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Brady The Best Ever?

Tom Brady will come into Buffalo this weekend on an incredible roll, one that has a lot of NFL observers wondering if the Patriots' quarterback is the best ever to play the position. I've considered Brady the best of all time for at least five years, based largely on his winning record and his performance in the playoffs and Super Bowls.

In the long run, statistics have a way of swaying people's opinions. Brady is having a sensational season that could rival what he did in 2007, when he finished the year with a record 50 TD passes. As extraordinary as that year was statistically, this one might be even more impressive.

Brady has completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 3,561 yards and 31 touchdowns. He has thrown only four interceptions. He has not thrown a pick in his last 292 attempts. Brady is 16 shy of Bernie Kosar's record of 308 straight passes without an interception, set for Cleveland in 1990-91. Brady is third on the all-time list behind Bart Starr, who had 294 straight throws without a pick in 1964-65.

It's even more impressive when you consider that Brady has done it against most of the NFL's top defenses -- and while carrying a team with a defense ranked near the bottom of the league.  He has played nine games this season against teams with defenses currently ranked in the Top 10 in the league. The Pats are 8-1 in those games. They're averaging 31.3 points. They've scored at least 30 points in six straight games, including wins over Pittsburgh, the Jets, Chicago and Green Bay.

The Patriots haven't turned the ball over in their last six games, an NFL record. They have nine turnovers on the season and are on pace to break the record for fewest turnovers (13) set by the 2088 Dolphins AND Giants. It's amazing when you consider that Brady has two rookie tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) among his top four receivers, and that Deion Branch rejoined his old team in midseason after the Pats traded Randy Moss.

Brady is 33 years old. Barring injury, he is likely to play at least five more seasons. If he wins at least one more Super Bowl, it will put him ahead of Joe Montana, who is generally considered the best QB of all time. Montana played most of his career with the greatest wide receiver of all time, Jerry Rice. Like Brady, he had a great coach in Bill Walsh.

If Brady wins a Super Bowl and continues to put up these staggering regular-season numbers, a lot more people will come around to the notion that he's the best of all time. So what do you think? Is Brady the best ever? Or does he need to do more to surpass Montana in your estimation? Is it Terry Bradshaw? Dan Marino? John Elway? Otto Graham?

Stevie Drowning in Self-Pity

It was pretty clear when it happened that Stevie Johnson was having trouble with his dropped TD pass against the Steelers today. Johnson sat at the far end of the bench, staring at the video board, unwilling to watch the game unfolding. Afterwards, he said he would never get over the drop. That's not what you want to hear from a professional athlete who has just recently become a star.

The worst of it was Johnson's post on his Twitter account after the game:

"I praise you 24/7!!!! And this is how you  do me!!!! You expect me to learn from this??? How???!!! I'll never forget this!! Ever!!! Thx tho ... "

Wow. It seems Johnson is asking God why he allowed him to suffer such a distressing moment in a football game. It's sad to see a pro athlete wallow in self-pity this way,  and yet another reason for me to detest the whole tweeting culture, which demands an instant response to every human happening.

Johnson has to forget it. It's a game. Even the greats drop passes, as Andre Reed told me after the game in the locker room.  It must be tough for him. He went from a nobody to a national star in the space of a couple of weeks. Now he's a goat. But part of being a successful athlete is rebounding from adversity. This Bills team has done it all year. They don't need their new star receiver feeling sorry for himself and telling the world that God "did him" in some way.

I'm guessing the Creator has bigger concerns than a star athlete dropping a pass.

 

 

Strength of Schedule

I checked the NFL standings today and was a little stunned to find that eight of the Bills' first 11 opponents are currently leading or tied for the division lead. The Patriots and Jets are tied at 9-2 atop the AFC East; the Bears and  Packers share the NFC North lead at 7-3; the Ravens and Steelers are deadlocked at 7-3 atop the AFC North; the Jaguars' 6-4 mark is good for a tie with the Colts in the AFC South; and the surprising Chiefs are leading the AFC West with a 6-4 record.

So looking ahead to possible ties and draft implications, you might assume the Bills' schedule was far tougher than the Panthers, who are 1-9 and currently positioned to get the top pick in the draft. The tiebreaker at draft time is strength of schedule. The team that played the weaker schedule gets the higher pick, since that suggest the team had the lesser talent.

Well, think again. Carolina's strength of schedule is almost identical to the Bills. Entering Sunday's games, the Bills' 10 opponents have an overall record of 60-44. The Panthers' opponents have an aggregate record of 59-44. The difference in games reflects the fact that games were played on Thanksgiving. Carolina has played two games against Tampa Bay, which is 7-3 and two against the Saints, who are 8-3. They've played two other 7-3 teams: Chicago and Baltimore.

The remaining schedules are also close. The Bills' last six opponents have a record of 36-26. The Panthers' final six are against teams with a 34-26 mark. Both teams play Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The Bills play the Jets and Pats again. But the Panthers play two against Atlanta, now 8-2.

As of this moment, the opponents on the Bills' and Panthers' schedule have the same numer of losses: 70.  So it could go down to the wire to determine which team plays the easiest schedule -- and who drafts first in the event of a tie. The Bills seem good enough right now to win a couple more games and make the issue moot. But if you were thinking the Panthers were losing to much weaker opposition, the records say you're wrong.

  

 

 

 

Fitz Out Of The Running

On my WGR radio show a few weeks back, I promised to run down the street in my underwear if Ryan Fitzpatrick finished the season with 30 touchdowns. Fitzpatrick  has 18 touchdown passes. He is on pace to throw 32. I still think it's a long shot. But I'm worried. So on Wednesday, I asked Fitz if he would consider running with me if he gets to 30 TDs.

"Absolutely not," he said without hesitation. "But I'll probably be there watching."

Not even with all your clothes on, I asked him?

"No," he said. "I'll be cheering you on."

So I'm taking it as a promise that Fitz will at least be standing alongside the road if I'm forced to hobble on my bad hip down Hertel Avenue in early January. He said he heard about my wager with Jeremy White from a friend the other day and was amused by it.

"Yeah, I think it's funny," he said. "The first thing I got was the mental image, which wasn't pretty. I hope you're not rooting against me."

On the contrary, I'm rooting like hell for Fitz to throw the second-most TD passes in a season in Bills' history: 29.

 

No Joking Matter

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick spent two seasons (2007-08) backing up Carson Palmer in Cincinnati. The two became fast friends. Fitz will start against Palmer for the first time on Sunday when the Bengals host the Bills. He said they communicate with one another on a regular basis.

"Yeah," Fitz said. "Just joking, texts back and forth and that kind of stuff. Yeah, we talk about the season and how it's been going, what we're going to go to eat."

Fitz was asked if he and Palmer joked about their passing statistics. "No," Fitzpatrick said. "Are they funny to you? Uh, I don't know. I don't know why I would joke about them."

Well, Fitz might want to needle his mentor about their respective spots in the NFL passing stats. Fitz has taken a tumble the last few weeks. He's dropped to 11th in the NFL in quarterback rating at 85.5. That's one spot in front of Palmer -- a former No. 1 overall draft pick -- in the ratings.

Oh, and Fitz is second in the NFL in third-down passer rating at 110.0, just behind Drew Brees of the Saints. Palmer is 26th at 59.8. He has completed just 50 percent of his third-down throws.

So it'll be a big game for both this Sunday. Fitz admitted it won't be just another game. Palmer, meanwhile, has been struggling for a team that has lost six straight games. If he loses to his former caddy at home, Bengals fans might begin to wonder if they should be the ones looking to take a quarterback high in the draft.
 

Merriman

Bills coach Chan Gailey was asked his impressions of Shawne Merriman early Wednesday afternoon, before the news broke that the team had claimed Merriman on waivers. He said he hadn't seen Merriman in awhile. Gailey also said he had no recollection of coaching against the former Maryland star when he was coaching Georgia Tech, a rival in the ACC.

"I think he was gone by the time I got there," Gailey said.

Both claims seem a bit curious. For one thing, it's hard to imagine the Bills making a claim on Merriman without the head coach being involved in the process. It's well-established that Gailey and Buddy Nix are attached at the hip on all team matters.

As for the latter notion, Gailey was the head coach at Georgia Tech from 2002 through 2007. Merriman played at Maryland from 2002 through 2004. So their time in the ACC overlapped for three seasons.

Bills fans can only hope that Merriman makes a better impression on Gailey this time around.

A Productive Bye Week

The Bills had a bye on Sunday, but they moved a tiny bit closer to getting the first overall pick in next April's draft when San Francisco won the Battle of the Bay against the Raiders. That leaves the Bills and Panthers as the only winless teams in the NFL.

It's a long road, but I think the Bills are in the driver's seat. For one thing, they're the worst team in the NFL. They have the worst talent in the sport, which will happen when you consistently blow first-round draft picks and don't bring in any quality free agents. If the injuries continue to mount, and their opponents have something to play for late in the year, the Bills could win this going away.

Carolina is 0-5, but the Panthers are better than their record. They're weak at quarterback, but they're second in the league in pass defense and sixth overall on D. They also have a fairly easy schedule. The Panthers  host the 1-5 Niners on Sunday. They also have games remaining against St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Arizona and Seattle. I see them with three wins at least.

San Francisco is a decent 1-5 team. They were picked to win the NFC West and their owner says they're still going to win the division. With Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis in the division, I wouldn't rule it out. No team with Patrick Willis is going to go 1-15. I figure them for at least four wins.

Detroit is not a bad team. In fact, the 1-5 Lions have outscored their opponents this season, 146-140. I wouldn't be surprised to see them favored when they come to Buffalo on Nov. 14. Even if the Bills win that game, I see the Lions finishing with a better record.

Dallas is 1-4. They're the top-rated defense in the NFL. I wouldn't include them, but it gives me a chance to get a dig in against Wade Phillips, who is lucky to still be employed as an NFL head coach. Some Bills fans think of him as the last good Buffalo coach, but he had exceptional talent and didn't wina playoff game. Wade is a poor detail man, as Colin Cowherd said on his radio show today. Phillips will probably coach the Cowboys up to an 8-8 record.

Cleveland. The Browns (1-5) are probably the biggest threat to the No. 1 pick. They play in a tough division. They have games left with New England, New Orleans, the Jets, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. If they lose to the Bills here on Dec. 12, they could get the first pick in the draft. But they host Carolina on Nov. 28 and could be two games up on the Bills by then.

What do you think? Who has the best shot at No. 1 overall?  

 

 

 

If Moss could be traded, why not Evans?

Once again, the Patriots and Bill Belichick proved that when it's time to part ways with a player, they don't fool around. According to various reports, the Pats have traded veteran receiver Randy Moss to the Vikings for a third-round draft pick in the 2011 draft.

The Pats now have eight picks in the first four rounds of next April's draft -- two in each of the first four rounds. With Belichick continuing to replenish his roster, might it be another five years or more before the Bills can compete with the Pats in the division?

Moss, whose 151 career TD catches is second all-time to Jerry Rice, had been at odds with Pats management for some time. According to a report on ESPNBoston.com, Moss had a heated exchange with his quarterbacks coach at halftime of New England's win over Miami on Monday. Moss didn't have a catch in that game and was targeted only once in the first half.

The Bills, meanwhile, waited more than six months to figure out that Trent Edwards and Marshawn Lynch had no future in Buffalo. They got a fourth-round pick for Lynch, which they almost surely could have gotten before last year's draft. Still, this might be a sign that anyone on the Bills is available for the right price.

How about Lee Evans? The Pats are still loaded offensively, but they will likely be looking for a deep threat to complement their underneath receiving game. Evans makes about $8 million a year, so it would be tough to move him, especially considering his poor production the last two seasons.

What do you think? Would you trade Evans if the Bills found a team desperate enough to take his contract off their hands?

 

Depends on the Package

Chan Gailey has a pat answer whenever anyone asks about his running backs: "It depends on the package." When Gailey was asked if Marshawn Lynch would start again this week, the head coach said, "Depends on the package, Depends which we start with."

I asked Gailey about Trent Edwards' assertion after the Green Bay game that he wasn't aware who the starting running back would be until the game started. Is that customary, I asked. "It depends on the packages we go with," Gailey said. "It could have been someone different in each package."

Well, I have a suggestion for the head coach. Go with the Fred Jackson package. It's time to give one of the three running backs the bulk of the carries, and Jackson deserves to be the featured guy. Jackson has been especially productive against the Patriots. In two games against New England a year ago, Jackson had 30 carries for 137 yards (4.6 per carry) and nine catches for 112 yards. That's 252 yards from scrimmage. Jackson also rushed for 136 yards against the Pats in the final game of the '08 season, in snowy conditions where New England knew the Bills would run the ball.

Lynch has played against New England three times in his career. He has 145 total yards and has averaged a shade under 3.5 yards a carry.

Jackson is averaging 4.5 a carry this season. He's averaging 4.5 yards a carry for his career. I detect a pattern here.







 

Hardy Visits Seattle

James Hardy, who was released before the opener by the Bills, worked out with the Seattle Seahawks, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. There's been no other report about Hardy, a former second-round pick who joined Tom Modrak's list of draft busts. It would be a surprise if Seattle or any other NFL team added him to the active roster. 

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