Football fans in Western New York have reason to be excited for their beloved Buffalo Bills this season.
After many felt the Bills and New York Jets would compete for the AFC East basement, Buffalo has surprised by posting a 5-2 record through seven games, good enough for the top Wild-Card spot and just one game behind the New England Patriots for first in the division.
First-year head coach Sean McDermott assembled an entirely new defence over the summer that has turned out to be one of the better units in the league, while running back LeSean McCoy has helped Buffalo become a top 10 rushing team.
The Bills added to the excitement on Tuesday by acquiring stud receiver Kelvin Benjamin from the Carolina Panthers, one of the biggest Trade Deadline Day moves in recent memory. The move should help quarterback Tyrod Taylor and the team’s passing offence, ranked 28th in passing yards per game.
One could argue the hope to end Buffalo’s 17-year playoff drought (the longest active streak in the four North American professional sports) is at an all-time high.
However, Bills fans would be wise to keep their hope in check as this in not the first time the team has been in a promising position before everything came crashing down in miserable fashion.
The Bills will take on the Jets (3-5) in East Rutherford on Thursday Night Football in a game that could determine whether or not Buffalo is a legit playoff contender.
Catch the game tonight on TSN1 and TSN GO starting at 8:25pm ET/5:25pm PT.
A win would push the Bills to 6-2, their best record at the halfway point of the season since their fourth – and final – Super Bowl losing campaign in 1993 (7-1). It won’t clinch a postseason berth, especially with contests against the New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs and Patriots (two games) still on the schedule, but it will go a long way in securing good faith amongst the fan base.
It would also mean Buffalo just needs to post a 4-4 record the rest of the way to get to 10 wins for the first time since 1999.
A loss, however, would be described as very “Billsy” by many – falling to a lower opponent just when you think the team has finally turned a corner.
Sure, the Jets are playing better than expected this year, but they are still team Buffalo needs to beat if they want to be taken seriously.
Let’s take a look at past seasons where everything fell apart for the Bills.
Following the heartbreak of the Music City Miracle in the 1999 Wild Card Game, the Bills were determined to get back to the postseason in the new millennium.
Quarterbacks Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie, as well as head coach Wade Phillips, were back. After struggling to a 3-4 start, Buffalo surged to a four-game winning streak, putting them right back in playoff contention.
However, thanks to a tough schedule and numerous injuries to Johnson, the Bills would then drop four in a row, capping it off with a miserable 13-10 overtime loss to the 5-11 Patriots in Week 16.
Buffalo finished with a record of 8-8 as fans were likely unaware that this was the start of a long streak of misery.
The year 2004 was a perfect example of the Bills giving their fans so much hope and excitement before coming up just short.
Veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe and the Bills started the season 0-4. After a 29-6 loss at the hands of Bledsoe’s successor Tom Brady and the Pats, the Bills were 3-6 and all but out of postseason contention.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the Bills won six straight, averaging 38 points per game. Buffalo finished off the season at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers, needing a win against the Steelers’ backups to punch their first ticket to the playoffs since 1999.
Steelers rookie running back Willie Parker ran for a career-best 102 yards and second-string pivot Tommy Maddox put up mediocre numbers, but it was still enough as Pittsburgh edged Buffalo 29-24.
Bledsoe had one of his worst games of the season, throwing for 189 yards and an interception.
The loss opened the door for the divisional rival Jets, who won their season finale and made the playoffs.
Expectations weren’t sky high for the 2008 Bills, mostly due to the fact they had an unproven quarterback in Trent Edwards behind centre.
But the 2007 third-round pick, second-year back Marshawn Lynch and a strong defence helped the Bills roll to a 4-0 start.
However, the season made a hard left turn in Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals.
In the first quarter, Edwards was hit hard by Cards safety Adrian Wilson and was forced out of the game as the Bills got hammered 41-17. It was soon revealed Edwards suffered a concussion on the play.
After the bye week, Edwards was healthy enough to play against the San Diego Chargers, winning the game to improve Buffalo to 5-1.
After the Chargers victory, things turned sour for Edwards and the Bills quickly.
Buffalo would go on to lose four in a row and eight of their final 10 games to finish with a 7-9 record. Edwards, who looked like a shadow of his former self after the injury, got hurt again in Week 14 and missed the rest of the season. He would only appear in 14 more games in his career, before retiring in 2012.
It’s hard to stay whether Buffalo would have made the playoffs if Edwards avoided that concussion, but fans surely look back at it as the beginning of the end for the 2008 Bills.
In his third year with the Bills, Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Bills to a 5-2 start.
The run was highlighted by a thrilling Week 3 victory against the Pats as Rian Lindell hit a 28-yard field goal in the dying seconds to break a 15-game losing streak to their divisional rivals.
The Bills felt they saw enough in the journeyman pivot, signing him to a six-year, $59-million extension before Week 8. The Bills were counting on Fitzpatrick to be their quarterback of the present and future.
They beat the Washington Redskins in their first game after the big extension, but things turned disastrous in the second half. The Bills lost seven in a row and eight of their last nine to finish the season 6-10.
Fitzpatrick ended the year with a career-high 23 interceptions and was out of Buffalo after another disappointing season in 2012.
Once again, hope had been killed in Buffalo.
After starter E.J. Manuel struggled in the early going, the Bills put veteran Kyle Orton behind centre.
Orton didn’t light the field up by any means, but he was steady and was aided by an excellence defence helmed by coordinator Jim Schwartz.
As a result, the Bills found themselves at 7-5 after November, their best record heading into the final month of the season since 2000.
The Bills were eventually eliminated by the 3-13 Oakland Raiders in Week 16.
Buffalo closed out the 2014 campaign with a victory against the Patriots’ backups to finish 9-7, making the loss against the lowly Raiders the week prior that much more painful.