January 4, 2020.
Many Buffalo Bills fans already know what I’m about to talk about just from the date. But for those who need a little more context as we set the stage here for expectations in Buffalo in 2021, that was the day the Bills lost their wild-card matchup against the Houston Texans.
The Bills fell to the Texans by a score of 22-19. But it wasn't just that they lost, it was how they lost that really put the Bills at a fork in the road.
As the road team that day, the Bills started strong, ending the half up 13-0. They extended their lead with another field goal midway through the third quarter to bring their lead to 16-0. As you can infer by the final score, the Texans went on a 22-3 run for the next quarter and a half and were victorious, ending Buffalo’s season.
That year the Bills finished with a record of 10-6, their first double-digit win season since 1999, and only their second playoff appearance since then, too. When the Bills walked off the field that day, everyone who had anything to do with that current build of the team had a choice to make: dwell in disappointment or turn that loss into motivation.
As we all know now, they chose the latter.
The following season, the Bills finished with a record of 13-3, just their third 13-win season in franchise history going back all the way to 1960. Quarterback Josh Allen took his game to a level that not many people believed was possible when he was drafted No. 6 overall in 2018. The Bills’ offense became a well-oiled and nearly unstoppable machine. In the regular season, Buffalo had the No. 2 offense in total yards per game with 396.4, the No. 3 overall passing offense in yards per game with 288.8, and scored the second-most points with 501. All that was a recipe for their first division title since 1995.
The expectation for Buffalo this upcoming season has to be another strong postseason run. They have a lot of the same pieces back on offense, and the phrase “no going backward” will be written on the whiteboard. Sean McDermott has proven to be one hell of a head coach. With that reputation, you know he’ll preach the process more than the results at the end of the road; if the players do the right thing week-in and week-out, they know they have the talent to be where they want to be in the end.
Where that is is the Super Bowl. The goal for the Bills is a conference championship (preferably won in their home city) and a chance to play for pro football’s ultimate prize. For as good as the Bills’ offense was in the regular season last year, it became stagnant in the postseason—or should I simply say, not as explosive. That eventually became their demise, as they ran into the always explosive Kansas City Chiefs offense in the AFC title game.
For the Bills, they’ll have their eyes dead set on the Chiefs. They’ll work this year to be better than the Chiefs in every way they can. After all, the best bet would be for those two teams to meet once again with a chance to go to the Super Bowl—the Bills know that. Their biggest challenge might be not getting too far ahead of themselves, making sure they handle their business for the first five months of the season before they get set for championship revenge.
The postseason experience of last year should help them. For many on that roster, it was their first chance to suit up in January for more than a single game. More playoff reps under their belt going into 2021 and the 2022 postseason should help them be more like their dominant regular-season selves.
It’s a privilege to have lofty expectations. The Bills have done the right things to earn being in that position. They’re one of the best teams in the league with high hopes in 2021. A successful season for them will be another division title, getting past Kansas City, and representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.