The Buffalo Bills are Super Bowl contenders.
That is not hyperbole, nor is it me being a homer. The Bills are in the best position to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl since the 1993 season.
Now, that doesn’t mean they’re a perfect football team, nor does it mean I think they’re even the best team in the AFC. However, Sunday night's victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers proved, firmly, that they’re likely the most equipped team in the AFC to give the Kansas City Chiefs the best run for their money.
The Bills still have three games left, I’m well aware, but Sunday night's win has given me the confidence to look forward to January – something I have no experience doing in my lifetime.
While some of you are gearing up for the Bills' afternoon showcase on Saturday against the Denver Broncos, I’m going to keep my eye on the only team in my mind that matters: the Chiefs.
Admittedly, last week's win didn’t galvanize my focus on Kansas City. I’ve been here a while. I’ve felt like for weeks, we could have been talking about the Bills and Super Bowl in the same sentence.
But the moment felt all too familiar to me. I’ve been confident before. I’ve made too much of too little in the past, and, at times, this season, there’s been moments where the word “Billsy” came back into my vocabulary.
But when you remove yourself from the week-to-week emotion of a 17-week schedule that featured some of the very best teams in the league, you realize that the Bills are a really good football. For most, the best football team we’ve seen in our lifetimes.
When I knowingly use the words “Super” and “Bowl” in the same sentence as “Buffalo” and “Bills”, know that it’s taken years of anxiety and disappointment to get over to muster up the guts to say it out loud, unironically.
It’s truly poetic, though, to know that the most talented quarterback (maybe) of all time in Patrick Mahomes, is standing right there in the Bills' way. Not that Bills fans would know what going up against the G.O.A.T. for 20 years is like or anything.
But these Chiefs that stand in the way, they’re not unconquerable.
ESPN’s Mike Greenberg made the argument prior to their Sunday night win that the Bills are the one team, not just in the AFC but the entire league, that match up the best with the Chiefs.
I think I agree, and here’s why:
Bills defense rounding into form
How disappointing would it have been to watch Josh Allen flourish and bloom into one of the leagues most dynamic passers just for the defense to fall off the cliff entirely. It seemed that way early on.
Although it was fun to watch the offense bail the defense out for the first time in decades, it felt like the window to pair a top-level offense with a patented Sean McDermott defense had passed.
Since the bye week, the Buffalo defense has given up 18.7 points per-game – for the year, that ranks second only behind the Steelers, widely considered the league's best overall defense. The run defense, that everyone felt couldn’t hack it any longer, has given up an average of 68.7 yards per-game since the bye, which would be tops in the league by a wide margin.
The Bills are also nearly completely healthy on the defensive side of the ball with linebacker Matt Milano healthy and back in the lineup. Cornerback Taron Johnson is relatively healthy (exited Sunday's game with a concussion) and playing the best football of his career. Defensive ends Darryl Johnson and rookie A.J. Epenesa are consistently making plays in elevated roles. Defensive tackle Vernon Butler looks like he’s fighting for a long-term contract, and Tre'Davious White is back to his All-Pro form.
Although defense really doesn’t win championships any longer, it feels like the Bills have a formula to play more complimentary football going into January. That's something many of us didn’t think was possible in September and October.
Stefon Diggs has been a perfect fit
Diggs officially leads the league in catches with 100 through 13 weeks, and has already set a career-high with 1,167 receiving yards. Not only has Diggs proven to be a top-tier wide receiver, he’s proved to be the ideal fit for Allen and the Bills offense.
Buffalo could have had Antonio Brown, and almost did in the 2019 offseason. The Bills could have been the team to trade for DeAndre Hopkins. Heck, there are several top-tier veteran wideouts that the Bills could have likely targeted and gone after.
Instead, general manager Brandon Beane and company targeted Diggs and the Bills are a Super Bowl contender because of it.
Not only has Diggs brought a level of competency to the wide receiver room not seen in over a decade, he’s brought a level of professionalism and maturation most Minnesota Vikings fans would have never imagined possible a year ago. He’s been that impressive.
He’s been the perfect fit on and off the field, and his ability to grow with Allen and the Bills offense gives me hope that not only are the Bills the real deal, but that they may be the real deal for seasons to come.
Diggs is also just 27-years-old and coming into his own as a receiver.
Brian Daboll is the best play caller in football
I recognize there may be a few names that supersede him, in terms of a true offensive coordinator, but as a play caller, Daboll is unmatched.
Daboll has created a foundation in Buffalo that can be boxed up and passed on to quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey when he, undoubtedly, leaves for a head coaching gig this offseason or the next.
He’s created the sort of relationship with Allen that’s allowed the third-year signal caller to flourish into one of the leagues very best players. He’s mentored Allen from a raw, running quarterback with a wicked right arm and propensity for head scratching plays into a cool, calm, and collected tactician who beats defenses with his prowess between the ears and with a level of accuracy no one saw coming.
Daboll has also shown a level of savviness when teams want to take away Allen that’s been impressive. In the Bills' Week 8 win over the New England Patriots, Daboll turned to a run-heavy scheme that helped the Bills control the clock. The following week, the Bills had just 34 total yards on the ground with just three first half rushing attempts against the Seattle Seahawks.
Daboll’s relative comfort against opposing defensive coordinators has put the Bills in a prime spot offensively.
Allen’s become what many said he never could be
Allen has had an MVP-caliber season, which can be hard to believe considering how well Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson have played this season. But it’s true. Allen is on pace to obliterate most of Cam Newton's 2015 passing stats – the year he took home the NFL's Most Valuable Player honor.
Allen has also gone from a freakishly athletic, run-first quarterback who couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat to a player that brought his raw completion percentage up over 11 points – which is a historic improvement.
He’s also become the leader many thought he could be. Allen is the engine that makes the whole thing work, and he’s playing some of the best football Bills fans have ever seen.
It’s been fun talking about how good the Bills are, but it’s been even more rewarding to watch it play out in real time.
I’m not sure where the 2020 version of the Bills are heading, but I know that we’re all thrilled to be a part of the ride.