What were you doing back in 1999? My biggest sports recollections from that year would be: Denver repeating as Super Bowl champion that January (1998 season), which would prove to be John Elway's final game; the Spurs beat the Knicks in a dreadful NBA Finals; Payne Stewart won a memorable U.S. Open duel vs. Phil Mickelson and then died in a plane crash just a few months later; and perhaps the biggest event was the U.S. women winning the World Cup final over China at the Rose Bowl, with Brandi Chastain converting the fifth winning kick in a penalty shootout. Of course Chastain then went on to celebrate in pretty memorable bra-flashing fashion (nowadays the Kardashian women go out in less than that).
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I mention this because 1999 was the last season the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs - they were one of the dominant franchises of that decade with eight postseason appearances and four straight Super Bowl trips, all losses. That '99 club wasn't the Jim Kelly/Thurman Thomas/Andre Reed juggernaut but had Doug Flutie at quarterback, Jonathan Linton and Antowain Smith as the leading rushers, and Eric Moulds as the leading receiver (Reed was on the team but right near the end of his career).
That drought is the longest in the NFL, and it's not like the Bills have been awful like the Browns. Buffalo usually is competitive, but it simply hasn't been able to find a quarterback - much like Cleveland. Last year, the Bills were an excellent running team, but QB Tyrod Taylor and the defense were just OK. They were very streaky, starting 0-2, winning four straight, losing three in a row, winning two, losing two, winning one and losing two more. A Week 16 overtime home loss to Miami was the last straw for management as Rex Ryan was fired. The Bills had some embarrassing coaching gaffes in that game.
Strangely, the team didn't fire GM Doug Whaley when it did Ryan, instead waiting until the morning after the 2017 draft was finished to dump Whaley. Quite odd timing (like the Cavs dumping GM David Griffin on the eve of the NBA Draft and free agency). The Bills were 30-34 during Whaley's tenure as general manager and had only one winning season (9-7 in 2014). Buffalo fans are very loyal, and I'm rooting for this team to make the playoffs in 2017. I just don't see it happening unless the Patriots lose Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo to season-ending injuries early.
Buffalo was 3-5 on the road last season, 3-5 against the spread and 4-4 "over/under." The Bills travel to four playoff teams this year, which is a big number: Atlanta, Kansas City, New England and Miami. Three sets of back-to-backs on the schedule. For my predictions I'd say the road slate is tougher overall. Only two games aren't currently at 1 p.m. ET on the schedule: Week 9 at the Jets and Week 11 at the Chargers. I project a 2-6 record. Odds listed for the home team.
Sept. 17 at Panthers ( -3.5): Buffalo should be 1-0 after hosting the sorry Jets in Week 1. If any coach in the NFL would know how to stop Cam Newton, it would surely be the Bills' new head coach Sean McDermott, formerly Carolina's defensive coordinator. Three Buffalo players also played for the Panthers in 2016. Key betting trend: Bills 1-5 ATS all-time at NFC South teams.
Oct. 1 at Falcons (-7.5): This is the Bills' only indoor game of the season, and they are off a Week 3 home game vs. Denver. Again, McDermott should have some knowledge on how to deal with Matt Ryan, although he torched Carolina last year. Key betting trend: Bills 7-3 ATS in past 10 as an October road dog of at least 7 points.
Oct. 8 at Bengals (-3.5): This is ahead of Buffalo's bye. Buffalo came off its bye last year in Week 11 and won in Cincinnati 16-12. The Bills clinched it by knocking down Andy Dalton's desperation pass into the end zone on the final play. It was quite an ugly game full of mistakes - Taylor threw an interception to Dre Kirkpatrick at the Bengals 1-yard line late in the first half -- and injuries. Key betting trend: Bills 3-5-2 ATS in past 10 before a bye (any location).
Nov. 2 at Jets (+1.5): Thursday night, with the Bills off a Week 8 home game vs. Oakland. It's the third straight season these two face off on a Thursday. In 2015 the Bills beat the Jets at MetLife Stadium. Last season New York won at New Era Field. Buffalo closed 2016 with a 30-10 loss at the Jets. Taylor didn't play to prevent injury for contract reasons. Key betting trend: Bills are 1-9 ATS in past 10 as road favorite in series.
Nov. 19 at Chargers (-2): Buffalo hosts New Orleans the previous Sunday. San Diego's new head coach is Anthony Lynn, a guy many thought the Bills would hire in the same role. He was Buffalo's interim coach for the final game of 2016 and also served as offensive coordinator and running backs coach under Ryan. Key betting trend: Bills 4-6 ATS in past 10 as road dog anywhere of 2.5 points or fewer.
Nov. 26 at Chiefs (-6): McDermott's mentor is Chiefs coach Andy Reid as Reid hired McDermottas an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999. These teams last met in 2015 in K.C. with the Chiefs winning 30-22. Sammy Watkins had the half of his career with six grabs for 158 yard and two scores before intermission but didn't have another catch. Key betting trend: Bills 6-4 ATS (lost five straight SU) in past 10 at AFC West teams.
Dec. 24 at Patriots (-11.5): This follows a three-game homestand for Buffalo, concluded by a Week 15 game vs. Miami. In 15 years, the Bills have yet to win at Gillette Stadium when Brady plays the full game. Buffalo did win there in 16-0 in Week 4 last year with Brady and Garoppolo out and Jacoby Brissett under center. Key betting trend: Bills 0-10 SU but 6-4 ATS in past 10 as road dog of at least 7.5 points in series.
Dec. 31 at Dolphins (TBA): Again, no Week 17 lines with too much up in the air. The schedule-makers did the Bills no favors in having to travel to the two best AFC East teams back-to-back in the final two weeks. The Fins are probably giddy this New Year's Eve game wasn't in Buffalo. The Bills lost 28-25 in south Florida in Week 7 a season ago as they were steamrolled by Jay Ajayi. Key betting trend: Bills 4-6 ATS in past 10 on road in series.
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