What to expect from the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs


Staff member

As the Buffalo Bills embark on the playoffs, The Buffalo News’ Bills writers weigh in on their postseason expectations:

Jay Skurski: The path looked to be particularly promising for the Bills. At least two home games, including one against the seventh-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers, and potentially a third if the Ravens got knocked off in the divisional round. That would have meant the road to the Super Bowl coming through Orchard Park.

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Unfortunately for Bills fans, Mother Nature just might have her say. A game in lake-effect snow and wind greatly benefits the Steelers, who likely weren’t going to try to throw the ball all that much, anyway. For those who doubt that, ask yourself this question: Which team is hoping for the weather Sunday to be as bad as possible? The answer is Pittsburgh, which is why I see the season ending Sunday – way sooner than anyone in Western New York hoped or expected.

The Steelers are going to try to play smash-mouth football, and I’m not convinced the Bills are built to stop that. Buffalo’s run defense gave up explosive gains, defined as 10-plus yards, on 13.4% of opposition carries, which tied for second most in the NFL with Arizona, behind only the Giants at 14.5%. Bad weather neutralizes the more talented team, which is Buffalo. It also leads to potential turnovers, and that’s another area that favors the Steelers. Pittsburgh had a plus-11 turnover differential this season, tied for third in the league with New Orleans, behind the Giants and Ravens, both at plus-12. The Bills gave the ball away 28 times, which ranked as seventh most in the league. Possessions figure to be limited Sunday, and that doesn’t bode well for a team that gives them away too often.

Should this scenario play out, the Bills face an offseason that promises to feature plenty of changes. The team’s salary cap bill is coming due with the big money on quarterback Josh Allen’s contract kicking in next year. While this team should be commended for the grit it showed in roaring back to win the AFC East, an early exit will only amplify a question that has no easy answer: How does the team build a roster to win in the conditions so often present in Orchard Park in January?

Katherine Fitzgerald: Well, what a difference two months make! I will be totally candid, when the Bills lost to the Denver Broncos on Nov. 13, I very deeply contemplated what my weekends in January would look like. Now, the Bills are the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and they have a nicer playoff picture than in years past.

I think the risky question of “Which version of Josh Allen shows up?” is more pertinent in the wild-card round than in the divisional round. The way the forecast is trending for Sunday’s game makes potential Allen turnovers more problematic in what could be a game with a low number of possessions against the Steelers. But once they clear this hurdle, I like the momentum they will bring into whatever team they face in the divisional playoff game.

The Bills will make it to the AFC Championship Game, a goal that has eluded them for years. That’s where projecting this gets tough for me. I don’t see the Baltimore Ravens getting upset before then. A fast start from Baltimore against the Bills could be the dagger on this season. Heartbreak is too familiar a tune in Western New York, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the Bills postpone that devastation one more week – they win on the road in Baltimore, and ultimately make it to the Super Bowl, but fall short there.

Mark Gaughan: A loss to the Steelers at home against quarterback Mason Rudolph would be a colossal disappointment. That isn’t to say the Steelers are an easy team to play. They’re physical. Bad weather is an equalizer for a lesser-talented team. But c’mon. Pittsburgh is missing its best player, T.J. Watt. The Bills can’t let this one slip away.

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The matchup in the divisional round is favorable as well. Either Cleveland, Houston or, more likely, Kansas City. But the Chiefs are more vulnerable than they have been at any point in Patrick Mahomes’ six-year tenure. I like the Bills’ chances in the divisional round. Baltimore would be the likely opponent in the AFC Championship Game. You have to like Josh Allen to outplay Lamar Jackson. However, the Ravens are better than they were when they lost to the Bills in the 2020 playoffs, and they’re better than last season, when they lost to Buffalo in the regular season. I like the matchup for the Bills against the Ravens, as well.

The biggest problem from this perspective is: Can the Bills play three straight games without beating themselves with turnovers and mistakes? We have 17 regular-season games that suggest the answer is no. I’ll say the Bills trip themselves up and lose to the Ravens in the AFC final.
Ryan O’Halloran: The AFC playoffs go through No. 1 seed Baltimore, which is where the Bills’ road to the Super Bowl will end Jan. 28.

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This weekend, the Bills will beat Pittsburgh, Cleveland will win at Houston and Miami will win at Kansas City. That sets up Browns-Bills and Dolphins-Ravens in the divisional round. The Bills and Baltimore are on a collision course.

What should encourage Bills fans about making a run to Las Vegas: Interim play-caller Joe Brady has committed to a running game led by tailback James Cook and quarterback Josh Allen, which has allowed the Bills to have the time-of-possession advantage in six of Brady’s seven games (6-1 record). … Excellence on third down; the offense is at 50.5% (50 of 99) with Brady. … A third-down defense that held its last four opponents at 40% or worse (all wins). … Allen, period.

What will ultimately keep the Bills from reaching their first Super Bowl since the 1992 season: The Bills’ offense was inconsistent (or lousy) in the first half of the final three games. It started with three consecutive punts at the Chargers, two punts and a field goal vs. New England and two interceptions at Miami. Punching up in class this month, that will prove costly. … Can the Bills get any kind of pass rush from defensive ends not named Leonard Floyd and Greg Rousseau? Step right up, Von Miller. The time is now. … And, the secondary. If cornerback Rasul Douglas (left knee) is unavailable or limited against Baltimore, the Ravens can scheme their way to a win.