With the way the Bills have played defense most of this season, it isn’t surprising that they were written off as a playoff contender after lopsided losses to the Patriots and 49ers in Weeks Four and Five, respectively. I mean, they allowed a whopping 621 yards (!) to the 49ers, when they were equally terrible vs. the run (311 yards allowed) and the pass (310).
The Bills have looked bad enough that most viewers of their 19-14 win over Miami last night probably considered the game more of a statement about the Dolphins’ fading playoff hopes than about Buffalo’s. Well, let’s just hold that thought for one moment.
Flash back to 2004, when the Bills lost their first four games and were 3-6 through nine contests after a loss to the Patriots in Foxborough. Sound familiar? That’s right, the 2012 version of the Bills also was down in the dumps at 3-6 after losing at New England.
But in ’04, something clicked for Buffalo in the second half. Starting with a win over the Rams in Week 11, the Bills rattled off six consecutive victories (including a stretch with 4-of-5 games on the road) to move to 9-6 with a game against the 14-1 Steelers, who were playing Tommy Maddox and their backups after already locking up the AFC’s top seed.
Yes, in a fashion befitting the team with the NFL’s longest active playoff drought — the loss in the Music City Miracle in 1999 remains the Bills’ most recent playoff appearance — the Bills lost to the Steelers and fell to 9-7, just missing out on the playoffs. Still, they rallied with a weak schedule to almost save a lost season.
Today, the Bills already have earned that first victory to move to 4-6, and though they sit 2½ games out of a wild-card spot, the AFC playoff slots are still very much wide open. Pittsburgh might be sitting at 6-3, but Ben Roethlisberger’s reportedly serious injury could send the Steelers' season down the drain if it keeps him out for an extended period. And while the Colts have been impressive in their own right to get to 6-3, they are heavy underdogs in Foxborough this week, and Buffalo gets a crack at Andrew Luck and Co. in Week 12.
Obviously, the Bills need to take care of their own business if they’re hoping for a charmed playoff run. But while you can never say a six-game winning streak is likely, the wins are certainly there for the taking. After traveling to Lucas Oil Stadium next week, Buffalo’s remaining games are against the Jaguars, Rams, Seahawks, Dolphins and Jets, with only one of those games (against Miami) coming on the road.
The Rams can be scrappy and the Seahawks have proven themselves to be a playoff contender, but the two are a combined 1-8-1 away from home this season (including the Rams’ “home” game in London) and feature offenses that regularly go dormant for stretches as Miami’s did Thursday night. The Jaguars are in shambles, the Bills just showed they can beat Miami and the collapsing Jets could be in full blown Tebow-mode by the time they travel to Buffalo for Week 17. Don’t forget, the Bills trounced Tebow’s Broncos 40-14 in Week 16 a year ago, forcing Tebow into four turnovers and returning two for TDs.
So, believe it or not, the Bills are by no means out of the playoff picture yet. If they keep up their improvement on defense — they gave up just 184 yards Thursday night — you might even consider them favorites to snag a wild-card spot. In a weak AFC that could see a 9-7 team or even an 8-8 club make the postseason, next Sunday’s game against the Colts might just be the first step toward ending a 12-year playoff drought in Buffalo.
We’ve heard a million times that nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills. Now it’s time for them to prove it.