After a 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, the Buffalo Bills are at 5-2. While it’s certain to inspire plenty of hype, it’s actually the third time the Bills have started off that hot since they last made the playoffs in 1999.
The Bills actually started off 4-0 and 5-1 in 2008, falling to 5-2 after a loss to the Miami Dolphins. Trent Edwards was looking like an MVP candidate prior to getting knocked out of their first loss of the season with a concussion, and he was never quite the same player. The Bills only won two of their final ten games and finished at 7-9.
The Bills made it back to 5-2 in 2011 on the strength of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who earned a hefty contract extension prior to their 23-0 shutout of the woeful Washington Redskins (their only win in Toronto during that whole mess). They followed that up by scoring a combined 26 points over the next three games, and the legend of Ryan Fitzpatrick was born. The only win they could manage over the remainder of the season was a win over Tim Tebow’s Denver Broncos on their way to a 6-10 finish.
That 2011 team had the highest turnover differential for the Bills in that same early stretch in the 21st century at +9. After forcing four turnovers by the Raiders, the Bills are up to +13 this year (the 2008 squad actually had a -2 differential). The team is protecting the ball under Tyrod Taylor the way they never quite had before, while the defense is forcing turnovers at a level they haven’t been at since the early part of the last decade.
There’s also a presence on the sideline that doesn’t really mesh with what the Bills have seen over the last couple decades. Sean McDermott is only seven games into his head coaching career, but he has a cachet that neither Dick Jauron nor Chan Gailey ever had. It seems like the team is outplaying their talent on paper, but with McDermott on the sidelines I can see them continuing to get more out of the talent than most other coaches could.
The Bills face off against the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football in four days. They haven’t won six of their first eight games since a 7-1 start in 1993. Yes, 1993. They haven’t even made it to 6-3 since 1999, the last time their season didn’t end in Week 17.