One rather unique aspect of English sports bookmaking is the “first manager to be sacked” prices listed at the beginning of each season in the EPL. (In case you’re interested, Southampton’s Nigel Adkins is currently the favorite at 5/2).
We suspect if similar odds were to be quoted on NFL head coaches, Buffalo’s Chan Gailey might be the shortest-priced option on the board.
Although it’s still early in the 2012 campaign, it’s already becoming nervous time for the Bills...and Gailey in particular. Last week’s humbling 48-28 loss in the opener against the Jets continued a nosedive that commenced in the middle of last season.
About the only saving grace for Buffalo is that visiting Kansas City enters Orchard Park on Sunday with its own set of concerns. It might not be much of an edge, but these days, the Bills will take any advantage they can get.
Oddsmakers in fact are suggesting that Gailey and Buffalo might have a chance to get back on the right track on Sunday. As noted on the Don Best NFL odds screen, the Bills are listed as 3-point favorites at the majority of Las Vegas sports books, with the total at 45 shaded to the 'under.'
Kickoff time at Ralph Wilson Stadium will be 1:00 p.m. (ET), with CBS providing TV coverage.
The case for Buffalo, however, is not an easy one to construct, especially on the technical side. That opening loss to the Jets dropped the Bills’ 10-game mark (stretching to just before midseason a year ago) to 1-9 straight up and 2-8 against the number. Moreover, Buffalo failed to cover all four of its chances as a home favorite last season and is just 1-6 vs. the spread its last seven as home chalk.
And, while we know preseason doesn’t mean much, the Bills also lost all four of their exhibition games. Counting those, Buffalo is now 1-13 SU in its last 14 games. If the saying “winning begets winning” means anything, Gailey’s team is at a further disadvantage at the moment.
About the only technical plus we can find for the Bills this week is that they did wallop the Chiefs, 41-7, in last year’s opener at Arrowhead, although Kansas City was a decimated squad at the outset of 2011, and Buffalo was actually winning games last September. Obviously, however, much has changed since.
There is a possibility, however, that Buffalo could be the lesser of two evils in this matchup. Kansas City is also 0-1 after being humbled in its opener by Atlanta, 40-24. In addition, the Chiefs’ defense was depleted last week with the absence of four key contributors. We can only be confident about one of those (LB Tamba Hali, having served a league-mandate one-game suspension) being back on the field at Orchard Park; Safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder), CB Brandon Flowers (heel) and DT Anthony Toribio (ankle) were all inactive last week. Those three all remain iffy for action on Sunday.
Romeo Crennel’s defense, which helped fuel a late-season charge a year ago, is also hoping that Memphis rookie NT Dontari Poe can help upgrade what was a somewhat leaky run defense a year ago. Results were mixed in the opener, as the Falcons rushed for only 85 yards but also didn’t worry too much about establishing the infantry as QB Matt Ryan was able to throw successfully whenever he wished. Poe was very active in his debut, although that is not exactly what the coaches are looking with a two-gap, 3-4 nose tackle who is supposed to stay at home and clog this middle. Poe remains a work in progress.
Capitalizing on these potential Chief shortcomings, however, could be problematic for the Bills after they lost top runner Fred Jackson to a knee injury in the Jets opener. Jackson, expected to be out at least a month, has thus ceded the feature-back role to ex-Clemson charge C.J. Spiller, who has flashed real upside in brief spurts in the past but now must assume a heavier workload.
What concerns Bills fans most, however, is not whether Jackson or Spiller carries the ball, but rather QB Ryan Fitzpatrick keeping better care of the pigskin. Picking up where where he left off in the disastrous second half of '11, Fitzpatrick tossed three more picks in the opener against the Jets, continuing a dizzying interception rate after leading the league in picks with 23 a year ago.
Belatedly, Fitzpatrick padded his stats late in the New York opener after the Jets were conceding yardage with a huge lead late in the game, but don’t be fooled; Fitzpatrick is a liability at the moment, and many AFC East sources believe the under-fire Gailey (who can’t afford a slow break from the gate if he wants to keep is job) is not far away from looking to his bullpen for help. Recently-acquired former Vikings and Seahawks starter Tarvaris Jackson could get the call soon if Fitzpatrick continues to implode.
Also disturbing to Bills fans is the continuing underachievement of a defense that continues to prove the definition of the parts being greater than the sum. Well-publicized and supposed upgrades in the offseason included landing prized free-agent DE Mario Williams from Houston, plus DE Mark Anderson from the Patriots and highly-regarded South Carolina rookie CB Stephon Gilmore in the first round of the April NFL Draft, Buffalo’s stop unit was feeble vs. the Jets.
As for new DEs Williams and Anderson, they could only have been less factors had they not dressed for the game; the supposedly improved Bills pass rush, one of the worst in the league last season when recording only 29 sacks, allowed Mark Sanchez to sit unbothered in the pocket all afternoon when he was never sacked, or much less touched, helping contribute to the Jets converting 10-of-14 third-down tries.
Buffalo’s defense, which allowed a franchise-record 5,938 yards and second-worst all-time 434 points last season, hardly looks improved for defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt. This could pose severe problems against Kansas City QB Matt Cassel, who has better receiving options at his disposal than do the Jets.
If there is one technical edge to be gleaned from Buffalo’s defensive downturn it’s that it has contributed to a spate of higher-scoring games since last season; the Bills are now 'over' 11-6 since the beginning of the 2011 campaign following the 76 combined points posted with the Jets in the opener.
One positive for the Chiefs in their opener vs. the Falcons was the return to action of RB Jamaal Charles, who went down for the count in Week 2 last September due to a knee injury but looked good upon his regular-season return vs. the Falcons, gaining 87 yards on 16 carries, including one 45-yard run in which he looked like the Charles of old.
In an opening week in which neither the Bills nor the Chiefs had much to cheer about, Charles’ performance was at least an encouraging development for Kansas City. We’re hard pressed to think of one of the same for Buffalo.