If the playoffs started today, they would be watching from the couch along with the rest of us. They have lost to a number of their competitors for a playoff spot, including the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals. They even have a loss to the New England Patriots on their resume.
But if the Buffalo Bills make the playoffs, that should terrify the rest of the AFC.
Just consider what the Bills have done in the past two weeks, with their backs against the wall. They were coming off a disappointing three-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, an overtime loss at that, and faced a long week of questions about head coach Sean McDermott. They were sitting at 6-6, with a whole host of teams above them in the expanded playoff standings.
They were facing a trip to Kansas City to play the Chiefs, in what was essentially a playoff game for them. Lose to Patrick Mahomes and company, and the Bills were staring at a 6-7 record, and potentially missing out on the postseason.
Since then, they have pulled off two very impressive wins. While it took a bone-headed penalty from Kadarius Toney, the Bills went into Kansas City and knocked off the Chiefs, improving to 7-6 on the year. While that game may ultimately tell us more about Kansas City than it does Buffalo, it was a badly-needed win for McDermott’s team.
But what they did this week was even more impressive. Facing a red-hot Dallas Cowboys team, Buffalo wiped them off the field, by a final score of 31-10. But it was not the score, so much as how the Bills won. It was a physical game, one that saw the Bills win not on the right arm of Josh Allen, as is so often the case, but behind a dominant rushing attack led by James Cook. The Buffalo RB rushed for a career-high 179 yards and a touchdown, and he added another receiving touchdown.
As a team the Bills ran for 266 yards. It was the first time Buffalo ran for more than 200 yards in a game this season, and the most rushing yards for the team in a single game since they ran for 280 yards in a win over the Cleveland Browns in December … of 2016.
Tyrod Taylor was the starting quarterback for that game.
While all this was happening, Allen completed just 7 of 15 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Then there is what the Bills were doing to Dak Prescott and the Dallas offense. Prescott entered the game as the slight favorite in the MVP debate, but the Bills held him to just 134 passing yards, as Prescott completed 21 of 34 of his throws. Buffalo held him out of the end zone and picked him off once, ending a four-game streak without a turnover.
Putting a serious dent in that MVP candidacy in the process.
But this is a story about the Bills, who suddenly look like one of the hottest teams in the NFL, peaking at the exact right moment. Beyond the two recent wins, and some wins from earlier in the year like a 48-20 victory over the Miami Dolphins, there is a statistical case to be made that the Bills are among the NFL’s elite teams. Take this chart, which shows both Offensive and Defensive Expected Points Added per Play this season, from RBSDM.com:
In a league of their own? The San Francisco 49ers. Right behind them you see the Dolphins and the Cowboys — two teams the Bills have beaten — along with the Ravens and yes, the Bills.
Before their win over Dallas, one could have pointed to Allen himself, and made the case that the Bills have something that can truly matter in a playoff game: An elite talent at the QB position that can go alien-mode and take over a game. Allen had some of those moments in Kansas City a week ago, such as this spectacular off-structure play to Latavius Murray in a critical spot:
Or perhaps this throw against the Chiefs, a flat-footed “flick of the wrist” that few others on the planet can attempt, let alone complete:
Before Sunday, the case for the Bills might have been Allen. But their win over Dallas showed a different side to them, a side rooted in running the football and a stout defense. The more pathways you have to win a football game, the better your odds will be when that game kicks off.
Of course, this is still the 2023 Buffalo Bills, a team that looks like they can beat anyone or, potentially, lose to anyone. They have three games left, a trip to Los Angeles to play the Chargers, a home game against a Patriots team that has already beaten them, and a Week 18 date with the Dolphins in Miami.
How those games play out is anyone’s guess. But the Bills team we have seen these past two weeks is starting to look like that proverbial “team nobody wants to face” in the playoffs.
And that should terrify the rest of the AFC.