Football is hard. Absurdly hard. Hard to watch, hard to play, and hard to justify. It's become easier for people to explain why they're not getting their kids vaccinated than why they continue watching football. St. Louis is still paying off the debt on their now unoccupied football stadium. Every team only just figured out they should stop paying Greg Hardy to play football (but apparently the Pats should kick the tires on Ray Rice ... good God, Lupica). Teddy Bridgewater's career might have ended while pretending to play. And if his career is over, he'd be considered LUCKY by most NFL retirees' standards. Calvin Johnson just quit at the peak of his powers because of course he did. But it’s become like complaining about your taxes. Yours are too high? Join the club. Pay ‘em and move along, you’re holding up the line. The NFL is everything that's wrong with humanity and capitalism? Sure, but you're still gonna keep watching.
So all existential crises aside, the hard part of football I'm here to discuss is winning and, more importantly, it's correlation to our enjoyment of the game. For better or worse, that's what makes all the other parts of football tolerable. Calvin Johnson might still be playing football if the Lions weren't, well, you know... the Lions. But as fans, complaining about wins, or the lack thereof, has become a competitive sport in its own right. Who has more to complain about? 31 teams end every season disappointed. Yeah, sure, but look at THIS bullshit team I have to deal with. Hell, even the people who cover the league are creating storylines to complain about.
Simple math says the teams we root for are more likely to fail at their ultimate goal than succeed. But who REALLY has it worse? Is it worse to be at the bottom of the barrel looking up? Is it worse to float in middling mediocrity, missing out equally on big draft picks and big moments? Or is it truly worse to come this close to your goal only to have it ripped away from you?
The problem is that this hypothesis has been proven false again and again and again. We can tell ourselves all we want that they’re going to lose this Sunday, but if they jump out early and take a lead into halftime, we will get excited. We will have hope. We will also have that knot in our stomach, but that’s the whole point. That’s why we watch. As soon as I stop feeling things during these games, I’m not sure why I’d watch them anymore. If all I wanted to do was have a logical, measured experience of football, I’d drop all allegiances and tune into whatever game is being called by Joe Buck. Sad!
So if I’m gonna have my heart ripped out and my mind turned into a scene from Falling Down, then I’m gonna go into it with the best of intentions. Or to use a different hacky reference, if we’re all going to wind up in the Pit of Despair, then damnit, I’m gonna expect the best on my way down.
I mean, this IS supposed to be fun right?! For fucks’ sake, remember when we weren’t going to have a team at all anymore?!? By the grace of God, fracking, and Terry Pegula, the Rams are in LA and the Bills are talking about a downtown stadium. But like a real one this time. Our team was saved, but somehow our doomsday expectations stayed six and a half feet under. I’m not saying everyone should be expecting a record over .500 like I am, but where is the proof that we’re one of the worst teams in the league? Seventeen teams finished last season with worse records than ours. One of the ones who finished above us, our divisional rivals the LOLJets, spent the entire offseason trying to convince others that they had convinced themselves that they could do better than Ryan Fitzpatrick. Hell, the Super Bowl champions TRADED for Mark Sanchez. (Seriously, how many teams would cut their quarterback in a heartbeat to get their hands on Tyrod Taylor? If the Eagles were able to get a first round pick for Sam Bradford, a quarterback whose ceiling we’re all painfully aware of, what could the Bills have gotten in exchange?) Somehow Raiders fans have more faith than we do! For the life of me, I can’t understand it.
I know it’s a somewhat weak argument to make: Being optimistic is more fun. But that’s how I feel. If you want to wallow in self-pity and disappointment, don’t let me stop you. In fact, maybe stop reading right now, because it only gets sunnier from here. Translation: DON’T RAIN ON MY PARADE, GOD DAMNIT! THE BILLS ARE BACK AND I’LL FUCKIN' SHOUT IF I WANT TO!
For better or worse, riding the line between passionate and reckless has always been the defining quality of Rex Ryan’s teams. You’re gonna get fun moments like Marcell Dareus showing up on ESPN in a captain’s hat. And then you’re gonna get frustrating moments like Marcell Dareus getting in trouble for smoking the devil’s flower. And Seantrel Henderson. And Karlos Williams. Oy.
But what’s lost in all that is a key part of my faith. There is still talent on this roster. Losing guys to suspensions or injuries (Get well soon, Shaq) sucks. Look at the depth chart again though. The cupboard isn’t suddenly bare. We’re not tricking ourselves into believing these guys can play. These guys can fucking ball. There’s no question that the line is going to miss Dareus’ presence. But that pain is at least mitigated to some degree by the fact that Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams still plan on suiting up on Sunday. And in case you forgot, we also potentially have one of the top cornerback pairings in football. Stephon Gilmore & Ronald Darby aren’t perfect. But they’re about as close as it gets. They were at or near the top of basically every statistic we keep for cornerbacks and Darby was a rookie! Gilmore is only 25! Sure we’re gonna let him walk in a year, like every other decent defensive back in recent history, but hey, cornerback in a contract year!?
Greg Roman is for real. Sammy Watkins is on the verge of being one of the top 5 receivers in the league. LeSean McCoy fit seamlessly into the offense last year and he has three other capable backups to make sure he’s not overworked. Tyrod Taylor’s QBR was 99.4! NINETY-NINE! He threw 20 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions in his first season as a starter. Except that he’s also the most experienced “sophomore” QB in the league. If he and Watkins have improved chemistry, McCoy holds steady in the backfield, and Charles Clay (remember him?) gets more comfortable in Roman’s scheme? Watch out. This is could be an offense that can go toe-to-toe with pretty much every opponent on their schedule, aside from maybe Arizona, Pittsburgh, and New England.
And speaking of our opponents… did I mention that most of them are terrible? Seriously. The league has sort of turned into a steaming pile overnight (once again, the Broncos gave up draft picks for Mr. Buttfumble). Let’s take a look at this year’s opponents and do some rapid fire hot takes. And heck, why don’t I just plagiarize a little from Drew Magary’s Why Your Team Sucks and give you their fans’ own reasons for not looking forward to this year...
- Week 1 - Baltimore Ravens (2015 Record: 5-11)
- Our opening opponent is Joe Flacco with a still-healing ACL/MCL behind a shaky line with maybe half a decent receiver, and a running back they cut a week ago? Yes, please.
- Our season went so poorly last year that the front office felt signing Trent Richardson could be an improvement.
- Week 2/17 - New York Jets (10-6)
- Two of those six losses came against us. One was with a playoff trip on the line.
- Only the Jets could be held hostage by Ryan Fucking Fitzpatrick.
- Week 3 - Arizona Cardinals (13-3)
- Every sentence said about this team starts with the phrase, "If Carson Palmer can stay healthy..."
- Name one other team in the NFL that has the head coach begging fans not to sell their tickets to opposing team fans?
- Week 4/8 - New England Patriots (12-4)
- At least we only have to face Brady once?
- ...the old logo looks like a Don’t Tread On Me cosplayer, our sanctified QB is a semi-closeted Trump supporter, and the majority of the fanbase are racist mouthbreathers.
- Week 5 - Los Angeles Rams (7-9)
- Have fun, L.A. They’re all yours.
- Week 6 - San Francisco 49ers (5-11)
- *deep breath* HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
- We lost to Johnny Manziel last year.
- Week 7/16 - Miami Dolphins (6-10)
- I'm out of breath.
- Chad Pennington - Tony Sparano, Jay Fiedler - Dave Wannstedt / Those are the only two QB - Coach combos to get the Dolphins to the playoffs since Dan Marino retired.
- Week 9 - Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
- Remember when Carroll decided to throw it with the Super Bowl on the line and Marshawn in the backfield? (Side note: Weeks 4-9, all pre-Bye - at Pats, at LA, home for Niners, at Miami, home for Pats, and then at Seattle!? Fuck right the hell off, Goodell. Why not split our home games between Buffalo & London while you're at it?)
- God I hate the self-righteous and pretentious fans acting like they’re carrying the damn ball themselves.
- Week 11 - Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
- Did you know that new OC Ken Zampese has been quarterbacks coach since Marvin Lewis was first hired and he's been passed up twice for this position? So clearly they're over the hump now.
- "We destructed on ourselves." - their head coach, after that playoff game
- Week 12 - Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
- How have we played this team 11 times since 2000? It feels like the planning committee goes, "Shit, we forgot one game for the Jaguars. Meh, make the Bills play 'em."
- As soon as they draft guys now they just hit ‘em in the knee with a sledgehammer.
- Week 13 - Oakland Raiders (7-9)
- What is every sportswriters' obsession with believing THIS is the year for Oakland? It's the same with Miami. A team like Minnesota builds a formidable squad and barely registers a blip on the national radar. Oakland wins seven games and it's because DEREK CARR IS THE NEXT BIG THING!
- The most beloved Raider this century is the kicker.
- Week 14 - Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
- Has anyone else noticed this defense is not good anymore? Like, at all. They're bad. And by Week 14, Roethlisberger might be calling Peyton Manning for advice on how to tie his shoes.
- The Ravens went 5-11 last year. The Steelers lost to them - twice.
- Week 15 - Cleveland Browns (3-13)
- I mean, if we lose this game, let's forget I ever wrote any of this.
- The Browns have a Chief Strategy Officer they poached from the Mets.
Look at that list of opponents and tell me you can't find 8 wins. Tell me it's ridiculous to say this team could go to the playoffs. Go ahead. I don't care.
Season Prediction: 10-6, Wild Card Berth
There. I said it. I think we're going to break our postseason drought this year. With the Ryan twins. Do something.
Maybe I'm crazy. As I said, if you want to sulk under your storm cloud already, I won't stop you. I might even meet you there some day in the not too distant future. But I'm not going to start feeling shitty now over something that hasn't even started yet. And more importantly, if I'm wrong, it's not going to make the experience extra painful. I was there when we lost to the Cowboys on Monday Night Football and had the quietest walk back to the car of my life. I stood in silence in a bar downtown as the Music City Miracle unfolded before my eyes. I cried after Norwood missed the field goal and again when he received the biggest ovation in front of City Hall. I sat on my best friend's floor, eyes two inches from the TV, when the ball bounced off Ronnie Harmon's fingertips. And I don't believe any of those experiences would've been easier to handle if I had expected failure from the beginning.
If my optimism is unfounded, so be it. But if I'm right... Well, I'll save you some space around the wagons.