ORCHARD PARK — So what’s next for the Bills?
Fresh off a home victory over one of the NFL’s two worst teams, Buffalo sits at 5-7, mathematically alive for a playoff berth but realistically with no hope.
And if the Bills’ current record sounds familiar, it should.
Seven times in the last 11 seasons, Buffalo has been either 6-6 or 5-7 at the three-quarter pole.
The question is, are the current Bills any better than their 12 predecessors in a soon-to-be 13-year streak of missing the post-season?
The answer appears to be ... hardly.
With four games to play, Buffalo fans are engaged in their annual speculation ... should the coach, the starting quarterback or both be replaced?
And who will the new ones be?
COACH Chan Gailey, 15-29 in nearly three full seasons with the Bills, has beaten only one team that finished with a winning record the previous two years ... New England. Meanwhile, none of this season’s five victims seems destined to eclipse .500.
Under fire in recent weeks for curious play-calling, a failure to heavily use a dependable running game and unwavering loyalty to struggling quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, Gailey didn’t exactly ensure his job security with Sunday’s 34-18 victory over Jacksonville.
The Jaguars, lowest in the NFL statistically in most major categories on either side of the ball, were the antacid for Buffalo’s current heartburn.
Add a rainy, windy afternoon at “The Ralph,” and even the most casual fan would know enough to rely on the running attack and take the game out of Fitzpatrick’s hands.
Happily, Gailey used that obvious game plan to predictable success.
HOWEVER, Sunday’s win conflicted Bills’ fans, especially those with perspective.
Do they root for a season-ending five-game win streak, a 9-7 finish and that incredibly longshot bid for the playoffs?
If that happens, of course, with a three-win improvement, Gailey, for sure, and possibly Fitzpatrick, would be back for a fourth season.
Or should they hope Buffalo loses its last four, putting Gailey at risk and virtually assuring Fitzpatrick’s exit.
Some would see the bonus in that scenario would be a Top-10 draft pick.
But that has value only if it’s used wisely.
For the record, since the Bills last made the playoffs in the 1999 season, their first-round draft picks have been, in order: Erik Flowers, Nate Clements, Mike Williams, Willis McGahee, Lee Evans and J.P. Losman, Donte Whitner and John McCargo, Marshawn Lynch, Leodis McKelvin, Aaron Maybin and Eric Wood, C.J. Spiller, Marcell Dareus and Stephon Gilmore.
Flowers (defensive end), Williams (offensive tackle), Losman (quarterback), McCargo (defensive tackle) and Maybin (defensive end) were certified busts.
McGahee (Baltimore and Denver) and Lynch (Seattle) are dependable running backs, albeit with attitudes, who have enjoyed their greatest success elsewhere.
Clements (San Francisco, Cincinnati), a cornerback, and Whitner (San Francisco), a safety, remain starters, but neither is a difference-maker, the former’s considerable self-esteem notwithstanding.
Evans, a high-character wide receiver, had a good, but not great career, whose worst moment came last January when he dropped the potential game-winning touchdown pass for Baltimore at New England in the AFC Championship Game.
Tellingly, only five of the last six first-round draft choices listed above are still on the Buffalo roster.
McKelvin, a cornerback, has survived due to his unusual kick return ability ... certainly not his coverage skills.
Spiller, a running back with rare elusiveness, is already a star and Woods, the Bills’ center, is getting there. Dareus, whose play at defensive tackle has fallen off after a solid rookie season, seems to be suffering from the emotional hangover of his brother’s shooting death early in the season. And Gilmore has had both good and bad moments as a rookie starting cornerback.
The point is, there’s no reason to assume Buffalo would maximize an early draft pick. After all, Williams was No. 4 overall, Whitner eighth and both Maybin and McKelvin 11th.
In short, if Bills fans are hoping for a losing streak to get a better draft pick, that’s wasted energy.
Buffalo has proven it can botch the first round early, middle or late.
(Chuck Pollock, the Times Herald sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)