It wasn’t supposed to be like this — especially this season. The Buffalo Bills were the sweetheart team. Everyone’s second team. The organization who were supposed to finally break through their glass ceiling of disappointment, yet we’re here, again, with another playoff loss, and another exit before the AFC Championship, and this time it didn’t come at the hands of the Chiefs.
There’s something that just doesn’t feel right about saying goodbye to the Bills. That’s not a knock against Cincinnati, but especially after the whole Damar Hamlin situation it felt like the stage was set for this to be a generationally defining season, one where Buffalo finally broke through and defied its longstanding history of letting its fans down at the worst moment.
I don’t think it’s time to start penning an indictment to the Sean McDermott era, but there’s no doubt that something is wrong and this team needs to figure it out. It’s one thing to lose to Cincinnati, an unquestionably talented team — another entirely to lose in Buffalo in the snow, and doing it while the Bengals were without three starting offensive linemen.
If you want to look for something to blame it’s the exact same issue we were talking about back in September: Buffalo had no run game. How this team didn’t see the issue is beyond me, but it really reared its head in the playoffs when Josh Allen had to become the biggest threat on the ground — while Devin Singletary and James Cook carried the ball a combined 11 times for 37 yards.
Ultimately this is going to be a story, just not of the 2022 Bills, but the NFL as a whole. We are seeing offenses shifting back from the all-pass domination of the past few years. We’ve been seeing a steady pattern in the league, really for the last 10 years of so, where offense sets the tone, defense catches up — and the first teams to adjust win out, and then we repeat the process. Buffalo’s big problem was that it concentrated so much energy to overload on defense that it failed to address a major hole on offense. The weirdest part is that this was so easily seen as a possibility.
When you’re a team this good, with every chance of the playoffs being routed through your cold-weather, northern stadium — there’s probably an odds-on chance you should have a running game that’s up to snuff. It’s pretty much football 101: When weather is bad, you run the ball. Yet, the Bills only carried the ball 19 times, including Josh Allen scrambles — compared to the Bengals who ran the ball 34 times. It was a complete misstep. Buffalo became a hollow, one-dimensional team and the Bengals took advantage of it in a big way. They forced Allen to be the whole damn show, took away Stefon Diggs as an option — and the entire team crumbled as a result.
The saving grace if you’re a Bills fan is that there’s still so much to build on. This team will be part of the conversation for a long time — but that’s cold comfort this morning as a season ends that promised more.
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
Was the angst over the presale of AFC Championship tickets in Atlanta warranted? No.
Did this team manage to harness the power of “us against the world?” Absolutely.
The Bengals turnaround this season has been nothing short of remarkable. This is an organization that went from looking like victims of the biggest Super Bowl hangover in recent memory, and now they’re one game away from returning to the game again.
Everything is clicking for Cincinnati right now. Offensively we knew the talent of this team, but it’s the defense that seriously stepped up in Buffalo and showed fortitude that I honestly didn’t know existed. Shutting down the Bills passing game was no easy feat, but the Bengals stepped up in every area to set the tone.
Patrick Mahomes will be a wild card entering the AFC Championship, but even at 100 percent the Bengals have shown they have the talent, and the edge to win one more and march back to the Super Bowl.
Loser: Daniel Jones
That was just sad. All week Jones’ turnaround had been talked up, and then he went to Philadelphia and filled his pants on national TV.
Okay, that’s harsh — but if the shoe fits. Jones showed every one of his bad tendencies in the most important game of the season, and it was largely due to Philly’s defense absolutely exposing him. This season he’s been more or less a one read quarterback who has thrived by teams overcomplicating their defenses and giving him the first read. The Eagles were able to key in on his No. 1 receiver for the majority of downs, and without that option he crumbled into dust.
It’s a weird time now for the Giants. Can they win with Daniel Jones? Yes — but there’s a ceiling. He’s never going to become a top quarterback, so are you comfortable having decent but never great? That will determine what the team does with the position moving forward and there’s a very real chance that settling isn’t good enough for Brian Daboll, meaning that’s the last we’ll see of Jones quarterbacking the Giants.
Loser: Dak Prescott
Woof this was a bad weekend for NFC East quarterbacks not names Jalen Hurts.
Truthfully, I think some of the takes following the Cowboys’ loss about Dak were too harsh. “Trade Dak” was trending on Twitter for much of the night, and this failed to account for the fact that outside of CeeDee Lamb this team had no real second receiver. They gambled big on Michael Gallup, which didn’t pay off — and a lack of weapons is what sunk this team against the 49ers.
Still, that’s not going to pull Prescott out of the fire as the quarterback of the NFL’s most visible team. It’s going to be a long offseason.
Yes, y’all lost to the Chiefs — but this season is the most encouraging building block this team has ever had.
Duval doesn’t need validation from me, but the vibes surrounding Jacksonville right now make this feel like a team ready to finally take the next step and solidify itself as a force in the AFC for years to come.