Written by Tyler Hypnarowski
Heading into week 8 of the 2017 NFL season the Buffalo Bills are in as good a spot to make the playoffs as they’ve ever been during their historic 17 year postseason drought. Sure, much of that optimism is a result of Bills players not only buying into Sean McDermott’s plan, but also their ability to finally make plays on the field. But more so, it’s the fact that most NFL teams, the Bills included, just aren’t that good on a week to week basis. Parity has been prevalent for years in the league, but Buffalo has failed to take advantage of it. Could the Bills accidentally make the playoffs in a year that most wrote off as a rebuild, just another wash of a season? Even with the “process” and all that comes with it, guys still play to win. And these guys have been winning.
Let’s look at a few playoff favorited teams that Buffalo is looking down on in the standings. The Denver Broncos, whom the Bills defeated in week 3, are 3-3 after losing their last 2 in embarrassing fashion including a shutout loss to the Chargers. Like the Bills, the Broncos are very suspect on offense with a stout defense. Unless they drastically turn it around on offense, they will likely miss the playoffs again. The Oakland Raiders, a wildcard last year, are 3-4 and trending back up now that Derek Carr is back. They come to Buffalo next week for a week 8 game that could have very meaningful playoffs implications down the line. Baltimore is 3-4 and hasn’t exactly been playing inspired football this year. Last year’s AFC South winner, the Houston Texans, are 3-3 with star J.J Watt out for the year. That said, both Tennessee and Jacksonville are 4-3 and appear to be legitimate playoff contenders, at least in the same way Buffalo is at this time. Then of course there are the Miami Dolphins, who have somehow clawed their way to 4-2 and seem to be unwilling to give up their wildcard position from last year so easily.
Not that it directly matters for Buffalo, but look at the NFC as well. The Giants are 1-6. The Falcons are 3-3. The Panthers are 4-3, but playing like they could be 2-5. The point is a lot of teams that were supposed to be good, with big name players, have fallen flat leaving the door wide open for other teams to hop in and take their place.
As for the Bills, we’ve seen this film play out before and and it hasn’t ended well. Dick Jauron’s 2008 Bills came out hot with a 5-1 start before dropping their next 4 and flushing a great chance to punch their postseason ticket down the toilet. Remember Chan Gailey’s 2011 Bills that also entered week 8 with a 4-2 record? They even beat New England during their September and October run, but then went on and to lose 8 of their last 9 games. Even last year, Rex Ryan was able to muster up a 4-3 record heading into a big week 8 showdown with the Patriots, only to drop two straight and stumble to a 7-9 finish.
So it’s not that the Bills haven’t been there at the midpoint of the season before, it’s that they’ve always driven the wagon right of the cliff with their destination attainable off in the distance. Furthermore the 2006, 2011, and 2016 seasons mentioned above featured coaches NOT in their first year with the team, with each season having higher expectations than what most agreed upon here for 2017. There were many 2-14, 3-13, 4-12 projections put out for this year’s Bills team, especially after shipping out some of their top players and laying duds in the preseason. I had them going 6-10 and will admit my excitement for this season was as low as it’s ever been in the last 5-6 years. Yet here they are at 4-2, without Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, Reggie Ragland, Anquan Boldin and all the other pieces many thought were essential to competing this year.
It’s not 6-0 or even 5-1, but with the way things are shaking out so far in the AFC, 4-2 should be music to the ears of Buffalo Bills fans. There is still a lot of football to be played, and this entire piece could be debunked if this year’s squad turns out to be the “same old Bills” or a few of those teams such as the Ravens, Broncos, or even the Chargers turn their season around in a big way. The Bills schedule is a bit daunting ahead of them as well, with two games against the Patriots and one at the Chiefs most notably. Two matchups vs the Dolphins will be key as well. So it’s a bit early for Bills fans to start planning playoff parties just yet. But it’s worth noting and enjoying this overachieving that the Bills have displayed so far. Although I’m sure if you asked the players and coaches, this isn’t overachieving, this is just a part of the process. And with all but a few teams around them either in “QB purgatory”, struggling to find their way, or just plain bad, that process can get sped up a whole lot quicker than most thought.