The Buffalo Bills had the Kansas City Chiefs beat when they scored on fourth-and-13 with 1:54 left. They really had the Chiefs buried when they scored again with 13 seconds left.
Thirteen seconds. The phrase will live in infamy around Buffalo. It will become unbearable if this Bills group never wins a Super Bowl.
If you aren't a Bills fan, you remember that divisional round game as perhaps the greatest game in NFL history. You can celebrate Josh Allen for an incredible performance in a loss. Maybe you can see it as the start of a great feel-good narrative for the Bills, which ends with a long-awaited Super Bowl win.
Bills fans probably don't remember it that way. Losing one of the great all-time NFL games is just a loss. You should never lose a game in which you score the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left. The sequence of the Chiefs getting in position for a game-tying field goal (after the Bills didn't squib the kickoff to burn time), Buffalo losing the overtime coin toss and Patrick Mahomes guiding a game-winning overtime drive will be haunting. It hurts even more because of the missed opportunity.
The Bills had a very good team last season. They had an MVP-level quarterback and a defense that led the NFL in points and yards allowed. Had the Bills held on to beat the Chiefs, they would have hosted an AFC championship game. Buffalo could have won a Super Bowl.
“We’re all hurt, sick to our stomach,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said after the game, via the Buffalo News. “You move on and you try to get yourself to learn from it. But it stings. It stings. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It stings.”
If this is a movie, the Bills raise the Lombardi Trophy next February in Glendale, Arizona, burying all of the playoff heartbreaks of the past and delivering a great fanbase their first Super Bowl title. In a perfect world "13 seconds" becomes motivation, not a curse.
“You can say it’s going to be better, we’re going to learn from this and it’s very cliché and nobody wants to hear that," Allen said after the Chiefs loss, via the Buffalo News. "But I truly believe that this unit will learn from this. We’ve got a pretty young squad. A lot of guys coming back next year. We’ve just got to use this as fuel for the fire.”
There's no reason the Bills can't win a Super Bowl, other than it takes a good run of luck on top of championship talent. The Bills have the talent part down. Buffalo didn't lose much in the offseason but added future Hall-of-Fame pass rusher Von Miller. As Allen said, it was a pretty young team. The roster should have some growth potential, in theory. On paper, there is no reason the Bills can't take a big step from last season, be the unquestioned best team in the NFL and win a championship. It's all in place.
However, it doesn't always work that way. Bills fans who lived through the early 1990s know all too well that a supremely talented team could still miss winning a Super Bowl. Still, if you give yourself a chance — and when you have what could be the best defense and the best offense in the NFL, you have a chance — random variance should eventually go your way.
The table is set for the Bills. They have a great chance to make something other than "13 seconds" their legacy.
It's hard to keep a good team together. Yet, the only real loss for Buffalo in the offseason was defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, and they replaced him with DaQuan Jones. That should be a lateral move. They also added Tim Settle and Jordan Phillips to strengthen the defensive line depth. Cole Beasley is gone, but between holdover Isaiah McKenzie and addition Jamison Crowder the slot receiver position should be better. The Bills also found a way to make a big signing, adding pass rusher Von Miller on a six-year, $120 million deal. That's the kind of aggressive move that can push a team over the top. The addition of guard Rodger Saffold can help an offensive line that is only average. The draft was solid. On another team, top-100 picks like CB Kaiir Elam, RB James Cook and LB Terrel Bernard would probably start right away. On a deep Bills team, they'll be battling to carve out roles. Cook in particular could be a big factor in the offense right away.
The big loss of the offseason was actually offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who was hired to be the New York Giants' next head coach. Daboll has been given a lot of credit for Josh Allen's development, and we'll find out how important he was to Allen. It's just as likely that Allen turned Daboll into a star, not vice versa. Daboll will be replaced by Ken Dorsey, who was Buffalo's quarterbacks coach last season. Dorsey has never been an offensive coordinator but there should be continuity from that promotion, which should help Allen. There's not much more to say about Allen as a player. The story of how he honed his immense physical skills to become a great quarterback will be the template for all toolsy prospects going forward. Perhaps the Bills should cut back his running, because it's putting a franchise quarterback in harm's way too often. Allen can still cut down on his turnovers. But everyone should realize that Allen is a top-five NFL quarterback, more than capable of winning NFL MVP this season and taking his team to the Super Bowl.
The Bills are the Super Bowl favorites at BetMGM with +600 odds. Josh Allen is the favorite to win NFL MVP at +700. The Bills are a strong -225 favorite to win the AFC East and their win total of 11.5 is tied for the highest in the NFL. Perhaps the most telling odds, in regards to the Bills, is they're a 1-point favorite at the reigning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in Week 1. You may like the Bills this season, but everyone else does too and the betting market reflects that. Even at those odds I would sign off on bets for the Bills to win the Super Bowl and Allen to win MVP. Just don't expect a huge payout.
From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "It's seldom mentioned, but Gabriel Davis treaded water in his second season. His yards per catch dropped 1.4 yards, and his yards per target fell by a full yard. His counting stats were roughly the same. But all everyone wants to focus on is the four-touchdown explosion he threw at Kansas City in the playoffs, conveniently coming in the NFL's best game of the year.
"So the summer price is creeping up on Davis, a buzzy breakout candidate. Although his NFFC ADP is 60 for the balance of draft season, it has risen to 52.55 since July 1 — the arrow is pointing upward. Cognizant that the Bills still have an avalanche of skill talent, starting with Stefon Diggs, I'm reluctant to pay an expectant price for Davis at the draft table. Unless you can land Davis outside the Top 70, and in some Yahoo pools you might be able to, I'm not going to pay for the breakout like it's already happened."
The Buffalo Bills' passer rating allowed last season was 65.3. Among all regular NFL starting quarterbacks last season, Zach Wilson of the New York Jets had the worst rating at 69.7. The 2021 Bills defense turned the quarterbacks they faced, on average, into a worse version of Wilson. One issue with the Bills repeating that is cornerback Tre'Davious White is coming off a torn ACL he suffered last Thanksgiving. White, an elite corner at his best, started training camp on the PUP list. White could be ready for the start of the season or shortly after, but we'll see if he regains his old form. The Bills are elite at safety and have made multiple investments in the pass rush and front seven as a whole, so perhaps cornerback won't be a problem even if White doesn't rebound quickly. First-round pick Kaiir Elam could also help right away.
How does Josh Allen's supporting cast look?
Stefon Diggs didn't repeat his ridiculous 2020 season, but he was still one of the best receivers in the NFL. Gabriel Davis went off in the playoffs against the Chiefs for 201 yards and four touchdowns, and should have a big third season. Isaiah McKenzie had an eye-opening 11-125-1 line in a game at New England when pressed into duty, and should be a productive slot receiver. If he falters, Jamison Crowder has had a good career in that role. Dawson Knox scored nine touchdowns last season and is a little overrated as a result, but he's still a fine tight end in a stacked offense.
The big question is running back, and it's possible second-round pick James Cook adds a new element to the offense. The Bills tried to sign free-agent pass-catching back J.D. McKissic, but he backed out of a deal to stay with the Washington Commanders. They clearly want a pass-catching back to go with holdover starter Devin Singletary, and Cook was very good in that role at Georgia. Allen lagged well behind other top quarterbacks in his receivers' yards after catch last season, and Cook can help fix that. There are plenty of targets for Allen to work with.
No reasonable superlative seems too outlandish for the Bills. Josh Allen could lead the NFL in passing yards and win an MVP. Stefon Diggs could lead the NFL in receiving yards. James Cook could be the NFL's offensive rookie of the year. The defense could be ranked first in the NFL. The offense could be ranked first in the NFL. Buffalo could win 15 games or ... more? And yes, Buffalo, the Bills can win a Super Bowl.
The expectations for a team that has made one conference championship game since the 1993 season — and lost that AFC title game by two touchdowns — are enormous. Buffalo is a great football city, but that can be a burden at times. The Los Angeles Rams can blend in. Every day this season, the Bills will hear about what a Super Bowl would mean to Buffalo. There's unmistakable pressure as the Super Bowl favorite in a football-mad city like that. While it's hard to see a way in which the Bills aren't a contender, perhaps the offense takes a step back without Brian Daboll calling plays and the defense slips due to some normal regression. It's also worth noting an AFC East title last season was far from assured after the New England Patriots won a Week 13 game at Buffalo in extreme weather conditions. I don't think the Patriots or Miami Dolphins can beat the Bills for a division title, but one of those teams could test Buffalo. Even if the Bills win the division with a great record, the expectation is to make a Super Bowl. At least. There's an incredible amount of weight on the franchise's shoulders heading into the season.
It will be boring to pick the Bills to win the Super Bowl, because they're the obvious pick. But it's an obvious pick for a reason. The Bills were a step short of great last season, going 11-6 in the regular season, but an 0-6 record (including playoffs) in one-possession games speaks to the upside this group has. The Bills could win 14 or 15 games with reasonable injury luck and a positive regression in close games. There are other teams with Super Bowl potential in the NFL, but no team matches Buffalo's upside. They're the best team, on paper, in the NFL and a rightful Super Bowl favorite. Bills fans deserve to celebrate a Super Bowl championship. It should happen this season.
32. Houston Texans
31. Atlanta Falcons
30. New York Giants
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
28. Chicago Bears
27. New York Jets
26. Seattle Seahawks
25. Detroit Lions
24. Carolina Panthers
23. Washington Commanders
22. Pittsburgh Steelers
21. Minnesota Vikings
20. Miami Dolphins
19. New Orleans Saints
18. Las Vegas Raiders
17. Arizona Cardinals
16. Tennessee Titans
15. Cleveland Browns
14. Indianapolis Colts
13. Philadelphia Eagles
12. San Francisco 49ers
11. Denver Broncos
10. Cincinnati Bengals
9. New England Patriots
8. Los Angeles Chargers
7. Baltimore Ravens
6. Green Bay Packers
5. Dallas Cowboys
4. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2. Los Angeles Rams