the Redskins’ active roster from their practice squad prior to Week Three. Up next: vs. Dallas, 8:20 p.m. Sunday.

UB players

Josh Thomas, CB, Carolina Panthers: Has made three straight starts for the Panthers, finishing with three tackles in the Panthers' 17-6 win against Oakland in Week 16. Thomas has played in all 15 games of the season for the 6-9 Panthers, making 31 tackles and five passes defensed. Up next: at New Orleans, 1 p.m. Sunday.

Trevor Scott, LB, New England Patriots: Scott played in his 13th game of the season in a 23-16 win over Jacksonville. Scott recorded one tackle. For the year, he has 13 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble for the 11-4 Patriots. Up next: vs. Miami, 4:25 p.m. Sunday.

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

On the line from Vegas: No safer bet than Bills failure

By Tim Graham

All season, Las Vegas oddsmaker and proud local boy Joel Staniszewski has been a good sport, giving us his thoughts on the Buffalo Bills from a wagering perspective.

For the final Bills installment of our season series, please allow the kid from Sloan, St. Joe's and Buffalo State a few moments to cleanse his giblets.

Mr. Staniszewski, you have the floor.

"Something has to change," Staniszewski said. "Somewhere in the front office -- ownership, the general manager, the coaching staff, the scouts -- something needs to change. Maybe everything needs to change to make this team work properly.

"How can the Colts go from a last-place team in the league to the playoffs? I don't think it was just the quarterback. I think it was the coaching staff, the general manager, the owner. They're the ones who build a team to win.

"The Bills' organization builds a team they think is going to work, and it hasn't for the last 13 years. You need a complete overhaul to right this ship."

On Sunday, the Bills will close their season with a whimper against the New York Jets in Ralph Wilson Stadium. It also will be Staniszewski's sixth wedding anniversary. His wife, Aja, is from Italy and has become a Bills fan by default.

"She follows the Bills because I follow the Bills," Staniszewski said. "She wears Jim Kelly jerseys. She puts up with all my problems and all the Bills' problems even though she has no reason to other than because of me."

Staniszewski finds defending -- nearly apologizing -- for his hometown loyalty tiresome. Recounting recent draft picks and missed opportunities disgusts him. The name Torell Troup makes him laugh impulsively.

That's why Staniszewski wants the Bills to lose Sunday. It can help make their first-round draft pick more foolproof -- relatively speaking.

"This win or loss can change their draft order drastically," Staniszewski said. "Coaches and players want to win. That goes without saying. But, as a fan and looking at the team in the future, a loss is actually better for the Bills than a win.

"It's sad to say, but we're at that point in the season where you're hoping for the Bills to lose to help their draft stock, and they need to build through the draft. A win does nothing for them."

The Bills are favored by 3.5 points even though the Jets beat them, 48-28, at the Meadowlands on opening day. The over/under total is 39 points.

After Staniszewski's blood simmered down from a rolling boil when talking about the state of the Bills, he passed along some betting trends.

New York Jets

  • 8-1 straight up in their past nine games against the Bills
  • 5-1 against the spread in their past six against the Bills
  • 4-0 against the spread in their past four games in Orchard Park

Buffalo Bills

  • 1-4 against the spread in their past five games overall
  • 2-4 against the spread in their past six home games
  • 2-7 against the spread in their past nine season finales

The trends, however, might not matter as much in a game between two teams with so little to play for.

"Who's going to screw up more this week?" Staniszewski wondered. "Which coaching staff has an opportunity to have a job next year? Which starting quarterback has a job on the roster next year? Who wants to go out on a high note, and who has mailed it in?

"It's tough to see who actually wants to win with these two teams."

Video: Bills room like 'last day of class'

The News' Jay Skurski and Tim Graham say the players were livelier than they'd been over the past several weeks, when it had been like a morgue.

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Scotty Bowman: Bills mentally wiped out by narrow losses

By Tim Graham

The first time Chan Gailey looked like a fired coach was in the moments after the Week 14 loss to the St. Louis Rams in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass and added a two-point conversion with 48 seconds left to beat the Bills 15-12. Gailey looked more haggard than usual, like a goner.

A bunch of those defeats, Scotty Bowman says, can destroy a coach and kill a team's morale. The NHL coaching legend, East Amherst resident and former Bills season-ticket holder recently shared with me his thoughts on their season.

What stuck out to Bowman most were the last-minute losses to the Tennessee Titans, New England Patriots and Rams in a seven-game span.

"When you lose at the end of a game, that really takes a lot out of a team," said Bowman, winner of 12 Stanley Cups as a head coach or executive. "People think, 'Well, they just lost a close one. That's a good sign.' The close losses are tougher on a team than when you get whipped."

Bowman, considered by some to be the greatest coach of all-time in any arena, is a master of sport psychology. And whether on the field, court or rink, many of the mind games are the same.

"It seems like you can bounce back from a whipping, and I don't know the reason for it," Bowman said. "But when you lose in the late stages, they're rough on your psyche. Your confidence goes down, and then all of a sudden you're scrambling.

"That's what I noticed. I think that's what happened to the Bills' season."

Bowman compared those defeats to a weeks-long NHL skid.

"It might be tougher in the NFL," Bowman said. "When you're looking at 16 games and lose a couple of tight games you could or should have won, to equate it to hockey, that would have to be like a 10-game losing streak. That takes a lot out of you."

Bowman is an NHL icon, but his passion for sports goes way beyond hockey. His sports memorabilia collection is museum-worthy.

He became a Bills season-ticket holder when he coached the Buffalo Sabres, but he kept them even after he went to work for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991.

Despite the Bills' dismal campaign, Bowman has become a fan of running back C.J. Spiller.

"I like to watch that guy play," said Bowman, who added he's fascinated by the Russell Wilson storyline.

Imagine what a lift Wilson might've brought to Buffalo's sagging hopefulness.

Mark Anderson out again vs. Jets; WR Kevin Elliott promoted to active roster

By Jay Skurski

Mark Anderson's first season with the Buffalo Bills is over.

The defensive end was ruled out of Sunday's season finale against the New York Jets today because of a knee injury that has kept him out since he was hurt in Week Five against the San Francisco 49ers. Anderson, who signed a four-year, $19.5 million contract to join the Bills, finishes his season with 12 tackles and one sack in five games.

Safety Da'Norris Searcy was also ruled out for Sunday's game because of a groin injury. The rest of the Bills' injury report lists 12 players as probable: S Jairus Byrd (ankle), G Andy Levitre (knee), WR Ruvell Martin (not injury related), DT Kyle Williams (ankle), LB Nick Barnett (knee), FB Dorin Dickerson (ankle), WR Marcus Easley (hamstring), CB Justin Rogers (foot), LB Chris White (hamstring), C Eric Wood (knee), RB C.J. Spiller (shoulder) and DE Mario Williams (wrist).

The Bills also announced this afternoon that they promoted wide receiver Kevin Elliott to the 53-man roster from the practice squad. Elliott, 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, is an undrafted rookie free agent from Florida A&M.

Chat replay: Inside the NFL with Mark Gaughan

Bills project sixth in draft order, could fluctuate from fourth to 10th

By Tim Graham

I wasn't in town when WGR draft overlord Joe Buscaglia drove past Graham Central Station in his limousine, lowered a window and flipped his weekly draft-order projections toward my house.

Turns out the package landed in the shrubs and got buried when the snow began to fall Wednesday morning.

A couple of Buscaglia's goons showed up today to rough me up because I hadn't blogged about their boss' data. It wasn't until we got him on the phone -- I could hear him petting his white cat as he spoke to us on speaker phone-- that we were able to talk it out and locate the package.

Boy, did we all feel silly.

My left eyelid should need only a few stitches.

Anyway, Buscaglia's spreadsheet shows the Bills would draft sixth if the season ended after 15 games. They have one more to play, Sunday against the New York Jets in Ralpgh Wilson Stadium.

The Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars will draft Nos. 1 and 2, although the order hasn't been cemented.

As Buscaglia explains, the Bills' best-case scenario (draft-wise) would be a loss Sunday along with Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions victories. That would move the Bills up to fourth in the order.

The worst-case scenario would be 10th.

Here's the order of the six-win teams and worse, entering the final weekend:

  • 1. Kansas City Chiefs
  • 2. Jacksonville Jaguars
  • 3. Oakland Raiders
  • 4. Philadelphia Eagles
  • 5. Detroit Lions
  • 6. Buffalo Bills
  • 7. Cleveland Browns
  • 8. Tennessee Titans
  • 9. Arizona Cardinals
  • 10. San Diego Chargers
  • 11. New York Jets
  • 12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • 13. Carolina Panthers

AccuScore: Bills favored over Jets, even more with Sanchez starting

Sanchez

By Tim Graham

In real life, the Buffalo Bills have played like a team ready for the offseason to commence.

AccuScore's computers predict the Bills will finish the season with authority.

And with the New York Jets reverting from third-string quarterback Greg McElroy to former starter Mark Sanchez, the Bills actually are bigger favorites.

In 10,000 AccuScore simulations of Sunday's matchup in Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills beat the Jets 61.6 percent of the time. The Bills averaged 23.9 points to the Jets' 19.0 points.

With McElroy in the formula, the Bills won 60.6 percent of the sims, and the Jets averaged 19.8 points.

The numbers are counterintuitive.

Sanchez has had fabulous success against Buffalo. He has won five straight after a disastrous first game.

He posted a season-high 123.4 passer rating against the Bills on opening day at the Meadowlands. He completed 70.4 percent of his passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.

In AccuScore's sims, Bills running C.J. Spiller averaged 109 rushing yards on almost 6 yards a carry. The Jets held Spiller to less than 100 yards in 50 percent of the games. When the Jets did, they became 58 percent favorites.

(Photo: Getty Images)

St. Francis grad David Caldwell mentioned as possible Bills GM

By Tim Graham

The Turk doesn't work summers only.

He's sharpening his scythe as I type this.

Sports Illustrated writer Don Banks has assembled a "Black Monday primer" for all of the teams expected to make major moves with their front offices and coaching staffs.

Banks writes:

With so much activity about to take place, here's a team-by-team breakdown of what we think we know, with a preview look at the names of some potential coaching and general manager candidates that could be in play for those jobs. League general managers, personnel executives, team sources and agents were contacted and interviewed in an attempt to divine all the comings and goings of the next few weeks.

The Buffalo Bills are on the list. They're mentioned third as candidates for major changes. And this list is not in alphabetical order.

Banks writes as though Chan Gailey's dismissal is a foregone conclusion and focuses on the job status of General Manager Buddy Nix.

Banks quotes an unnamed NFL team executive, who suggests the time is right to dump Nix.

"If you've got a GM who's hell-bent on getting a quarterback, you've got a guy who's at least in danger of giving up the farm to do so,'' the executive said. "A desperate general manager is the worst kind of general manager to have.''

An intriguing name mentioned: Atlanta Falcons player personnel director and native Buffalonian David Caldwell.

He worked in the Indianapolis Colts' front office for 10 years and interviewed for their GM opening after they fired Bill Polian. Caldwell went to St. Francis High with Polian's son, Chris Polian, who was Colts vice president of football operations.

Caldwell has been with the Falcons for the past five seasons, the first four as college scouting director.

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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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