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Too Much Rest For the Weary?

Some Bills fans see a conspiracy around every corner. I generally dismiss them. But when you look at the Bills' recent schedule, it's enough to make you think someone in the NFL office doesn't like them.

Starting with the Arizona game, the Bills face four straight opponents coming off extra rest. The Cardinals played on a Thursday before hosting the Bills, which gave them 10 days between games. Tennessee also played the Bills after a Thursday game. Houston is coming off a bye, same as the Bills. That's a wash, but the Bills won't get the advantage that comes from playing a team that didn't also have a bye -- like New England, which will host the Bills the week after resting this week on a bye.

Ryan Fitzpatrick was asked about the schedule-makers and, naturally, avoided making any inflammatory comments. "I mean, I don't know," Fitz said. "It's something I was aware of, but I guess that's for you to write about, because we have no control over that."

The Bills do have one game with extra rest this season. They host Miami on Thursday night after the game in New England. So they'll have 10 days after that to get ready for a Week 11 game in Indianapolis against a Colts team that will have the usual seven days rest after playing the previous Sunday.

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Live chat: Talk Bills and more at 1 p.m.

Live Chat Friday

I'm hoping to conduct a live chat from Rhode Island on Friday, most likely at 1 p.m. The response from readers on my ill mother has been overwhelming. I figured it would be good to have an exchange with the chatters. There's a lot going on and I'm trying to keep as busy as I can with on-line stuff. So if technology permits and there are no urgent matters here, I'll try to get on around 1 p.m.



Must Win

Normally, I'm not one for "must-win" games. Back in 2004, I wrote the Bills off at 3-6 and they reeled off six straight wins to get back in the playoff hunt. But I'll make an exception here. If the Bills have any intention of being a playoff contender, they simply have to beat the Titans at the Ralph this Sunday.

It's a down year in the AFC. You have to beat the bad teams at home. And make no mistake, Tennessee is a bad team. The Titans are weak on both lines of scrimmage. They're last in the NFL in rushing, 26th in yards per pass, 30th in total defense and last in points allowed (the Bills are 31st).

Spare me all the talk about gut checks and character in the desert last weekend. The Bills' defense is supposed to shut down the bad teams. They should dominate the Titans. Chris Johnson has rushed for under 25 yards in four different games already. In 108 touches, he doesn't have a single play of 20 yards or more.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, who hasn't beaten a good quarterback in more than a year, merely needs to outplay 37-year-old journeyman Matt Hasselbeck, who has an unremarkable group of receivers and can't beat teams down the field. Chan Gailey is losing faith in Fitz's ability to throw the ball down the middle. Fitz shouldn't need to win this game on his own. But he can't be the reason they lose it, either. 

A win won't validate the Bills as a contender. They're a long way from that after their humiliating two-game skid against New England and San Francisco. But beating the Titans will give them a little momentum before the bye, and time to fix things before the two-game trip to Houston and New England. A loss would be a very disturbing sign. It would confirm them as a fraud.

Yankee Chokers

Alex Rodriguez is the biggest name, the highest-paid player, the lightning rod. So it's understandable that he gets the brunt of the attention for the Yankees' post-season failures. But benching A-Rod in the ALCS is a weak move by manager Joe Girardi, a way of deflecting attention from the overall team dysfunction.

The real culprit here is general manager Brian Cashman, who has been avoiding blame in New York for years. You could argue that Cashman, using the highest payroll in baseball, has put together the biggest collection of post-season choke hitters in baseball history. If you think A-Rod is the worst offender, think again.

Sure, A-Rod has struggled this October, but as of Wednesday, he was a .247 post-season hitter in pinstripes. Not great for a $25 million man, but at least he carried the Yankees to a World Series title in 2009. And you can find much worse than him in the Yankees' regular lineup of underachievers:

Nick Swisher: As a Yankee, hitting .159 (20-126) in postseason, with 4 homers, 6 RBIs.

Mark Teixeira: Hitting an even .200 (27-135) as a Yankee in postseason, with 3 homers, 13 RBIs.

Russell Martin: A robust .153 (8-53) in postseason in pinstripes, .204 including his Dodger years.

Curtis Granderson: Batting . 234 (18 for 77) as Yankee in postseason.

Robinson Cano: His ghastly 2012 playoffs has him at .226 (45-199) as Yank in postseason.

Eric Chavez: A-Rod's replacement is a career .195 post-season hitter, counting his days in Oakland. Has 3 homers, 29 strikeouts in 33 career playoff games. Still looking for first post-season hit as a Yank.

The assumption is that Cashman will now have to find a taker (the Marlins?) for Rodriguez, with the Yanks picking up a chunk of his remaining five-year, $114 million deal. But when you look at the roster he's put together, it's pretty clear that Cashman should be shown the door, too.


Average Football Conference?

Check out the NFl standings today. There are only three teams currently above .500 in the AFC. Three. And if San Diego loses at home to Denver tonight, it'll be two. That's six games into the season. There's generally separation as the season wears on, but it's looking like there will be a jumble of barely-above-average teams battling for playoff spots well into December this season.

Even Houston and Baltimore, who stand atop the conference at 5-1, are showing signs of weakness. The Texans' vaunted defense seemed ordinary in Sunday night's 42-24 loss to the Packers. They certainly seemed to miss star linebacker Brian Cushing, who is out for the year with a knee injury. The Ravens lost veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, whose play has slipped significantly. They are missing several key players on defense.

There's no doubt which is the weaker conference right now. The NFC is 19-9 in games between the conferences this season. Not one AFC division has a winning collective record against the NFC. So unless there's a dramatic surge by several teams, there's a good chance that a 9-7 record could qualify for the playoffs. Chances are, we'll see a tie for the final spot at 9-7.

It's hard to envision New England not winning 10 or more games. Houston, even without Cushing, seems a lock to win 10. Other than that, I can't find a team that's a certainty to finish with double-digit wins. Pittsburgh's defense is a mess. The Jets have problems on offense. Cincinnati has been a disappointment. I'm not sold on the Broncos, despite Peyton Manning.

So this should be heartening to Bills fans. The Bills still have major issues on both sides of the ball, but if a 9-7 record can get you a sniff of the playoffs, they're still a viable playoff contender. They need to beat Tennessee, though. And who knows? There's a four-way tie for first in the division at 3-3. Maybe the Pats will collapse and 8-8 will actually win the AFC East.






Bills at the Arena

As you might have heard, I've been away from the News for the past 10 days to be with my mother, who is gravely ill with cancer in my hometown of Newport, R.I. On Sunday, I decided to get away for a few hours to watch the Bills play Arizona. So I recruited my dear friend, Charlie Burns, to help me connect with the one Rhode Island chapter of the Bills Backers club.

The R.I. chapter, which is about 100 strong, meets these days at the Arena Bar and Grill in Cranston, a town just south of Providence. They had been congregating at a place called "Balls", but that place recently closed. So owner Anthony Arena was kind enough to allow the Bills Backers to watch games in his bar, which has about a dozen TVs and caters to fans of various NFL teams. We got there in about half an hour and arrived just after the opening kickoff.

The Bills fans sit at a bunch of tables near the door. Arena provided a large-screen TV on the wall, between the two dart boards. This is Patriots country, of course, and the majority of the fans gather around the rectangular bar, cheering for the Pats -- who were also playing out West at 4 p.m. on Sunday. As you might imagine, the Bills fans cheered whenever Seattle had any success against the Pats. I wonder if any ugliness might occur during the day. But it was an older crowd and there were no incidents. Certainly more sedate than, say, a crowd at the Ralph. 

"It's OK here," said Joe Burgess, a Silver Creek native who now resides in Rhode Island. "At the other place, those guys were nasty."

Burgess said his father still lives in Hamburg and is a big Bills fan. "I'm sure he's watching the game right now," he said. "He gets ticked off when they black it out."

Phil Depaolo, the president of the R.I. chapter, was not at the bar. His wife, Pam, said he's recovering from spinal surgery. I thought that was a bad omen. But Pam was optimistic. She brings a little windup "toga" bear to the bar. It plays the "Shout" song when the Bills score. You have to hold it up close to your ear to hear it, but they pass it around to the Bills fans to hear.

I stood with a group of Western New Yorkers who had attended Roger Williams College here and remain staunch Bills fans. One of them had grim memories of the Dallas game on Monday night five years ago.  When the Cardinals lined up for a game-tying 61-yard field goal, the name "Nick Folk" came up prominently. They remembered sipping beers in stunned silence when the Cowboys won that game.

But Bills fans, as fatalistic as they might be, never lose hope. The Bills won in overtime. The Patriots blew a lead to the Seahawks and lost. Suddenly, the Bills were in a four-way tie for first place in the AFC East. The Rhode Island Bills Backers were high-fiving and shouting as the Pats fans sat silent.

During the game, Arena was selling raffle tickets. The winner got two tickets to the Bills game at New England early next month. I told him I didn't need to enter. I'd have a press pass to the game. Until I had a chance to spend an afternoon with the Bills Backers, I didn't know how much I'd missed it.