The Buffalo Bills, one of the NFL’s long-suffering franchises, endured yet another up-and-down season under first-year head coach Sean McDermott. Yet despite a roller-coaster of emotions, they stepped up when it mattered and got some good luck along the way, snapping a 17-year playoff drought.
By beating the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 and the Bengals beating the Ravens with an INCREDIBLE last-minute touchdown by Andy Dalton, the Bills clinched the No. 6 seed at 9-7 and are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. It was the longest current drought in not only the NFL, but in all of American professional sports.
The Bills plan on thanking the Bengals with some wings:
They lost LeSean McCoy to an ankle injury in the game, but got help in the rushing game from DT Kyle Williams:
Making the playoffs almost seemed like a pipe dream in August. When McDermott took over for Rex Ryan, he made a point about changing the team culture, offloading some talented players along the way. In the preseason, they traded away Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby, prompting speculation that the Bills were punting this season.
Even after they got off to a surprising 5-2 start, McDermott wasn’t done unloading veterans and shipped defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Most infamously, he benched Tyrod Taylor for rookie Nathan Peterman, who threw five first-half picks in a blowout loss to the Chargers before Taylor came back in. Thankfully for Bills fans, that didn’t end up mattering in the end, as they finished ahead of L.A. (9-7) without the head-to-head tiebreaker coming into play.
How did the Bills make the playoffs despite so much turnover? In short, McDermott successfully implemented the formula that Ryan couldn’t pull off — run the ball and play good defense.
LeSean McCoy carried the offense with 1,138 yards on the ground, still playing at a high level at age 29. Taylor was his usual self, going through peaks and valleys as the weapons kept changing around him. The Bills acquired Jordan Matthews in the Darby trade, but he lost most of the year with multiple injuries. They also traded for Kelvin Benjamin at the deadline, only to watch him get banged up, as well. With so much uncertainty in the passing game, McCoy was the glue holding most of of the offense together.
On the defensive side, cornerback Tre’Davious White was a revelation. The first-round pick immediately won a starting job and is one of the top candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Safety Micah Hyde enjoyed a career year with five interceptions and his first Pro Bowl invitation. Jordan Poyer was another key contributor as the Bills fielded one of the league’ better secondaries, which nearly made up for the run defense declining after the Dareus trade.
What should you expect from the Bills in the playoffs? For starters, they won’t just be happy to be here, despite ending a long drought. The question is how far their specific brand of football can take them in January.
Buffalo heads on the road to face the No. 3 Jaguars, who boast arguably the best defense in football and have the better quarterback in Blake Bortles (no, really). The famed “Sacksonville” group will surely give Taylor hell all day long, but they tend to be vulnerable against the run game, so expect a steady dose of McCoy throughout.
The Jags also have a young, relatively unproven group of receivers, who could have trouble getting open against the Bills’ secondary. Of course, the reverse is also true when Buffalo’s makeshift WR corps matches up with Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Jacksonville should be favored, but the Bills will likely make them earn it.
What happened the last time the Bills made the playoffs? It’s ... a touchy subject among Bills fans.
Who has the longest playoff drought now? It’s been a good year for snapping long playoff droughts, with the Bills (1999), Los Angeles Rams (2003), and Jaguars (2007) all getting back on the wagon. But we must have one long-suffering team, and it’s the most natural one possible: The Cleveland Browns haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be getting there any time soon.
At least the Browns don’t have the longest playoff drought in all of the major leagues. That mantle now passes to MLB’s Seattle Mariners, who last made the postseason in 2001.