Jump to content


  • Posts

  • Joined

  • Last visited

  • Days Won


HipKat last won the day on November 12

HipKat had the most liked content!

About HipKat

  • Birthday 10/15/1964


  • How long have you been a Buffalo fan?
    47 Years

Recent Profile Visitors

6,024 profile views

HipKat's Achievements

Range legend

Range legend (19/19)



  1. I would have a problem if somebody has a feminine appearance and is called he or has a masculine appearance and is called she. It’s pretty obvious that if somebody dresses like a woman, that person wants to be referred to as she or her. It’s the fucking retards that want to be called it or them that can fuck off and die and if they don’t like it, tough shit. They’re fucking weird anyway.
  2. I bet that ICR was the only person in his peer group that defended Michael Jackson when he was on trial for molesting children
  3. Dude, nobody gives a fuck if you’re an atheist. Why do you care so much if people have faith in a creator?
  4. I have and I’ve posted on here before a very similar list of the same founding fathers bakery references to have their faith was part of their decision making in forging this country. What Were They REALLY Thinking?
  5. The Sabres’ lost to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night, and the 6-4 result was reminiscent of other close losses to top NHL competition this season. The Sabres have established that they can score enough to keep up with the best teams in the NHL. After a four-goal showing against Colorado, the Sabres are now fifth in the NHL with 3.71 goals per game. The issue is they’re also allowing the fourth-most goals per game at 3.71. That’s made it hard for Buffalo to find consistent results, and the 10-13-1 record reflects that. On Thursday, the story of the Sabres’ loss was about their inability to stay out of the penalty box. After taking seven penalties against the Red Wings and killing off all seven, the Sabres took another six penalties against the Avalanche and couldn’t contain Colorado’s elite power-play unit. The penalties will sort themselves out, but what else can we take away from Buffalo’s game against the defending champs? 1. When the season started, the Sabres planned to have Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in the AHL. He was finally fully healthy for an entire offseason and Kevyn Adams said the organization wanted Luukkonen to get a chance to play often for the Rochester Americans. He only had 60 AHL games to his name entering this season. The plan had to change in mid-November when Eric Comrie went down with a leg injury. The team announced at the time that he was week-to-week, and that diagnosis hasn’t changed as of this week. He’ll be out a while longer, and the Sabres are getting by with Luukkonen splitting the net with veteran Craig Anderson. This has been a challenging stretch for Luukkonen, who let in five goals on 38 shots in a 6-4 loss to the Avalanche Thursday. Colorado was the latest in a string of tough matchups for Luukkonen. In the four games he’s played since getting called up, Luukkonen has faced the Maple Leafs, Blues, Lightning, and Avalanche. He had a brilliant 36-save, two-goal outing in a win against the Blues. Otherwise, top teams have made life tough on him. He allowed four goals on 27 shots against the Leafs, six goals on 31 shots against the Lightning, and then in the Sabres’ 6-4 loss to the Avalanche Thursday, he allowed another five on 33 shots. “He’s in a development phase of his career,” Granato said after the loss to the Avalanche. “I think he’s taking in these opportunities to grow. His confidence looks good. He’s fighting, battling, scrapping. He’s working to improve every day. I think it’s been a good stretch in that regard for him.” Confidence is the key piece for Luukkonen. He’s still just 17 games into his NHL career and is 23 years old. He hasn’t been perfect in the three losses he’s started, but those games also came against three of the best-scoring teams in the NHL. Against the Avalanche, Luukkonen allowed four goals in the first two periods but managed to hold the Sabres in the game with 10 third-period saves. He also faced the Avalanche’s top-ranked power play six times in this game, and Colorado got three goals off of it. That he rebounded the way he did in the third period was a positive sign. “He did it confidently,” Granato said. “That was a moment that could have challenged his confidence quite a bit. It was a good sign to see him confident.” The power play has put a dent in Luukkonen’s numbers, but he’s been solid otherwise. At five-on-five, he has a .919 save percentage and a 2.25 goals-against average. His goals saved above expected is positive at even strength, too. “He’s a hell of a goalie and a good guy,” defenseman Mattias Samuelsson said. “He made some big saves there. Those power-play ones, not much he can do about them. Everybody feels confident with him in net … He didn’t deserve to see the six up there.” The Sabres’ goalie situation hasn’t been perfect this season, but it’s tough to isolate blame when Buffalo has given up the sixth-most high-danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick. As a team, their high-danger save percentage is ranked in the middle of the league. They’re just giving up more of those chances than most teams. Luukkonen deserves a bigger sample than four games to determine whether he can be a future piece of the puzzle at the NHL level. He’s going to get that as long as Comrie is out. The way the Sabres set up their goaltending depth chart for this season, they were always an injury away from Luukkonen getting NHL minutes. The book is still out on him, but this has been an unfair stretch. The hope is that he can maintain his confidence and find a way to make this NHL stint a benefit. The team is still trying to keep Anderson fresh as much as possible. He’s only played games when he’s been able to have a morning skate. He’s played 10 of 24 games to this point, and it’s unclear whether the Sabres would want to risk injury by having him handle a bigger share of the games. The Sabres also know Anderson isn’t a part of the long-term answer. This season will be about finding out what they have in both Luukkonen and Comrie so they can adequately address the position next offseason. 2. Dylan Cozens had a three-point night, including another goal to give him 21 points in 24 games. This is the type of season the Sabres and Cozens were hoping for after the way he finished last season. In the second half of last year, he became a player who could create scoring chances but struggled to finish. This season, he’s converting more of those chances. That’s earned him a spot on the power play and penalty kill in addition to being the second-line center. “I always knew I had that potential in my game, and it was kind of frustrating not quite feeling it the last few years,” Cozens said. “But this year I felt I’ve definitely taken the next step and it’s a huge help to my teammates.” Cozens’ emergence as a top-flight second-line center has been a major boost to Buffalo’s lineup. Since he’s been centering rookies JJ Peterka and Jack Quinn, the Sabres finally have another scoring line behind Tage Thompson’s line. Cozens mentioned recently that he’s been learning a ton from Thompson about how to protect the puck and create time and space for himself and his teammates. “I think he’s been unbelievable,” Samuelsson said. “He’s so fast and strong and he’s been protecting the puck well. He’s only 21, but he looks like a veteran playing with the two younger guys. I think he’s really taken the next step. It’s fun to watch and I’m excited for what he has in store to keep going.” When Cozens is on the ice at five-on-five, the Sabres have 52 percent of the expected goals. That’s not a jaw-dropping figure on its own, but when you consider the fact that Cozens routinely draws tough defensive matchups, it’s impressive that he’s still out-chancing those tough opponents. Granato mentions Cozens’ competitiveness as the trait that stands out from his game. The Sabres have been able to count on their 6-foot-3 emerging power forward on a nightly basis. He’s been their most consistent player at five-on-five this season. “He’s just a more mature player than he was at the end of last year,” Granato said. And he’ll likely be the next member of Buffalo’s young core to get a lengthy, big-money extension. 3. Peyton Krebs was back in the lineup centering Victor Olofsson and Casey Mittelstadt on Thursday. Krebs had been a healthy scratch, and centering Olofsson and Mittelstadt wasn’t the easiest assignment in his first game back. Those two have struggled at five-on-five, but the results with Krebs in the middle were an improvement. They had seven shot attempts at five-on-five and only allowed one. Still, the trio only created one scoring chance. This is a lineup conundrum that isn’t easily solved for Granato. The three other lines are working right now, and the forward group is relatively healthy. Unless he’s willing to rotate one of Olofsson or Mittelstadt out of the lineup, Granato will likely keep trying Krebs, Rasmus Asplund or Vinnie Hinostroza on that line while everyone is healthy. Granato has expressed confidence in what Mittelstadt and Olofsson are doing on the power play, so it’s tough to see him taking one of them out of the lineup. At this point, the Sabres have a good idea of what Olofsson and Mittelstadt are. There’s still plenty to learn about Krebs and where he fits into the Sabres’ long-term plan. If the early season results are any indication, he’s a better fit at center than he is at wing. Granato doesn’t seem worried about Krebs’ confidence being impacted by rotating out of the lineup on occasion. He thinks the practice time at the NHL level is beneficial for Krebs even when he’s not playing games. But Krebs is still without a goal and has only three points in 18 games. It would be a nice boost to the bottom six if he could break through with more production. 4. Speaking of a boost to the bottom six, Tyson Jost continues to look like a savvy pickup for the Sabres. He had an extra jump against his former team on Thursday, collecting four shot attempts and two individual scoring chances at five-on-five. He’s been a natural fit on the line with Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons. The fact that Jost is still only 24 years old should provide optimism that he can fit into Buffalo’s long-term plans as an energy line center. His pedigree as a former top-10 pick created tough expectations for him at previous stops, but Jost seems to be thriving in a well-defined role in Buffalo. 5. We mentioned Cozens’ strong play above, and the play of his linemates has been just as promising. Peterka has been consistent since the start of the season, and Quinn has found the confidence necessary to impact games consistently. The goal Peterka scored was an example of how dangerous that trio can be. Cozens won a puck battle and allowed Quinn to get the puck in space. Quinn found Peterka, who finished the play with the shot and goal scorer’s touch he’s displayed consistently at every level at which he’s played. Peterka now has five goals and 13 points in 24 games. Peterka is behind only Thompson, Cozens and Jeff Skinner in individual high-danger chances, too, so there’s reason to believe his production will only climb from here. The same is true of Quinn, who is fourth on the team in scoring chances despite not playing in five games. If those two can find a production curve that resembles their second-half breakout in the AHL last season, that line could become even more dangerous.
  6. NFL teams play three games in 12 days every year. That’s an ordinary Sunday-Sunday-Thursday spell. Less common are Sunday-Thursday-Thursday stretches, with teams usually getting a mini-bye week after a single Thursday assignment. Yet in both scenarios, NFL schedule makers are sure to include at least one home date and often two. As such, what the Buffalo Bills pulled off the past three weeks was extraordinary. On Thursday night, they defeated the New England Patriots 24-10 in Gillette Stadium. In itself, as far as convincing victories go, the game was rather boring. What was special is how the Bills collected three wins all away from home in 12 days. The Bills weren’t awarded a special trophy and didn’t unlock any postseason cheat codes upon their achievement, but for a club under intense scrutiny for not playing like Super Bowl favorites the past month, what they accomplished is magnificent. The slog began with an Iditarod to escape snowbound Orchard Park for glorious Detroit, where the NFL relocated their Week 11 game against the Cleveland Browns. The Bills won easily, a couple garbage-time touchdowns making the verdict seem closer than it truly was. A week later, the Bills returned to Ford Field and staged a dramatic Thanksgiving comeback over the Detroit Lions. Biggest yet was Thursday night versus AFC East opponents who could drop the Bills to 0-3 in the division. Buffalo’s superiority wasn’t in doubt for long. New England led 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, but the disparity was clear throughout the remaining 45 minutes. Sans flash or earthquake moments, Buffalo pieced together a methodical, comprehensive performance. “We could have used every excuse in the book,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said of the 12-day saga, “but our guys work extremely hard. We care about each other. We care about each other’s families, and I think when you have that type of love in the locker room, you’re going to find ways to win football games.” Now they’ll stay home for two straight weeks, hosting anticipated division rematches Dec. 11 with the New York Jets and Dec. 18 with the Miami Dolphins. And the Bills finally can enjoy their three extra days of preparation and rest. “We need it,” Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said of the weekend off. “I think this is the first time a team has ever played three Thursday night games in a year, and I’m happy it’s over. I am happy to get back on our regular schedule and get going.” Given all the road weariness, Phillips can be forgiven for missing a detail. Five previous clubs have played three Thursday games within a season (2021 Dallas Cowboys, 2019 Chicago Bears, 2000 Lions, 1950 New York Yanks, 1930 New York Giants), but all stayed home for at least one. So in addition to enduring three away games in 12 days, the Bills this year were the first in NFL history to play three Thursday nights on the road. On each coast, no less. The Bills opened their season in the NFL’s Thursday night showcase against the Los Angeles Rams in SoFi Stadium. The Bills won that one, too. Whew. Before the Bills’ final Thursday night kickoff, I posed in The Athletic’s live blog the most important questions facing the Bills on offense and defense. The questions weren’t totally answered, but we gained insights. Should we be worried about Allen and the passing offense? Over the first two games in Buffalo’s 12-day journey, ongoing frustrations with the passing game persisted. Acid reflux gurgled among the fan base over Allen’s sprained throwing elbow. Early against the Browns, a game that featured six Tyler Bass field goals and only two touchdowns, coach Sean McDermott needed to calm agitated captain Stefon Diggs. After beating the Lions four days later, Diggs lamented the aerial attack wasn’t as sharp as normal because the Bills’ offense was recalibrating with more run plays. Thursday night in Foxborough, the offense was grounded more than ever. Buffalo ran a season-high 34 times, not including Allen’s three victory-formation genuflections. Allen dropped back to pass 35 times. (Buffalo ran 33 times and dropped back 29 times two weeks ago against Cleveland.) “Obviously, only 24 points,” Allen said, “but our defense played fantastic ball where we didn’t feel like we had to press and make any mistakes.” Diggs posted another splendid stat line, seven catches for 92 yards and a touchdown for the third straight game and sixth in the past eight games. He tied a career-high with his 10th TD of the season. And in consecutive games, sometimes-unreliable Isaiah McKenzie was impactful, catching all five of his targets for 44 yards. Rookie tailback James Cook snagged all six of his targets for 41 yards. So, Allen was 18 of 20 for 177 yards and a touchdown when throwing to Diggs, McKenzie and Cook. Passing to everybody else, Allen was 4 of 13 for 46 yards and a TD. In the second quarter, Allen rolled and rolled and rolled right, shook off linebacker Mack Wilson at the sideline and leaped off his back foot to Gabriel Davis for an 8-yard touchdown strike. On that same sideline earlier in the drive, however, Allen and Davis misfired on a stutter-and-go deep route that singed rookie cornerback Jack Jones. A completion likely would have meant a 56-yard touchdown. Allen targeted Davis seven times. They were successful twice for 15 yards. Allen’s throws also were dropped, including one by Diggs that would’ve converted a third-and-11 early in the third quarter. Tight end Dawson Knox and running back Devin Singletary combined for zero receptions on three targets. Freshly signed veteran receiver John Brown, activated before the game, played but wasn’t thrown to. Buffalo’s blockers could have protected Allen better, but considering Pro Bowl left tackle Dion Dawkins already was sidelined by an ankle injury, and replacement David Quessenberry hurt his ankle on the first series, the offensive line did quite well against dangerous edge rushers Matthew Judon and Josh Uche, who recorded two sacks and made Allen fumble once. To answer the question above, I’m not convinced Buffalo has addressed this issue despite their win streak. Defenses last year had to pick their poison in defending the pass. If Diggs can be contained for one game, it’s not as easy to imagine this year’s versions of Davis or Knox exploding like we witnessed in 2021. That’s problematic unless you’re comfortable, which I am not, with the concept of Singletary and Cook pounding out victories in December and January. Against the best teams in the NFL’s one-and-done tournament, a varied passing attack is necessary. “I guess it’s a double-edged sword, especially when you can do it,” Diggs said of being balanced. “From our standpoint, we’ve lost games because we didn’t really figure it out, or we weren’t executing at a high level. “As the offense, you just want to figure out ways to win even if you win it left-handed, right-handed, with your best stuff. You’ve got to mix it up with stuff that you’ve been working on. It’s a melting pot of so many different things that you just want to go home with a win, figure out the win.” One month ago, a well-placed Bills source told me they weren’t an entry in the Odell Beckham Jr. derby, but the glaring need for another dependable Allen outlet has piqued general manager Brandon Beane’s interest. Davis, McKenzie and Khalil Shakir haven’t emerged as hoped. Trade-deadline acquisition Nyheim Hines hasn’t provided any solutions out of the backfield. He had a 21-yard catch and run Thursday, but in five games he has rushed four times for minus-8 yards and caught two of five targets for 30 yards. As Cook continues to emerge, Hines might not see many snaps. Knox is following up his special 2021 campaign by being just another guy, and neither Tommy Sweeny nor Quintin Morris has shown any ability to pick up the slack. How will Buffalo cope without Von Miller for at least four games? An interesting dynamic played out this week. Miller said on his podcast Monday that his damaged right knee ligament would prevent him from playing the Patriots but that he expected to be good to go next week for the Jets. Then the Bills on Thursday placed the future Hall of Famer on injured reserve, shelving him for at least four games. He can’t return until Jan. 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals. McDermott refused to address the discrepancy between Miller’s assessment and the team’s. “Yeah, I don’t want to get too far into that,” McDermott said in his postgame news conference. “There’s been a lot of conversations, and going down that rabbit hole is not healthy for us right now.” Gillette Stadium was the perfect place to see how much Miller has rubbed off on his young teammates. For months after the Bills signed him, Miller was praised as a mentor who was helping unlock the potential of Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa and Boogie Basham. What’s more, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones had been sacked 19 times and hit 26 times over his previous four games. Buffalo chased Jones around but recorded just one sack and four quarterback hits on 37 dropbacks. Epenesa finally got to him inside the last three minutes. Rousseau, Basham and Shaq Lawson had one QB hit apiece. The stats didn’t reflect the pressure. “We came out, flying around,” Bills linebacker Matt Milano said. “The defensive line held it down and was controlling the line of scrimmage. Greg played well. A.J. stepped up and made some big-time plays. It was a super performance. “The defensive line went crazy tonight, and when they do that it helps everyone out, the rush and coverage working together.” Defensive tackle Ed Oliver drew a Cole Strange holding penalty near the goal line, probably preventing a safety early in the second quarter, but the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week barely was heard from otherwise. He made one tackle. Another defensive development was the benching of healthy rookie cornerback Kaiir Elamfor veteran Xavier Rhodes, making his first start in only his second game this year. Rhodes is a former two-time Pro Bowler, but was on the practice squad for two months; Buffalo drafted Elam 23rd overall. All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White, ramping back from his knee injury, started a second week in a row. White made four tackles and one of the Bills’ four pass breakups. Linebacker and captain Tremaine Edmunds returned after missing two games with a groin injury. He made a team-high six tackles, including two for no gain on a forceful three-and-out series in the second quarter. Edmunds’ tackles averaged gains of 1.8 paltry yards. But back to life without Miller, who was signed to get Buffalo over the postseason hump. His healthy knee is worth more in January than his unsteady knee today. In his absence, his edgemates must keep pushing for sustained success. Beating the Patriots a third straight time — unheard of since 1994 — and keeping them to 10 points while closing out three games in 12 days away from Orchard Park was a remarkable feat that started up front?
  7. December is here, the holiday season is upon us, and it’s time to think about what everyone wants for Christmas. Hockey Santa is making a list, he’s checking it twice and he’s ready to deliver some goodies later this month. We’re kicking off the holiday season by offering up one item on every team’s wish list. If you don’t see your favorite team unwrapping these exact gifts on Dec. 25, just know that it’s because they’re a very naughty team that got a lump of coal instead. Or they just don’t celebrate. Either way, everyone has stuff they could use. 1. Boston Bruins Last Week: 1 Record: 19-3-0 Dom rank: 1 Sean rank: 1 Wish List: A nice, thoughtful, handwritten card for our friend Patrice Bergeron that says how proud we are of him for all his success throughout his career. What do you get for someone who has it all? Something from the heart. The Bruins have starpower and they have depth. They have a strong group of forwards and defensemen. They have a terrific starter and a capable backup. They have it all and that makes gift-giving really difficult. So we searched deep in our souls for something special and landed on a Christmas card. It’s for Patrice, the King of Boston, a universally likable all-world talent that is on a mission to finish his illustrious career with one more Stanley Cup. We’re rooting for you, buddy! 2. New Jersey Devils Last Week: 2 Record: 19-4-1 Dom rank: 2 Sean rank: 2 Wish List: For Vitek Vanecek to not change anything he is doing whatsoever. During the Devils’ win streak, it felt almost unfair to bring up the priors of the goaltender who was chiefly responsible for it. Vanecek was great, going 9-0-0 with a .933 save percentage during that run, and the group around him is, for now, wagon-esque. He’s only in his third NHL season. New Jersey is really good and really fun! Everyone is having a good time! Vanecek may well turn out to be good enough! Sixteen games does not a season make, though. And it doesn’t undo two deeply pedestrian seasons in Washington, or the fact that his best season as a pro was when he went .917 with the South Carolina Stingrays in 2015-16, or that he’s gotten the hook in two straight playoff series. Is Vanecek good enough to help the Devils compete? Clearly. Saying anything more, though, would not be wise at this juncture. 3. Toronto Maple Leafs Last Week: 6 Record: 15-5-5 Dom rank: 3 Sean rank: 3 Wish List: Please, god, at least one playoff-round win. Dom wrote this, but you already knew that. 4. Colorado Avalanche Last Week: 5 Record: 13-7-1 Dom rank: 4 Sean rank: 5 Wish List: The return of Gabriel Landeskog, Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues and Bowen Byram. The Avs, officially, have Great Team DNA. Hiccups against Winnipeg and Vancouveraside, they’ve still won nine of their last 12 with the third-best expected goals rate in the league in that span. Does it feel like they’re hanging out in third gear? Sure. Is that understandable? Yes, and doubly so, given that Landeskog (knee surgery) has played a grand total of zero games, Nichushkin (lower body) has been out since a week before Halloween and Byram (lower body) has sat since Nov. 4. Now Rodrigues — who was getting major middle-six minutes while Landeskog and Nichushkin sat — will miss 2-4 weeks with a lower-body injury of his own. That’s a whole lot of firepower on the bench, and it bit them, particularly against the Jets. It also ends soon. Everyone but Rodrigues is skating. The rest of the lineup has adequately tread water. Cup-caliber water treading there, baby. 5. Dallas Stars Last Week: 4 Record: 14-6-4 Dom rank: 6 Sean rank: 4 Wish List: For Jason Robertson to play more than 18 minutes per game. Robertson is a literal robot. There’s no other explanation for his mechanized efficiency scoring 22 goals in 24 games while averaging fewer than 18 minutes per night. Somehow. In the salary cap era, the highest goal total for a player playing under 18 minutes is Teemu Selanne’s 48-goal season in 2006-07. Robertson is nearly halfway there with 58 games to go and it’s more than likely that he will obliterate that mark. He’s currently scoring 3.12 goals-per-60 which is almost a goal per 60 better than Auston Matthews last year at 2.39, the previous analytics era high. We are begging the Stars to maybe try giving him a little bit more ice time. Nothing too crazy, just an extra minute. Imagine what The Robot can do with a little more time out there. 6. Vegas Golden Knights Last Week: 4 Record: 17-7-1 Dom rank: 5 Sean rank: 6 Wish List: A Vegas Flu outbreak. Even after blowing a couple leads in Pittsburgh on Thursday — the Penguins stomped Vegas at 5-on-5, dropping 15 high-danger chances on Logan Thompson — the Golden Knights are still doing their best work away from T-Mobile Arena, going 10-2-1 against a home record of 7-5-1. Is that still an early-season blip? Maybe but it’s also funny, given that it’s a hard 180-degree turn from the early days. Vegas is played out for hockey teams, apparently. 7. Winnipeg Jets Last Week: 8 Record: 14-6-1 Dom rank: 7 Sean rank: 8 Wish List: Some damn respect from The Power Rankings Boys. And folks, Santa came early! That’s three straight weeks in the top 10 for Our Winnipeg Jets! We love them! Their last two games in particular have been a stamp on what this team can be with back-to-back five-goal wins – one of which was against Colorado. Early in the season, this was looking like Connor Hellebuyck and friends, but over the last month, those friends have come to play. The Jets have a 53 percent expected goals rate in November and when you combine that with one of the best goaltenders in the world, you have a real recipe for success. We’re on board. 8. Tampa Bay Lightning Last Week: 7 Record: 14-8-1 Dom rank: 8 Sean rank: 7 Wish List: For whoever “Freaky Friday”-d Victor Hedman to return his body. On one hand for the Lightning, Mikhail Sergachev appears to be adjusting nicely to his bazillion-dollar, 600-year contract. He’s got 21 points, including 12 on the power play since taking Hedman’s place on the first unit, with good underlying five-on-five numbers. But — as we’ve noted here before — Hedman’s play is approaching, “Hey, are we sure he’s OK?” territory. At a minimum, it’s a shock to see him sitting at 46 percent expected goals on Dec. 1. We’ve seen some dips from him in the past, and he’s always regained his form, but, yes, it’s time to see if anyone is hanging around the Lightning facility and wearing a suspicious amulet. Explanations will soon be needed. 9. Carolina Hurricanes Last Week: 9 Record: 13-6-5 Dom rank: 10 Sean rank: 9 Wish List: Oomph-per-60. Depth scoring. Martin Necas: 26 points Sebastian Aho: 25 points Andrei Svechnikov: 24 points *A gaping chasm* Jordan Martinook: 12 points Is that good? That does not seem good. 10. Seattle Kraken Last Week: 10 Record: 15-5-3 Dom rank: 9 Sean rank: 10 Wish List: A time machine that can unsign Philipp Grubauer. Now, did Grubauer just toss up a 21-for-23 night against the Caps? Yep. Has Martin Jonesreturned from orbit over the last week or so? Certainly. An eight-goal evening will put a dent in the ol’ stat line. But both of those guys have sub-.900 save percentages and negative GSAx, and only one of them is signed for $5.9 annually through 2026-27. And it ain’t Jones. 11. New York Islanders Last Week: 12 Record: 15-9-0 Dom rank: 12 Sean rank: 11 Wish List: A one-hour cameo from Barry Trotz where the Islanders relearn how to defend. God bless Ilya Sorokin’s heroic goaltending because who knows where the Islanders would be without it. Only four teams allow more chances than the Islanders, and their expected team save percentage is .889, ahead of only Philadelphia and Montreal. Actual retail price: a .922. That’s second only to the Bruins, a remarkable difference made possible by Sorokin. He could use some help in his own end and we know from watching this team over the past few seasons that they have the ability to be a better defensive club. One practice with Trotz should be enough of a reminder. 12. Pittsburgh Penguins Last Week: 14 Record: 12-8-4 Dom rank: 11 Sean rank: 12 Wish List: A productive power play. Credit to Kasperi Kapanen. His game-winning goal against Vegas on Thursday night — his second on the season, period, and first since a seven-game run on the bench — wound up qualifying as the biggest shocker of the night. That was a tall order, given that Pittsburgh tied the game on a third-period power-play by Jake Guentzel after that unit spent most of the game looking fully inept It’s nothing new there, either. The Penguins’ power play is 27th in the league (16.1 percent) even after some recent signs of life. Turning quality looks (9.14 expected goals/60 vs. 6.09 actual goals/60) would go a long way, but something needs to change. 13. Florida Panthers Last Week: 11 Record: 11-9-4 Dom rank: 13 Sean rank: 13 Wish List: A save. Going into Thursday’s win over the Canucks, the Panthers had dropped six of their last seven. The common denominator in all six of those losses was one of Sergei Bobrovsky or Spencer Knight ruining everything. The team’s lone win during that stretch was against Boston and lo and behold it was a game where they got above-average goaltending. Weird how that works. Thursday’s win against Vancouver featured the same recipe. Teams don’t need elite goaltending to win, but they do need some semblance of it more often than not. Florida has not been getting it enough. Of course, that’s not the team’s only problem given its lack of finishing, but the talent on the team seems like it’ll win out. The goaltending issues, though, may need a Christmas miracle. 14. Detroit Red Wings Last Week: 16 Record: 11-6-5 Dom rank: 15 Sean rank: 14 Wish List: A cure for the sophomore slump. There aren’t a ton of ways to positively frame Moritz Seider’s season thus far. He’s averaging -0.25 GSVA per night. (That is, indeed, a minus sign.) Last season, his point production helped offset some dodgy underlyings, and he’s not getting that so far in 2022-23. The bright side, if you want to call it that, is that the Red Wings goaltenders have struggled with him on the ice (.874 save percentage), which has contributed to his 33 percent goal rate — but he’s also one of the defensemen playing in front of those goalies. So, yeah, turns out there’s work to be done before he wins a Norris or three. 15. New York Rangers Last Week: 13 Record: 11-9-4 Dom rank: 14 Sean rank: 16 Wish List: To go back to “fake” winning instead of “Deserve To Win-O-Meter” winning. I’m guessing life was a lot cooler last year when the Rangers were disrespectfully ranked 15th in the Power Rankings while actually winning games regularly. That’s way better than being 15th because we believe in them more than their record indicates. Who cares about that – you know what’s better than expected goals? Real goals. Can’t spell “underlying numbers” without “lying.” 16. Calgary Flames Last Week: 15 Record: 10-10-3 Dom rank: 16 Sean rank: 15 Wish List: Jonathan Huberdeau to stop playing defense and start putting up buckets. Here’s how it was supposed to work: Darryl Sutter helped Jonathan Huberdeau morph into Johnny Gaudreau 2.0, a supreme play-making winger with a coach-instilled sense of territorial dominance and newly sparkling five-on-five numbers. Here’s how it is working: Huberdeau started Thursday with as many points as Luke Kunin(12) and was riding shotgun on a low-event, defense-first line with Mikael Backlund. It feels … wrong. Abnormal. Unnatural. If this is the cost, it’s too high. 17. Edmonton Oilers Last Week: 20 Record: 13-11-0 Dom rank: 18 Sean rank: 17 Wish List: An end to whatever hex was put on Connor McDavid’s five-on-five offense. Connor McDavid has a chokehold on the scoring lead every season, but the last two seasons have been curious in how unlucky he’s been at five-on-five. It’s a testament to his otherworldly gifts that he still makes plenty of hay anyway, but in the game’s most common state he’s actually been unlucky. That’s especially true this year where the Oilers should have 3.45 goals-per-60 with McDavid on the ice, but are at 2.74 instead. Over the last two seasons, McDavid is essentially first in chances created at five-on-five, but somehow ranks 62nd in actual goals. In the two seasons prior he was 13th and seventh respectively earning way more goals than expected. He’s gone from third in points-per-60 at 3.14 to 33rd at 2.5. McDavid! 33rd! All this is to say that we really want McDavid back to his five-on-five dominance. He’s on pace for 147 points without it. Imagine what he’s capable of at his usual level? 18. Minnesota Wild Last Week: 18 Record: 11-9-2 Dom rank: 17 Sean rank: 19 Wish List: Marco Rossi racking up points in big minutes, wherever that may be. Minnesota’s preseason forward group made a whole bunch of sense, if you were of the mindset that Rossi was ready to take over as a second-line center. He wasn’t (one point in 16 games), and the bench is no place for a 21-year-old, first-round pick. Thus, he’s trying to figure things out in Iowa, and the early AHL returns (four points in two games) are fine. The Wild are short on firepower and cap space, though, so their playoff plans may well hinge on him figuring it out on a bigger stage. 19. Nashville Predators Last Week: 21 Record: 11-9-2 Dom rank: 19 Sean rank: 20 Wish List: Last year’s power play. Nashville had one of the league’s best power plays last season clicking at 24.4 percent, good for sixth in the league. This year, the Predators are at a pedestrian 16.1 percent, good for 28th in the league. It’s not the only reason the team is outside the playoff picture, but it’s definitely a contributing factor. A return to form could cure what currently ails them. 20. St. Louis Blues Last Week: 19 Record: 11-12-0 Dom rank: 21 Sean rank: 18 Wish List: Another winning streak. They’ve lost four of five, so the roller coaster — much like Jordan Binnington — is on the way down. They’re sixth in high-danger chances against, and 16th for, though. “Less boring than the average team” and “extremely streaky” makes for an entertaining watch. 21. Los Angeles Kings Last Week: 17 Record: 12-9-4 Dom rank: 20 Sean rank: 21 Wish List: A new home for Cal Petersen. After this year, the Kings are still on the hook for two more seasons at $5 million per. Ouch. That’s a rough cap hit for a goalie that’s been fighting through it over the past two seasons. Petersen once looked like the goalie of the future for Los Angeles, but the present is looking grim, since he cleared waivers earlier this week. A catastrophic game against the Kraken basically sealed his fate. 22. Montreal Canadiens Last Week: 23 Record: 12-10-1 Dom rank: 22 Sean rank: 23 Wish List: A high pick for Sean Monahan. Some genius wrote this when the Canadiens traded for Monahan: “Perfect move for a terrible team. No notes. The Habs, effective as their first offseason under Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes has been, aren’t winning anything in the immediate future. Why not add a first-round pick, even a late one, for the $6.375 million remaining on Monahan’s deal? If he comes back from another hip surgery and shows he’s still a viable middle-six NHL center? Great. Retain half of his salary, then flip him at the deadline for even more.” And here we are. Monahan has 14 points in 22 games, looking very much like a guy who’ll net Gorton and Hughes something at the deadline, should they wish to go that route. Whatever happens, let’s hope it’s what Monahan wants; he’s always seemed like a genuinely good dude. 23. Buffalo Sabres Last Week: 22 Record: 10-13-1 Dom rank: 23 Sean rank: 22 Wish List: A statue for Tage Thompson outside KeyBank Center. Some would say this is premature. We say it’s prudent given the rocket-like trajectory Tage is on right now. This guy oozes oomph and it’s only a matter of time before he actually earns a statue – why not just start building it now? If it’s not outside KeyBank Center, feel free to build it outside Power Rankings HQ, we’ll keep it safe for the next decade. Tage is on pace for 51 goals and 109 points by the way. Just an absolute monster of a player. 24. Washington Capitals Last Week: 24 Record: 10-11-4 Dom rank: 24 Sean rank: 24 Wish List: More goals for Alex Ovechkin. After Thursday’s OT loss to Seattle, the Caps are sixth in the Metro, sixth in the wild card and 22nd in expected goals percentage. As far as them being a legit contender, it, uh, feels over. Ovechkin is still filling it up and breaking wild records, though. That’ll keep happening for a while. 25. Ottawa Senators Last Week: 25 Record: 8-13-1 Dom rank: 26 Sean rank: 25 Wish List: Barry Trotz, full-time, after his one-hour cameo with the Islanders. The Senators not taking the big step many expected is probably not all on DJ Smith considering the team’s underlying process seems sound. But with the talent this team has accrued, Trotz feels like a good fit to take Ottawa to the next level in its rebuild. Trotz is not a perfect coach, especially with young talent (and that may be a problem with this particular team), but he’s one of the best for a reason. Ottawa could use a fresh voice for the next part of its journey. 26. Vancouver Canucks Last Week: 26 Record: 9-12-3 Dom rank: 25 Sean rank: 27 Wish List: Someone to tear off the band-aid. A 5-5-0 run, plus the fact that they play in the Pacific Division, seemed like reason for squint-and-you-can-see-it optimism for the Canucks. Thursday brought a 5-1 loss to Florida and an injured goaltender. Acceptance mode will follow, eventually. 27. San Jose Sharks Last Week: 27 Record:8-14-4 Dom rank: 27 Sean rank: 26 Wish List: Someone willing to take on Erik Karlsson’s enormous contract now that he’s good again. Karlsson’s renaissance season has been one of the marquee stories of the first quarter and for a rebuilding team it’s a perfect time to strike. With each passing game, Karlsson’s value continues to be rehabilitated enough that his huge deal now feels actually movable. What he’s done is clearly not enough to make the Sharks a playoff team and may in fact be actively hurting the greater good of building a solid foundation for the future. There’s no point in him languishing here when his services can actually be used elsewhere. Does another team dare take on the risk given the current salary cap landscape? We hope so because that would be a fun trade – and it would just be fun to see Karlsson flourish somewhere the games actually matter. That’s not here. 28. Philadelphia Flyers Last Week: 28 Record: 8-11-5 Dom rank: 28 Sean rank: 28 Wish List: Another 10-game losing streak. The Flyers are 28th in expected goals percentage with the worst power play in the league. If Carter Hart stubs his toe, they’re going to drop even further down the ladder. Given the total absence of top-end talent from the organization, that’s a good thing. Wins are bad, at the moment. This season would’ve been a mushy-middle mess, at best, even with Sean Couturier in the lineup. Now, they’re at least on track to come of it with a decent shot at a top pick. 29. Arizona Coyotes Last Week: 29 Record: 7-10-3 Dom rank: 29 Sean rank: 30 Wish List: A king’s ransom for Jakob Chychrun. He had a trying season last year, but Chychrun has posted some strong numbers in the five games since he’s returned. That might be good news for Arizona’s asking price for the star defender. The asking price is currently The Moon, but the Coyotes may settle for something smaller under the right circumstances. Hopefully they pull it off before the Christmas trade freeze because right now he’s part of the problem in Arizona – the problem being that the team is actually winning hockey games. 30. Columbus Blue Jackets Last Week: 31 Record: 7-12-2 Dom rank: 30 Sean rank: 29 Wish List: A troll turn for Patrik Laine. Now that he’s worn bright colors often enough for folks to notice, let’s see Laine pivot hard to, like, suburban dadcore so we can see how that’s received. “Ah yes, a Columbia quarter-zip paired with New Balances. Check out those grass stains. An act of bravery.” 31. Chicago Blackhawks Last Week: 30 Record: 6-12-4 Dom rank: 31 Sean rank: 31 Wish List: Conor Bedard. They’ve been begging Santa for months, but unfortunately for the Blackhawks, so have a few other teams. Chicago has done some excellent work of late to put itself firmly in the mix losing eight straight and 14 of 16 – but Bedard is a hot item this holiday season. 32. Anaheim Ducks Last Week: 32 Record: 6-16-2 Dom rank: 32 Sean rank: 32 Wish List: A fast forward button to April. They finally won in regulation. Pour one out for the early season’s best running joke.
  8. Good morning! Win your group today. While You Were Sleeping How are the Patriots this bad? The Bills are a known quantity. A really good team with a chance to be great showed exactly that last night in an easy 24-10 win on the road in New England. Josh Allen was awesome. The defense was awesome, even without Von Miller. Ho hum. The Patriots, though? Bad. Really bad. It’s jarring to see a Bill Belichick team look like this, with your quarterback — the 2021 first-round pick who’s already been benched this season — yelling at the offensive coordinator about play-calling. Their only offensive spark came from Marcus Jones, a cornerback, who took his first-ever NFL snap on offense to the house. A cool moment, but nothing to build on. Chad Graff writes about that floundering Pats offense, and what looks like one of the worst decisions of Belichick’s career: hiring Matt Patricia as offensive coordinator. World Cupdate Japan steals some hearts There is such a definitive gravitas about World Cup results. You spend four years building a team and program to make it to the knockout stage. You lose, it’s an abject failure, a disaster of untold proportion. You make it and you’re a god. We saw both yesterday: Germany is in the former camp, ousted in the group stage for the second straight Cup after winning it all in 2014. There will be years of critique about the Germans’ failure, all because Spain had a better goal differential in a tough group. People will lose jobs and the program will face immense pressure come 2026. Japan is playing with house money after winning Group E with a stunning victory over Spain yesterday, the greatest moment in team history. They beat Spain and Germany and belong at the big table. No matter the next result, this is a team of legend. Jack Pitt-Brooke has a great look at the Japanese side and wonders how far the “fearless” group can go. Spain also had to answer questions after the Japan loss about colluding to push Germany out of the group. Spicy! Don’t miss any of our World Cup coverage. Visit the hub here and click the plus sign to follow. Briefs The Lakers are already in trade mode We are just two weeks from Dec. 15, the first day NBA players who signed contracts this offseason can be traded. The Lakers, per our Jovan Buha, are eagerly awaiting the date and considering multiple trade options. The most interesting: a package centered around Patrick Beverley (just signed this summer) and Kendrick Nunn, which is basically the team admitting it messed up this offseason. It’s early, but keep an eye out. Head-Scratchers Iowa’s QB coup It was a foregone conclusion that Cade McNamara — the Michigan quarterback who started during last year’s Playoff run only to be supplanted this season — would enter the transfer portal. Last night, he chose Iowa. Wait what? A couple of interesting/puzzling layers to this: McNamara is a legit quarterback, a four-star prospect who played well last season. He assuredly had plenty of options in the portal to show some development and propel himself toward a possible NFL future. He picked the Hawkeyes, who averaged just over 17 points and 4.23 yards per play last season. That last stat is good for 129th in the 131-team FBS. It’s an offense run by the coach’s son, Brian Ferentz, who’s been routinely questioned as a play caller for years and probably would’ve been canned by now if last name wasn’t Ferentz. Does he know something we don’t? Is the rare intra-conference jump a foreshadowing of transfers to come? Iowa currently lacks the weapons an elite offense needs, but there’s a lot of offseason left. He’s either a glutton for punishment … or sees fertile ground for improvement. It’s hard to be worse than what Iowa is right now on offense. Add in a stellar defense, and it’s easy to see some wins add up. Scott Dochterman has a great column explaining why landing McNamara is such a huge step for the Hawkeyes. The Good Bets Geaux Tigers? The Raiders were the only team nice to me last weekend, and at this point, you have to worry about my fitness down the stretch. Wash the slate clean. Woosah. Let’s go 4-0: College Utah and USC OVER 67 It’s a huge number, but have you seen Caleb Williams lately? And have you seen how bad the USC defense can be? I’m expecting something like a 45-38 Trojans win, not far off from Utah’s 43-42 win over USC in the regular season. LSU (+17.5) vs. Georgia Call me a homer, whatever. My Tigers got caught snoozing last weekend in College Station, which pushed the hype meter on this game down to zero. Georgia is in no matter what, so maybe they take their foot off the gas? The Bulldogs probably win, but it’s not by three touchdowns. Read more: Best bets | Expert picks NFL Commanders (-2.5) at Giants This is a pro-Taylor Heinicke newsletter until further notice. He simply has the juice and I won’t explain further. Washington continues its second-half sprint. Jets (+3) at the Vikings This is also a pro-Mike White newsletter. Minnesota is primed for another letdown, and the Jets are still surging on good vibes after benching Zach Wilson. Read more: Best bets | Expert picks Record last week: 1-3 Pulse record overall: 21-22-1 Pulse Picks ・It’s easy to forget that Joel Embiid could join the French national team soon. Rudy Gobert is open to the pairing, but only if Embiid’s “heart is with us.” ・Michigan star running back Blake Corum will miss the rest of the Wolverines’ season due to knee surgery, a massive blow for a team with title aspirations. ・Brody Miller profiles LSU phenom Harold Perkins Jr., telling us how the kid who left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina went back home. ・Former Texas coach Tom Herman is back in the game as FAU’s next head coach. ・Ken Rosenthal returns with more Hot Stove rumors and whispers. Where’s Trea Turner headed?
  9. The Bills arduous — and slightly unexpected stretch on the road is done at last. After a three-game in 12 day frenzy, they ended with their most complete victory of the bunch. Against the rival Patriots, the Bills controlled things almost all game long, claiming both a 24-10 victory and their first AFC East win of the 2022 season. Now with a 9-3 record heading into a mini bye over the weekend, the Bills enter the stretch run of the season with the final five games. What helped the Bills to their victory, and what else stood out about and around the team? Here are seven observations from the Bills’ third straight victory over the Patriots: 1. Diggs was a cut above the rest as the offense won in a new way While the Bills didn’t quite put together the offensive explosion they did against the Patriots last season over their previous two games, they thoroughly dominated the game from start to finish using different means. It began with Stefon Diggs, who is normally consistent within the Bills offense, but there just seemed to be a little bit extra in his step as the game wore on. And Diggs did a lot of his damage when the Bills faced a down-and-distance with a higher degree of difficulty. Three of Diggs’ seven receptions were a third down the Bills converted for a first. Two others were on a second-and-long where the offense faltered on first down, both of which resulting in a 19-yard gain and moving the chains. And then his super-charged route on a second-and-8 to the sideline of the end zone got the Bills their first touchdown and a 10-7 lead. And that’s not even considering his 41-yard touchdown down the right sideline that was called back due to a holding penalty. Diggs was in a different stratosphere all game, even if his numbers weren’t astronomical. But that was also by design for the Bills. Just as they did against the Browns, the Bills worked in the running game far more than they usually do and used heavier sets to help their cause. The Bills used heavier formations on 22 percent of their non-kneel down plays throughout the game, which helped open up 112 yards on 29 carries for their running backs on the Patriots, who usually are a stout run defense. It was also a keep away effort in the second half where they quickly ran through clock by racking up plays, first downs and time of possession in one fell swoop. Their 15-play, 94-yard touchdown drive that extended through the end of the third quarter and into the fourth gobbled up nearly nine minutes of the second half. And by that point in the game, the Patriots had only run 31 offensive plays. It was utter dominance, even if the scoreline didn’t show the Bills putting up 40. The Bills should be feeling very good about how they operated offensively through their system, even with some individual problems sprinkled in from time to time. 2. Cook bursts through, and why it could be here to stay Ever since James Cook arrived, you could tell there was something quite different between him and the rest of the running back room. He has always had an explosive quality to his game, is a natural pass-catcher and can rack up a bunch of yards in a hurry when he hits a crease. But to this point in the season, Cook hadn’t factored into the game plan as heavily as some may have wanted. That all changed on Thursday night against the Patriots. It was very clear from the beginning of the game that the offense had an overall philosophical shift about how they wanted to utilize their running backs from what it had been in previous weeks. Cook was on the field early and often, leading the way in snaps almost the entirety of the game. By the end of it, his 33 snaps to Singletary’s 32 and Hines’ 24 gave Cook the edge, but that’s not where it ended. Cook popped for several big plays and managed some decent gains when the big plays weren’t available. His 28-yard run looked effortless as he snuck through a smaller crease and zoomed up the field to maximize the gain. And as a pass-catcher, Cook possesses the explosive open-field qualities that Singletary has lacked since the Bills drafted him. It was a true breakout game for Cook, and Sean McDermott’s comments after the game indicate this might be a continuing trend as the Bills move forward. “I thought they did a good job offensively, coach (Kelly) Skipper, of rotating different guys in there. It just wasn’t all (Singletary) and, I think that’s a good thing.” Throughout his tenure, McDermott has made it a habit of subtle suggestions through press conferences with some pieces of his roster and offensive philosophies. “I think that’s a good thing” could certainly be interpreted as a sign the head coach would like this style of running back usage to continue moving forward. And if nothing else, Cook earned it. He was their best back on Thursday night and will likely continue to see some opportunities moving forward. 3. The Cook and Hines package returns with a vengeance Against the Browns in Week 11, the Bills flashed a personnel package including both Cook and Nyheim Hines as a means to put pressure on the defense in different ways. They did it on a handful of snaps, but it wasn’t a heavy piece of their game plan. Then against the Lions in Week 12, the Bills mostly went away from that personnel grouping, and Hines himself as the back had only four snaps total. But offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey may have been keeping it in his back pocket for the Patriots game, as they used Cook and Hines on the field together a whopping 12 times throughout the game. While it doesn’t seem like a lot, that’s far more two-running back sets than the Bills had ever run previously. The Bills effectively used Hines in a similar way Brian Daboll used Isaiah McKenzie as a gadget receiver several years ago. And despite some plays that were duds, it was highly productive with some chunk plays. The Bills gained 78 yards on those 12 plays, for an average of 6.5 yards each time. Considering the Bills only averaged 4.6 yards per play on their other 60 plays, that Cook and Hines group gave them a major edge as it was sprinkled in throughout the game. 4. Dion Dawkins’ health moving forward is paramount Although the Bills were methodical in how they moved the ball throughout the game, the outing wasn’t without its occasional problems. The most significant among them was the overall pass-protecting of their offensive tackles. Left tackle David Quessenberry and right tackle Spencer Brown both struggled even with some help, and it led to some negative situations and throws for quarterback Josh Allen and the rest of the offense. There’s nothing the Bills can do about Brown moving forward because they lack depth at the position, and he has flashed better ability than what he has shown the last two games. But for Quessenberry, it’s just an indication of how important starting left tackle Dion Dawkins will be for the rest of the season. Dawkins isn’t having his best season by any means, but he is a considerable upgrade over Quessenberry at the left tackle position and can help steady things. Not only do they trust Dawkins in most one-on-one situations, but that trust would allow them to assign more help over to Brown on the other side of the offensive line to lessen any potential problems against good pass rushers. Outside of Allen and Case Keenum, the drop-off between Dawkins and his backup might be the steepest the Bills have positionally on the roster right now. It is critical they get Dawkins back healthy, and that he remains healthy for the playoffs. 5. Rousseau and Lawson play a heavy snap and highly effective role In their first full game without Von Miller, the Bills relied heavily on second-year defensive end Greg Rousseau, and trusted veteran Shaq Lawson to help get them through with high-level play. And the way they began the game was alarming in how often the Bills used each of them. For one, the Bills usually don’t like to put too much on their starter’s plates and have relied on a healthy rotation to keep their top pass rushers fresher. That wasn’t the case through almost the first three quarters, and it was especially notable as Rousseau was in his first game back from a multiple-game absence due to an ankle injury. Rousseau played on 27 of the team’s first 29 defensive snaps (93.1 percent) and Lawson played on 26 of those 29 snaps (89.7 percent). And unlike last week, where the edge rushers failed to get any pressure, Rousseau and Lawson took advantage of their matchups. Both players provided pressures and near sacks, which forced Mac Jones into a hectic situation. And by doing so, they caused Jones to trust his offensive line less, as he was more prone to drift from the pocket at the first sign of danger. It’s only one game and the duo need to keep it going, but it was hard not to be impressed by the first game without the Bills’ star pass rusher. 6. Tre’Davious White is back almost in full, as CB2 has plenty of movement The day the Bills had been waiting for finally arrived, as star cornerback Tre’Davious White returned to a near-every-snap role against the Patriots. The team chose to play him on only the first two series against the Lions, but both the player and the team were ready to give him all he could handle on Thursday night. White played on all but two of the Bills’ defensive series, and each had a good reason. On the first series without White, he had just gotten checked out for a stinger, but was cleared to return to the game and the Bills were likely just being cautious. And the second series without White was when the Bills had the game well in hand in the fourth quarter. It seems like it’s all forces go from this point forward for White and the Bills. And with White back in a full-time role, the Bills began the process to try and figure out their other starting spot. The first big move was to make first-round rookie Kaiir Elam a healthy scratch. He only mixed in near the end of the Lions game after both White (precaution) and sixth-round rookie Christian Benford (injury) were removed from defense. Elam also doesn’t play much special teams. He really only mixed in on kickoff coverage sporadically, so his roster spot was likely deemed to be better used on a core special teams player. But it’s still concerning the team preferred two other players on defense than their first-round pick when the position is in flux. Dane Jackson’s struggles caught up to him, and for the first time this season, he did not play in an every-snap role for a game in which he was available. Jackson mixed in for two defensive series with White, but that was it other than the two series White didn’t play. They wanted to get a good look at veteran Xavier Rhodes, and the White and Rhodes pairing seems like one that could stick in the short-term. The Bills likely prefer experience and a calm demeanor rather than the variable Elam and Jackson provide. Until one of the younger players prove they can be a consistent option, Rhodes might be the path of least resistance to better defensive results. 7. As Odell Beckham day approaches, how Jamison Crowder has progressed in the background When the Bills return home for their extended weekend off, they’ll host free-agent wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on his official visit. The Beckham storyline has been a constant all summer and season, as Miller has made his feelings quite clear, insinuating a belief Beckham will sign with the Bills when all is said and done. The Bills are one of three teams reportedly hosting him on a visit, with the Giants and Cowboys making up the other two. All the attention will be on Beckham over the next week, but he isn’t the only veteran receiver the Bills have a chance to put on their 53-man roster. That’s where Jamison Crowder comes in. The Bills placed Crowder on injured reserve ahead of their Week 5 game against the Steelers due to a fractured ankle. Leading up to the Patriots game, coach Sean McDermott didn’t rule out Crowder from returning this season. The Athletic caught up with Crowder and checked in on his progress so far, what’s to come, and when the receiver could get back to action. Crowder’s injury was actually a broken fibula at the bottom, which impacted some additional ligaments on the inside. Crowder had surgery on the injury to put in a plate, which the surgeon classified as a clean break. And because it was a clean break rather than a compound fracture or something more severe, it’s created some optimism for Crowder to return this season. “They said it wasn’t nothing too crazy, too complicated,” Crowder told The Athletic. “Obviously, you don’t want to get injured, just thankful it wasn’t the worst of the worst. There’s still a chance I can potentially get back.” Crowder began walking again a little under a month ago. Most recently, he has been running in the pool on the underwater treadmill for the last two weeks, preventing full body weight from going on the surgically repaired ankle. The next thing for the receiver is to graduate to an anti-gravity treadmill, intending to get back on the field to start jogging in “maybe like, two weeks.” As for a return to action, it would be late in the regular season, but Crowder has a target in mind. “Around like that late December timeframe. That’s the goal for me,” he said. “It was something that the surgeon, they said there was a chance. It’s just all about how I’m feeling at that point and how well the rehab has gone. Right now my focus is to go day by day, trying to get better, and obviously try to get the strength and everything back, so, just see when we get to that time period, just see how it’s going.” Getting Crowder back would be huge to a receiver room in crying need of depth and someone to boost the offense. Although Crowder isn’t an explosive pass-catching option, he is a reliable target who would provide an upgrade over their usual slot receiver Isaiah McKenzie when working against zone coverage. It’s certainly not guaranteed Crowder will come back, but there is some momentum for it to happen before the playoffs arrive. Bills MVP: WR Stefon Diggs – He was on another level throughout the game and challenged the Patriots’ defense all game long. Another special game for a special player, even if his statistics didn’t show it. Bills LVP: S Damar Hamlin – He got caught in man coverage and too flat-footed on the Patriots’ 48-yard touchdown on a quick throw, and that spoiled on otherwise superb day defensively. And then he got ejected from the game for unnecessary roughness. It was a tough day for the second-year safety. Up Next: The Bills return home for the first of two home games against AFC East opponents. They’ll get the 7-4 Jets on Dec. 11. Final Thoughts As the Bills win a third straight game, they have settled into a groove following some uncertainty amidst a crazy schedule and a bunch of injuries. Even through all the struggles, the Bills now find themselves with a 9-3 record, with a mini bye ahead of them and two straight home games against AFC East opponents to really charge forward back to their playoff potential. And underneath it all, the Bills have a very real possibility of entering their Week 14 game against the Jets as the top seed in the AFC once again. Both the Dolphins and Chiefs are on the road this weekend against great opponents, and if the Dolphins lose to the 49ers, along with a Chiefs loss to the Bengals, the Bills will find their way back to the AFC perch with only five games remaining. That’s not to say the Bills are through their troubles because they still have some things to iron out on offense — especially with some inconsistent performances from skill players and an, at times, underperforming offensive line. But they have survived a proverbial storm after surviving an actual snowstorm, which continues to prove why this team had all the potential in the world to challenge for a Super Bowl this season. With only five games to go, the Bills find themselves in a good space with an offense slightly turning the corner, a dominating defense getting healthier, and the star quarterback who makes it all go. The Bills are right where they need to be, and they’ll likely be better for going through these last six games in the way that it hit them.
  • Create New...