You can’t say they didn’t ask for it. The Bills have gone from being the preseason and mid-season favorite among NFL media and pundits, and the betting favorite in Vegas to win the Super Bowl, to an “in the hunt” Wild Card playoff team according to those same outlets. Last year during their run to the AFC Championship game the Bills made believers out of nearly everyone. The franchise that is best known for four straight Super Bowl losses finally found their way back to the top of the league after 30 years of mindless wandering. Aided with an offseason of retaining their own players and drafting depth on the defensive line, the Bills seemed poised for another deep run. While they still can make a magical run, it is curious how the Bills went from Super Bowl favorite to having a must win game in Week 13 all in the matter of months. So, how exactly did they do it?
Dominated Up Front
It was hard to imagine a Bills game that people were more hyped about than the season opener against the Steelers. The Bills, who returned all five starters on the offensive line from last season, were dominated all afternoon against the Steelers. Pittsburgh, a subpar team with a good defense and a below average quarterback, was able to dictate what the Bills did on offense the entire game. Some odd 4th down decisions, untimely penalties, and a blocked punt resulted in an opening day loss that fans chalked up as a “wake up call” for the team.
But it happened again in the Titans game. The Bills were pushed around by the Titans offensive and defensive lines. We saw the Bills defense wilt away on live television as Derick Henry seemed to gain strength as the game went on. The Titans scored on 6 straight possessions (excluding a kneel down) in a span of the 2nd and 4th quarters. Even on the last play of the game the Bills entire left side of the line of scrimmage was blown up. Even if Allen doesn’t slip I’m not sure he gets in.
In what was the tipping point for any members of the media still on the Bills bandwagon, the Bills were once again thrashed up front by Jonathan Taylor and the Colts. Even more concerning was the fact that the Bills knew the Colts did not have any other threat on offense and Taylor being the workhouse was predicted. Still, the Bills had no answer for Taylor as he raced his way to a 185 rushing yard and 5 total touchdown day.
Last year the Bills offense was something to behold. When Josh Allen had the ball in his hands in the final 2 minutes of a game with the game on the line, you knew the Bills were going to score. They were that automatic and Allen was that good. The struggles on offense during the 2021 season did not take long to rear their ugly head. If you recall, the Bills failed to pick up a first down after a long kickoff return by Isiah McKenzie put them deep in Steelers territory on the first play of the season. Three plays later the Bills were settling for a Tyler Bass field goal. Too many times this year the offense has been unable to force their will against their opponent, which is the opposite of what the teams mentioned above did to them. Settling for field goals against the Steelers, Titans, and Jaguars is the difference between 10-1 and 7-4. The Bills red zone percentage has creeped up in their last few games, but it is something to monitor as they hit the home stretch. More concerning is the eye test: the Bills just don’t look as good as last year. Allen is more inaccurate and is easier for defenses to read and Daboll hasn’t been as strong as he was last year when it comes to game planning for opponents’ weaknesses.
Underdogs Once More
The Bills love the “nobody believes in us” narrative. Considering the city of Buffalo tends to have a collective chip on their shoulder for just about everything, it is not surprising that players on the team adopt the same mindset. Players sometimes get short with the media in their weekly press conferences throwing darts like, “that’s for you guys to say” and “you guys said we couldn’t…” The Bills should realize that is of their own doing. The same media was predicting they were going to run away with the AFC East just two months ago. They are just responding to what they are seeing on their screens.
The NFL Today crew has been very high on the Bills all season. Before the start of the season, Phil Simms, Bill Cowher, and Boomer Esiason picked the Bills to go to the Super Bowl. Before the Bills and Colts game, Cowher jumped off of the Bills bandwagon and no longer picked them to the win the AFC. But Simms and Esiason did. Just two weeks later all of them are off of the bandwagon. All four picked the Patriots to win the division and the Bills to settle for the Wild Card spot, as seen yesterday on the NFL Today pregame show.
The potential rise of the Patriots is more about the unexpected fall of the Bills, don’t let those salivating over Mac Jones trick you. The funny thing is – I talk about the “unexpected fall” of the Bills and they are a 60 minute football game from the 2 seed in the AFC and increasing their AFC East odds to over 50%. If the Bills take care of their business tonight then the conversations starts back up for them. If the Bills win tonight be ready to hear how the locker room talk about how people doubted them all week and stopped believing in them after some bad losses. Even I am a little guilty of that. That is the way the Bills like it, after all. If doubt is the fuel to their fire, then doubt away Bills fans.