The 2019 Buffalo Bills are on their way to the playoffs to face the Houston Texans, a fact that is sending nervous energy through all of Bills Mafia as 2020 approaches. But not only do the Bills have the ability to start the New Year off with a playoff victory (which would be their first since December 30, 1995), but they also will begin writing the story of the franchise’s identity, whether they want to or not, next weekend.
Who Are They
Think of these organizations: New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, and Green Bay Packers. What comes to mind? Probably flattering comments about the teams’ longevity in being well-run, competitive, and dangerous year after year.
Think of these organizations: Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Houston Texans, and Minnesota Vikings. What comes to mind this time? Probably more of a mixed bag; all of these teams have multiple visits to the playoffs in recent memory, some with trips to the Super Bowl. But the story of these franchises isn’t of sustained success or teams that make you hesitate every year when you see them on your schedule. It’s of teams that have some things right but can’t seem to put it all together.
Think of these organizations: Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Redskins, New York Jets, and Jacksonville Jaguars. These organizations have perception problems, both on and off the field. Any success they have is met with skepticism and doubt that it will last until they win for so long their doubters can’t deny what’s before their eyes.
For the perceptions of everyone watching around the NFL, the first lines of the story of who these Buffalo Bills are will be written next weekend in Houston.
The Bills haven’t just lived in that last category of organizations for quite some time; they have been the presidents of the neighborhood watch. Only now are they slowly migrating out of that standing in the minds of their fans as well as spectators around the league. The description of a “Billsy” thing happening on or off the field isn’t as easy to revert to as in years past when something doesn't go well (although the word may have been in frequent circulation during the Antonio Brown saga).
If the Bills come out inept, sloppy, lackluster, or otherwise uninspired next weekend, they will take a step towards the sort of identity the Andy Dalton-era Bengals have had with playoff appearance after playoff appearance and no ability to advance. A respectable team that isn’t a pushover, but not cut from the same cloth as the best of their peers.
If they come out and win, significant progress will have been made and 2020 will be of even more intrigue to spectators trying to take the pulse of this organization moving forward. Are they on their way to being great, like the Seahawks? Or are they a team that can’t seem to do it year-in, year-out, like the Chicago Bears or Falcons?
One way or another
No matter the outcome of the game, the needle will move. It’s up to the leaders and key individuals like Sean McDermott, Brian Daboll, Leslie Frazier, Josh Allen, Tremaine Edmunds, and Tre’Davious White to either rise to the occasion or suffer the consequences.
The 2017 season ended the drought and it will always be remembered by that to Bills fans. To many, the real quality of that Bills team was showcased by what some called the worst Wild Card game they’d seen when they lost to the Jaguars 10-3. It was a nice story, and many people were happy for Buffalo and Bills fans that the drought monkey was off their back. Still, 2017 didn’t change anything about what kind of label the Bills have in the minds of the rest of the world. The Bills were a team that finally got lucky, not that finally became good.
The opportunity for that kind of change starts now.
The Buffalo Bills can and should go into Reliant Stadium, beat the Houston Texans, and then stand tall against either the Baltimore Ravens or Kansas City Chiefs. Not only will they be on a mission making their fans proud, they will be forging ahead the influence campaign of changing the perception across the country about what it means to be lined up across from someone with a charging buffalo on their helmet. Spoiler alert: as long as Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane are in charge, it means you’re in for a tough 3.5 hours.
You can follow me on Twitter @NickBat and look for episodes of “The Nick & Nolan Show” podcast on the Buffalo Rumblings podcast network.