The longest playoff drought in American sports belongs to MLB’s Seattle Mariners now that the Buffalo Bills did enough to grab the last spot in the AFC. On Sunday, the Bills will play in a postseason game for the first time since January 2000.
A win would be the first playoff win for the team since 1995.
Getting to the postseason was a special moment for Buffalo, and came via a miraculous last-minute victory by the Cincinnati Bengals to knock the Baltimore Ravens out of contention. It was a long time coming for the Bills and the importance of the moment was felt by the players and the team’s fans.
But making noise in January may take an even bigger miracle.
The Bills are the Cinderella of the 2018 NFL playoffs
The upstart Jaguars ended a playoff drought of their own. They won the AFC South for the first time since the division was created and reached the postseason for the first time in 10 years. While Blake Bortles’ propensity for turnovers makes it hard to trust Jacksonville entirely, the team is led by an elite defense and leans heavily on Leonard Fournette on offense.
Pull off the upset in Jacksonville and the Bills will have to win in Gillette Stadium three weeks after losing to the Patriots there, 37-16.
“It’s nothing new to us,” Bills wide receiver Zay Jones told NewYorkUpstate.com. “We know where we stand. We know where people pick us. We believe we write our own destiny with how we come to practice each and every day, with how we approach meetings and how we approach ultimately game day and just one day at a time. People are going to pick who they want to pick. That’s what fans and analysts and the media does. Our concern is the guys in the locker room and really just focusing in. Because this is really a huge game for us.”
It would take some serious overachievement for the Bills to do much in January, but that’s been the story of the team’s entire year.
The Bills are already defying the odds just by playing in the playoffs
In Buffalo’s 17 seasons outside the postseason, it had at least six wins 14 times. The Bills were consistently on the doorstep, unable to do enough to take the leap and keep pace with the Patriots in the AFC East.
That didn’t come crashing down in 2017. New England still comfortably runs the division and the Buffalo team that finally ended the drought wasn’t any better than other versions of the Bills that fell short.
According to FiveThirtyEight, there were 11 times in the last 18 years that the Bills had a higher mathematical win projection than the team did in 2017. The projections say this particular Buffalo team should’ve only won about 6.8 games.
Getting to 9-7 was a remarkable accomplishment, considering the Bills finished the regular season No. 29 in total offensive yards and No. 26 in yards allowed. Along the way, Buffalo beat just other playoff teams: The Atlanta Falcons in Week 4 and the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12.
What the Bills did well was avoid big mistakes and capitalize on errors made by opponents. The Buffalo secondary allowed just 14 passing touchdowns and had 18 interceptions, and the offense finished eight games without a turnover. Only the Chiefs, who had nine turnover-free games, did better in the category.
For a Cinderella to pull off an upset, it usually needs the bounces to go their way. The Bills had that during a season in which they finished in the top 10 in turnover margin even after a disastrous six-interception game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Enjoy the ride, Bills fans
Even if the trip to the playoffs doesn’t end with confetti or anything close to it, Buffalo got a monkey off its back just by getting into the dance.
The last time the Bills were in the postseason, they were eliminated by the Tennessee Titans’ Music City Miracle. Fullback Lorenzo Neal fielded a kickoff, tossed it tight end Frank Wycheck who threw a pass across the field that was dangerously close to a forward lateral. Kevin Dyson caught it and did the rest on a 75-yard kickoff return that eliminated Buffalo.
Since then, the Bills have fired six head coaches and saw the resignation of one. That head coach was Doug Marrone, who now leads the Jaguars and will face his former team Sunday.
The Bills have different ownership since the last playoff trip too, with Terry and Kim Pegula purchasing the franchise in 2014 following the death of Ralph Wilson.
In Sean McDermott’s first year as the coach of the Bills, he accomplished what Marrone, Rex Ryan, and a few others failed to do: Get to the postseason. It’ll be an uphill climb for the team to do much more, but that hasn’t stopped them yet.