Archive for the ‘Bills Toronto Series’ Category

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First, it was the Steelers. Then it was Dolphins, followed by the Jets and the Colts. Now, the Chicago Bears are on their way to Toronto to battle Buffalo in the Bills Toronto Series.

Back in March, when the Bills announced that the Indianapolis Colts would be the next NFL team to play in Toronto (at a preseason game scheduled for Aug. 19), I speculated as to which of the team’s eight home opponents would land here for the third regular-season affair in the marriage between the two cities:

These are the eight possibilities, ranked from most attractive to least attractive:

1. New England Patriots
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. New York Jets
4. Miami Dolphins
5. Chicago Bears
6. Detroit Lions
7. Cleveland Browns
8. Jacksonville Jaguars

Unfortunately for Toronto folk planning to attend the game, it’s almost a certainty that one of the bottom four teams will be coming to Canada. The Jets, Dolphins and Steelers have already been involved in the series, while the Bills would probably fight like hell to keep the Patriots game in Western New York.

Based on that logic, the Bears were probably the best realistic option. Rogers Communications wouldn’t have been happy with Detroit, Cleveland or Jacksonville, but Chicago ain’t so bad.

Sure, the Bears struggled to only a 9-7 record, missing the playoffs last season, but there is some sex appeal on this team — sex appeal the Jets and Dolphins didn’t have. And when you consider that they probably underachieved last season, there’s a chance they could be the best team yet to hit Toronto for one of these games.

Not only do you have high-profile quarterback Jay Cutler, but you now have big-name free-agent signee Julius Peppers, the Bears’ new star.

It also isn’t a huge challenge to find Bears fans in the city of Toronto. There’s a lot of history surrounding the franchise, and Super Bowl Shuffle days had to win over more than a few on-the-fence fans who are now in prime position to spend their disposable income on overpriced games like these.

A good compromise

As for Bills fans that choose not to take part in the trip down the QEW, they can take solace in the fact that they aren’t losing the Steelers or a division rival/top draw like New England. They should also be happy that a warm-weather team won’t get to benefit by playing the Bills in a domed stadium. A team like the Bears is as familiar with the elements as the Bills are.

Unless you’re the CFL….

The Canadian Football League can’t be as thrilled with the situation, mainly because of the timing. The first two regular-season games in this series took place in December, after the Grey Cup. But this game goes down on Nov. 7 — the last day of the CFL regular season.

I’ve said time and again that NFL fans and CFL fans are very separate, and I highly doubt this game will hurt TV ratings for the Argonauts-Alouettes game scheduled for that very same day in Montreal (especially considering that game will start three hours after the Bears-Bills game does).

And let’s be real: the CFL already loses viewers on NFL Sundays. It’s not like it’s going to lose more viewers just because one of the 12 NFL games that day will be played on our side of the border.

So from a logistics standpoint, this shouldn’t make any difference. But from a political standpoint, the CFL probably isn’t happy that the NFL is horning in on its territory.

Even more than it was before.

Note on ticket prices

Rogers Centre will have a new seating plan this year, with lower ticket prices in certain sections and a new $65 seating section, according to series organizers.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Last year at this time, it was a popular rumour that the Indianapolis Colts would be coming to Rogers Centre in Toronto to take on the Buffalo Bills in the next chapter of the Bills Toronto Series.

That didn’t happen, and Torontonians had to settle for the considerably less explosive New York Jets.

This year, it’s actually happening, but for a preseason game. The Bills will “host” the defending AFC champions at Rogers Centre on Thursday, August 19 at 7:30 p.m.

“We are excited to be able to play in Toronto,” said Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay.  “We know Canadians are avid football fans, and it promises to be a great experience for our players and coaches.”

This is a perfect scenario for every party involved. Toronto gets its best road opponent yet, with the biggest name in the sport (Joseph Addai … just kidding, Peyton Manning), while the Bills have a chance to actually captivate fans with some scoring. Even if they aren’t the team putting the points on the board.

Indy gets a chance to grab some new fans, too.

This will be the second preseason game for each team, so you can expect to see the starters for a fairly significant amount of time. The third preseason would be better, but this beats the hell out of the final one, which Manning rarely even plays in.

I wrote last year that losing a regular-season home game against the Colts would be bad news for Bills fans in Buffalo, so this is a good compromise. Everybody wins.

I realize that preseason games are never attractive, but Indy could be the perfect team to spice this thing up. I find that kids don’t mind preseason games as much as adults, and I also get the feeling the Colts have gained quite a few followers worldwide over the last 10 years.

In Toronto, there are likely a lot of 15-year-olds who cheer for the Colts, simply because they were the best offensive team in the league when those kids became fans of the league itself. My cousin Josh is one of those kids.

We’ll find out which team is coming for this year’s regular-season affair when the schedule is released in mid-April. These are the eight possibilities, ranked from most attractive to least attractive:

1. New England Patriots
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. New York Jets
4. Miami Dolphins
5. Chicago Bears
6. Detroit Lions
7. Cleveland Browns
8. Jacksonville Jaguars

Unfortunately for Toronto folk planning to attend the game, it’s almost a certainty that one of the bottom four teams will be coming to Canada. The Jets, Dolphins and Steelers have already been involved in the series, while the Bills would probably fight like hell to keep the Patriots game in Western New York.

Josh Cribbs became a star in 2009.

45. People continue to not care about Bills Toronto Series

Don’t blame the city — if the Bills want to sell themselves to Southern Ontario and continue a push for regionalization, maybe they should consider spending some money on personnel.

Three games in, the Bills Toronto Series has been an utter failure, but it has nothing to do with Toronto’s passion for American football.

44. A Giant defensive collapse

Heading into the 2009 season, the New York Giants were supposed to be the deepest defensive team in football. They were on the verge of getting Osi Umenyiora back and had made a splash in free agency by bringing in the likes of Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard and Michael Boley to bolster the front seven.

Things looked promising at first, as the G-men started 5-0, but then disaster struck.

Saints 48, Giants 27 … Cardinals 24, Giants 17 … Eagles 40, Giants 17 … Chargers 21, Giants 20.

New York went on to give up over 32 points per game over its final 11 affairs, with the loss of starting safety Kenny Phillips and the underperformance of Umenyiora being the biggest factors.

In the end, only the Lions and Rams surrendered more points than the Giants in 2009.

43. Rookie receivers shine

They often say that wide receiver is the toughest position for a rookie to find his legs and adjust to the speed and intensity of the National Football League. But that wasn’t the case this year.

Eleven rookie receivers had 500-plus yards through the air this year, compared to just six in 2008 and four in 2007.

And some of these guys played fairly major roles in their offences. You had Austin Collie making big plays for the AFC champion Indianapolis Colts. You had Percy Harvin as a featured target for Brett Favre and the 12-win Vikings. You had Michael Crabtree, who made up for lost time following a lengthy holdout by quickly become San Francisco’s top option.

Johnny Knox has probably become the No. 1 guy in Chicago. He made the Pro Bowl (eventually), while Hakeem Nicks busted through to become quite possibly the most reliable target with the Giants.

Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Kenny Britt and Mohamed Massaquoi had big inaugural seasons, too.

42. Rookie linebackers shine

Same deal for the linebacker position, which might have given us the top three rookies this year (at least in my uneducated opinion) — Brian Cushing (the defensive rookie of the year), James Laurinaitis and Clay Matthews.

Throw in stellar peformances from Brian Orakpo and Rey Maualuga and the NFL certainly doesn’t have to worry about its future in terms of star power at the linebacker position. 

41. Cribbs becomes a legit franchise player

Most regular football followers already knew Joshua Cribbs was a special player prior to the 2009 season. But in ’09, the special-teams ace became the only legitimate “star” on the lowly Cleveland Browns.

There’s at least a small push for special teams players to get more credit, particularly in terms of Hall of Fame voting (we’ve yet to see a special teams guy make it to Canton), and players like Cribbs are helping to strengthen those arguments.

Five years ago, Cribbs, who returned four kicks/punts for touchdowns this year, wouldn’t have the same opportunities he’s had recently. But the Wildcatization of the game has made it possible for Cleveland to use Cribbs in many unique ways offensively — something that will only continue to become more commonplace.

First they give the city of Toronto the Miami Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills, and then they give them the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills. The “home team” has yet to win. The games have yet to be exciting. The crowds have justifiably been boring, uneventful and quiet.

Roger Goodell talks to the media Friday.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — At his annual state-of-the-league press conference Friday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell took some time to discuss the city of Toronto and its status with the league.

“Toronto’s a great market,” the commissioner said. “I think we want to continue to service that market, we have great fans there and it’s a great city. I think we are going to be facing – and I talked to some of the ownership up there — a stadium issue that has to be addressed.

“Their current stadium is a multi-purpose stadium, has a relatively small capacity by NFL standards. And so I think there’s some issues that have to be addressed up there, but it’s a great market.”

And that was it. Los Angeles and Mexico City and London and even Tokyo were afforded more time by Goodell, who seems timid about commenting with depth on the Toronto situation, presumably because of the ties the city has to the Buffalo Bills.

The fact that he even touched on the stadium issues was surprising, which means that truly is a large concern the league has in the rare moments in which it looks into Toronto’s future with the NFL.

This is now obvious: until ground breaks on a new stadium somewhere in the Greater Toronto Area, the NFL will not allow a team to play in the city on a permanent basis. I think that’s already something potential purchasers like Rogers Communications and MLSE are aware of, and I expect the wheels to be in motion on that in the next three or four years.

Someone — I’m just speculating here, but probably MLSE’s Larry Tanenbaum — is reportedly making a big push to buy the St. Louis Rams and move them to Toronto. If that doesn’t pan out, you can expect the Jaguars, Bills and Chargers to come into play.

But before anything happens, that “stadium issue” should take precedence.

Let’s face it, the long-term future of the Jacksonville Jaguars is very shaky. The Jags couldn’t sell out important games down the stretch this season, despite the fact they were in a playoff race and the fact their stadium has tarp covering up about 15 percent of the seats. Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer even reported on Sunday that there is a “very strong indication” that the team is for sale.

And while it’s been a poorly kept secret for some time that the folks building a new stadium in Los Angeles are eyeing the Jaguars like some creepy dude at a bar, things became sort of official today, when Majestic Realty Co. managing partner John Semcken said that the Jags and the Buffalo Bills are the two primary teams they’re aiming to relocate to L.A. in the not-so-distant future.

“Jacksonville and Buffalo are two teams in very, very small markets,” Semcken told the Associated Press. “They are teams that have either outdated stadiums or are having trouble filling their stadiums or both.”

Los Angeles takes “franchise precedence,” if you will. The second-largest US market lost the Raiders and the Rams in 1994 and the NFL has been hell-bent on getting a team back there ever since.

Seeing that the Bills are still wrapped up in an expensive five-year relationship with the city of Toronto (with three years remaining in the pact), Jacksonville makes the most sense, especially when you consider that a transition from Western New York to Toronto would be much more convenient if/when that relocation takes place.

And as long as Ralph Wilson keeps trucking, the Bills aren’t going anywhere.


After all the eight-way tie talk and the strength of victory debate and the math that I haven’t dealt with since I somehow pulled off the most gratifying D- of my life back in grade 11, nothing really changed.

Coming into this week, the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens “controlled their own destiny.” And sure enough, we have the same 12 playoff teams that we were on target to have one week ago. Now we have a chance to turn the page and look ahead to wild-card weekend, which is one of the best weekends of the year (right after divisional weekend, conference championship weekend and Super Bowl weekend). But before we get to that, a couple other major talking points to take away from the Sunday that was…

The great “rest” debate

Wes Welker is done for the year. Charles Woodson is hurt. Neither needed to be on the field. Outrage shall ensue, right?

The good news, Packers fans, is that Woodson is expected to be okay, but the shoulder injury that forced him out of Green Bay’s meaningless game surely irked many of you. Patriots fans, though, have to be beside themselves, considering that Welker is one of the three most important players on that team.

And now everyone’s implying that Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell suddenly have the right to snicker at the naysayers who criticized their decision to bench starters in the face of a perfect season. Not so. Perfection is special; it was something to play for.

The Patriots still had seeding on the line against Houston, and Bill Belichick may have wanted to try to ensure that his team would be able to rule out matchups with certain teams. Plus, if the No. 3 seed and the No. 4 seed end up winning the divisional playoffs, the No. 3 seed would get home-field advantage in the conference championship game.

I can’t defend the Packers. I have no idea why Green Bay left its starters out there for so long, but they can take solace in the fact that Woodson should be good to go Sunday in Arizona.

The hoopla regarding resting starters in “meaningless” games has reached an all-time peak this year. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell went as far as to say that additional draft picks could be used as incentive for teams with nothing on the line to keep playing hard in late-season games. But there are two problems with that proposal:

1) Inferior teams would complain that their draft selections would be lower through no fault of their own.

2) Draft picks, while very valuable to every general manager, just won’t persuade a guy like Polian to play his best guys. “How many draft picks am I going to get to lose Wes Welker in a meaningless game?” said Tony Dungy on NBC Sunday evening. He’s right. If you’re stubborn enough to rest starters due to fear of injury and driven enough to be solely focused on the Super Bowl and only the Super Bowl, a few extra late-round picks (and believe me, they’ll be late-round picks) just wouldn’t be enough incentive.

I guess the ultimate irony here is that it’s Goodell who’s pushing for an 18-game season. You can’t stand teams handing away meaningless games now? Wait until teams have wrapped up divisions with four or five games to play. And I don’t even want to think about the injury factor with two more games on the schedule.

It’s also been proposed that teams in already-clinched situations should be required to declare a “status” by, say, Friday. But that would be hard to impose.

Fact is, this problem won’t be fixed. Teams that build up big leads earn the right to rest down the stretch. Is it a good strategy? History shows it isn’t. So, sure, it sucks that teams like the Jets get to walk into the postseason because of a lucky final stretch, but that’s the nature of the game. If you’re the Texans or the Steelers or the Broncos and you’re upset right now that this late-season coasting may or may not have cost you a playoff spot, maybe you should take a long, hard look at yourselves. Had you won 10 games, this wouldn’t be an issue.

Rams on the clock

The Rams now have the opportunity to draft one of the most hyped potential No. 1 overall picks in years, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Here’s a look at the first nine teams that’ll pick on Thursday night, April 22. There are a bevy of ties to be broken after the top nine, so I’ll leave those teams out for now.

1) St. Louis – Suh would be a nice complement inside with Chris Long on the outside.

2) Detroit – Surely thinking wide receiver.

3) Tampa Bay – The above comment was a joke. I think.

4) Washington – It should either be an offensive tackle or a quarterback. The safer choice is the tackle, so expect the quarterback.

5) Kansas City – They’ll take the best player available, unless it’s a quarterback.

6) Seattle – I’m thinking we go this far before a quarterback gets picked. Seattle takes Jimmy Clausen or Sam Bradford. Am I crazy? Probably.

7) Cleveland – Another best player available situation at this point.

8) Oakland – I wouldn’t dare try to predict this one right now.

9) Buffalo – Does the other quarterback go here?

‘Black Monday’ looms

This puppy gets published bright and early on Monday (or in my world, very late on Sunday), so the wrath of Black Monday will be a topic for a future blog, but most prognosticators are predicting it’ll be a tame one, with only a few coaches expected to be terminated, at best (or worst?). Here’s a look at some of the situations to watch:

Don’t expect changes

Chicago – I don’t understand why, but Lovie Smith is expected to be retained.

Houston – First winning season in franchise history? That means Gary Kubiak will be back. But he’ll likely lose his offensive coordinator, because Kyle Shanahan will want to join his pops in Washington, if indeed that situation unfolds the way it’s supposed to.

Jacksonville – Four straight losses to end the year but Jack Del Rio is still reportedly safe. He should be, because the Jags surpassed expectations in 2009.

Miami – Just throwing it out there. Bill Parcells has a short temper and the Dolphins really took a nose dive at the end of the year, but there’s no speculation that Tony Sparano is in trouble.

Expect changes

Cleveland – Eric Mangini’s fate won’t be determined today. It’ll be determined on Tuesday. And it’s not looking good. Mike Holmgren will likely bring on a fresh face he’s comfortable with. The Cleveland media will rejoice.

Oakland – It’s not a sure thing and Al Davis is unpredictable, but Tom Cable is not expected back. That could go down today.

Washington – It’s widely known that Jim Zorn is done, while Mike Shanahan is reportedly already putting together his coaching staff.

Anyone’s guess

Carolina – John Fox has the option to return for what could be a lame-duck season. He’s being coy so this probably won’t resolve itself immediately.

Seattle – Jim Mora’s future depends on what Seattle does with its vacant general manager spot.

Tampa Bay – Raheem Morris’ first year was a disaster, but it was sort of supposed to be a disaster. He claims he doesn’t know his fate yet, but I’m thinking ownership gives him another year to turn things around.

Early wild-card thoughts and predictions

How unpredictable is this league? Here are my preseason playoff predictions:

1. Patriots
2. Chargers
3. Steelers
4. Titans
5. Colts
6. Ravens

1. Giants
2. Saints
3. Bears
4. Cardinals
5. Vikings
6. Packers

Eight out of 12 isn’t bad, but four of my eight division winners didn’t even make the playoffs. Only six of last year’s playoff teams are back, while none of the four teams that had byes last year made the playoffs in 2009.

My Super Bowl prediction back in early September: Patriots 30, Saints 27. So that’s still alive. But will I stick with it? I’m afraid not. Here are my revised predictions:

AFC wild-card: (3) Patriots 27, (6) Ravens 24; (5) Jets 20, (4) Bengals 17

I’m having a lot of trouble with that Wes Welker injury and I do see it hurting a long-term run to the Super Bowl, but I also think Julian Edelman is a very good replacement in the slot. I reserve the right to change that one (or any of these, for that matter). I think the Jets are simply a much better team than the Bengals.

NFC wild-card: (3) Cowboys 30, (6) Eagles 27; (5) Packers 23, (4) Cardinals 20

I think the Cowboys and Eagles are very, very similar teams, talent-wise. But Dallas has home-field advantage and a ton of momentum. And you can’t tell me all of these rematch blowouts mean nothing. The Jets, Cowboys and Pack outscored Cincy, Philly and Arizona 94-7 on Sunday.

AFC divisional: (1) Colts 35, (5) Jets 17; (2) Chargers 27, (3) Patriots 17
NFC divisional: (5) Packers 23, (1) Saints 21; (3) Cowboys 24, (2) Vikings 21
AFC conference championship: (2) Chargers 27, (1) Colts 23
NFC conference championship: (3) Cowboys 30, (5) Packers 23

Super Bowl XLIV: Cowboys 28, Chargers 27

By the way, I’ll be at that game, trying not to cheer the Cowboys too outwardly from the Dolphin Stadium press box at my first Super Bowl.


+ Beware, Saints: No team has ever made the Super Bowl after finishing the regular season with three straight losses.

+ The last time the Browns won four straight, Bruce Willis was just wrapping up Die Hard: With a Vengeance.

+ Beats the Bills in Toronto = Late-season run to the playoffs. First the Dolphins, now the Jets.

+ Right when the pressure was the highest, Brett Favre might’ve just had his best game of one of his best seasons.

+ In their final two first halves of the season, the Giants were outscored 55-0.

+ Since halftime last Monday night: Vikings 61, opponents 13

+ Another example of this league being generally ridiculous: Tennessee and the Giants had the top two records in the NFL this year. Those two teams lost games by scores of 59-0 and 44-7 this year.

+ And another example: Denver was 6-0, the Giants were 5-0. Neither made the playoffs.

+ More quarterbacks (10) passed for 4,000 yards this year than any other year in NFL history. The previous record was only seven.

+ If there’s such a thing as a quiet 13 touchdowns, Vernon Davis had ‘em this year. Who would’ve guessed Davis would tie the NFL tight end record in that category?

+ Big fan of Tony Dungy, the person. Not a big fan of Tony Dungy, the television analyst.

+ Shane Lechler, best punting season of all-time?

+ This bears repeating: In the three rematch wild-card situations, Dallas, Green Bay and the Jets outscored their upcoming opponents by a combined total of 94-7 on Sunday.

+ Funny thing. I actually predicted this at the beginning of the season: NFL’s top four rushers in Week 17: Jamaal Charles, Fred Jackson, Willis McGahee, Jason Snelling. Yup, makes sense.

+ Funny thing. I actually predicted this at the beginning of the season: NFL’s top five receivers in Week 17: Jabar Gaffney, Malcom Floyd, Sidney Rice, Malcolm Kelly, Julian Edelman. Yup, makes sense.


Player of the week: Fred Jackson — I’m very, very excited for Buffalo to start the 2010 season with this guy as its feature back. He finishes off a great season in style, rushing for 212 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark.

Team of the week: New York Jets — I don’t care how hard the Bengals tried, that was one of the most dominant victories of the season. Cincinnati completed one pass and accumulated a total of zero passing yards.

Surprise player of the week: Jamaal Charles — I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by his performances anymore, but 259 rushing yards against Denver’s half-decent and desperate defence?

Surprise team of the week: Green Bay Packers — I’m surprised by the blowout victory, sure, but I’m more surprised by how long starters stayed in the game. Unnecessary.


MVP: Peyton Manning — You can’t really use the last two weeks against him.

Offensive player of the year: Chris Johnson — You can’t rush for 2,000 yards (and more yards for scrimmage than any player in NFL history) and not win this award, can you? In fact, I’m thinking Johnson ends up getting a lot of MVP votes.

Defensive player of the year: Charles Woodson — Woodson was a bigger playmaker than Darrelle Revis, but Revis had one of the best cover seasons in decades. Both guys are very deserving of the award.

Offensive rookie of the year: Percy Harvin — Final rookie season stats: 60 catches, 790 yards, six touchdowns, two return touchdowns. Pretty good considering how many weapons there are in that Minnesota offence.

Defensive rookie of the year: Clay Matthews — Brian Cushing had better numbers (and either could win it and I’d be satisfied), but Matthews made more impact plays.

Coach of the year: Norv Turner — I suppose he had it wrapped up last week, since this one didn’t matter.

Ok, maybe not right now, but as soon as possible. As in, this offseason.

The city of Jacksonville — the most populous city in the state of Florida — is not only lucky enough to be one of 31 American cities with an NFL team, but it’s lucky enough to have an NFL team that is in prime playoff positioning with four weeks left in the season.

Yet they’ve yet to sell out a game at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium this season.

Next Thursday, the Jags host the Indianapolis Colts, an unbeaten division rival, in a nationally-televised prime-time affair.

Yet the game still isn’t sold out.

And that is simply unacceptable. It’s time for us to stop sugar-coating the city’s lack of support while chalking it up to a bad economy. The team is competitive, the economy’s on the upswing, and the other 30 NFL cities in the United States are supporting their teams just fine.

Jacksonville isn’t a big-league market in the first place. It never was. And placing a team there was one of former commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s biggest mistakes. The city supported the team well enough during its infancy, but it’s now plainly apparent that was an example of a group buying into a fad.

The fad is dead.

Now, the NFL can’t come down with Gary Bettman Syndrome and let a dying market possess a much sought-after and immensely valuable NFL franchise simply on principle. This isn’t a time to be stubborn. The National Football League is the richest, most-watched sports league in North America, and it’s sickening to see one of its stadiums rot away on Sundays.

Los Angeles is the second-largest market in the United States and has a billionaire owner breaking ground on a new stadium. And despite on-the-surface letdowns with the Bills Toronto Series, the city of Toronto — North America’s fifth-largest market — clearly has the corporate presence to sell out game after game at above-average prices.

I can understand why the NFL is tentative about forcing Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver’s hand. Things were just as dire in Phoenix and New Orleans five years ago, but both cities have bounced back (Phoenix because of a new stadium and New Orleans because of, well, Hurricane Katrina). That doesn’t mean Jacksonville will be so lucky. It appears that support on an individual and corporate level simply isn’t strong enough.

The NFL continually proves that it’s able to fess up to mistakes and learn from them, evidenced by the way in which it tweaks rules and formats every offseason. This is a big mistake to admit, but it has to be done to maintain the league’s sparkling reputation: If the Jaguars fail to sell out their final two home games, the team has to be moved.