Is this the year the Buffalo Bills end the longest playoff drought in the NFL? Getting an upset victory in Chicago in the opener would certainly be a nice step toward that. The Bears are 6-point favorites on NFL odds with a total of 6.
Bills Go Bold In Draft
Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley took a huge risk in the 2014 draft to move up from No. 8 to No. 4 and gave up 2015 first- and fourth-round picks to Cleveland to do so. The Bills got likely the most electric player in the draft in Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, but that pick could easily be in the Top 10 next year, maybe Top 5. After all, the Bills haven't won more than six games since 2008 and haven't had a winning record since 2004. Their last playoff trip was in 1999.
Adding Watkins and trading for Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams gives Buffalo some nice skill position talent around second-year QB E.J. Manuel along with running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson and receiver Robert Woods. Watkins is the +550 favorite on NFL odds to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Buffalo already has a solid defense. It was 10th overall and fourth against the pass. The Bills set a franchise record with 57 sacks, finishing second in the NFL. Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes all had at least 10 sacks. Linebacker Kiko Alonso was a close second for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was everywhere with 159 tackles, four interceptions, 11 tackles for loss, two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
The Bears fired Lovie Smith after the 2012 season largely because they kept collapsing down the stretch. It happened again last year under Marc Trestman with Chicago losing its final two games -- a win in either would have taken the NFC North title -- and four of its last six. The offense was one of the best in the NFL, a new thing in Chicago, but the defense was arguably the worst in franchise history. Bears GM Phil Emery went crazy in free agency and the draft in upgrading that side of the ball. Trestman is safe if the Bears miss the playoffs again, but defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will be fired. He was fortunate to keep his job as it was.
If there's one concern with Bears fans it's Jay Cutler's backup quarterback, Jordan Palmer. Cutler simply isn't going to play all 16 games, that's been proven. Palmer is a massive downgrade from last year's backup, Josh McCown, who signed with Tampa Bay. Chicago absolutely will be hoping a potential backup gets cut from some other team before training camp begins. There's not much out there right now, with the likes of Kevin Kolb and Brady Quinn topping the list. Chicago considered Josh Freeman before he signed with the Giants. Tim Tebow is available! If the Vikings were to cut Christian Ponder, the Bears would likely pounce.
The Bears and Bills have both changed plenty since they met Nov. 7, 2010, at Toronto's Rogers Centre in a Buffalo "home" game. Chicago won that game 22-19, dropping Buffalo to 0-8. The Bills led 19-14 in the fourth quarter and were driving for a potential score when Ryan Fitzpatrick was picked off by Chicago's Tim Jennings. Cutler soon after threw the go-ahead 2-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett. Cutler finished 17 of 30 for 188 and threw two touchdown passes. Fitzpatrick, now in Houston, was 31 of 51 for 299 yards with a TD and two picks. Stevie Johnson, now in San Francisco, caught 11 passes for 145 yards for the Bills. Buffalo hasn't played in Chicago since 2006 and has never won there, going 0-for-5.
NFL free picks: Bears -6 and the 'over' 49 points both seem like ideal choices for our NFL picks. Buffalo is 2-8 ATS in its 10 road games. The 'over' is 6-2 in Buffalo's past eight on the road. The 'over' is 4-1 in Chicago's past five at home.