It was no secret that the Buffalo Bills were among the favourites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions come February. But after their sound defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, the focus now turns to where things went wrong.
There are a lot of things to address, namely how many people were believers in the Bills, what their history in the playoffs has been recently, and where things went off the rails this season. Let’s take a deeper dive into the Bills’ latest playoff disappointment.
The loss from a betting perspective
The disappointment of the Bills can be talked about from any number of angles but it’s hard to ignore the betting angle. Consider that, according to BetMGM, the highest percentage of Super Bowl bets were on the Bills (12.4%) and the highest handle (16.1%) was also on Buffalo.
At DraftKings, Buffalo also accounted for the highest percentage of Super Bowl wagers with 15% of the handle and 16% of the bets on the team.
To put it simply, a lot of people had their money on the Bills to finally get over the hump. After adding to a roster that fell just short of beating the eventual Super Bowl champions last season, there was pressure to do better this year. This franchise has been snake-bitten in the past, but this was supposed to be the team that finally tasted Super Bowl glory.
Despite beating the Miami Dolphins in the opening round of this year’s playoffs, the Bills failed to cover. They are now 1-3 ATS across the 2022 and 2023 NFL playoffs, a disappointing record for a team with such lofty aspirations. They’ve been favoured in all of those games but one, a 47-17 win over the New England Patriots during the 2022 NFL Wild Card round.
Another interesting data point is the over/under totals for the Bills this season. They scored the second most points (28.4 per game) during the regular season, yet they managed to play over the total just six times (6-10 over/under) during the regular season. This is partially due to Buffalo’s stout defence (allowed only 17.9 points per game – second in the league), but also because the offence wasn’t nearly as consistent as it had been in years past.
Some sportsbooks have already released early betting lines for next year’s NFL season. The Bills sit atop the list of 2024 Super Bowl favourites, along with the Kansas City Chiefs, with odds of +550 to hoist the trophy. There is clearly still an expectation that this team can compete and that it will take this season’s experiences and use them to get better.
After another disappointing early playoff exit, the question ultimately becomes what went wrong? The Bills were +600 (depending on the book) to win the Super Bowl, yet didn’t even reach the AFC Championship Game. They obviously fell quite short of that mark, losing a game against the Bengals that wasn’t even as close as the score appeared. So, what happened?
Though the Bills have a ton of offensive weapons, it hasn’t been smooth sailing this year. Receiver Stefon Diggs was an All-Pro and the clear piece of the offence that never let down. But beyond that, there was a lot of inconsistency and a lack of support.
The running game showed promise down the stretch with both Devin Singletary and James Cook showing flashes of success, yet neither was able to become a feature back. Tight end Dawson Knox showed his talents after a very quiet and injury-plagued first half, but he couldn’t do it all himself. Wide receiver Gabe Davis has been the epitome of boom-or-bust. For a second receiver, he needs be a bigger threat for the Bills’ offence to thrive.
Finally, there is superstar quarterback Josh Allen. Yes, he was outstanding yet again, matching just about every number he put up in a near-MVP season a year ago. He also turned the ball over a ton (14 interceptions and eight fumbles) and seemingly had to do it all for the most part. Easing the burden is a crucial piece of the puzzle for the Bills to find success in the near future.
Injuries are going to be one of the main talking points for the Bills and rightfully so. Name a position of importance and the Bills likely lost a player in that role to injury this season. Von Miller, the big free-agent acquisition brought in to aid the pass rush, was lost for the year against the Detroit Lions due to a torn ACL.
The offensive line has been in flux all year with starters and backups coming in and out like a carousel. Both the secondary and wide receiver corps has been deeply impacted by injuries with few consistencies in either unit. Safety Micah Hyde being lost for the season early in the year was a major blow.
Defensive questions remain
The real shock of the loss to the Bengals was the performance of the defence. Yes, the season-ending injury to Miller wound up playing a big role, but it can’t be the sole blame. Watching the game, the defence never looked like much of a challenge to the Bengals.
The Bengals receivers were shockingly wide open all day long. This is partially due to the proclivity of the Bengals offence, but there’s more to it than that. Since his return from a torn ACL, Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White has not looked the same. He has been vulnerable and beaten several times.
The vaunted pass rush has been anything but. Though Miller’s absence has been noted, the team expected more out of Greg Rousseau, Ed Oliver, and the rest of the crew. Aside from Matt Milano, there has not been a consistent pass rusher since Miller went down.
Normally, the Bills and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier have shown an ability to adjust. That didn’t happen against the Bengals as the Joe Burrow-led attack consistently moved down the field at will.
The emotional drain
One of the more underrated aspects of the season is the emotional toll of it all. To say that this was no ordinary season would be putting it mildly. As mentioned previously, Miller was lost for the year due to injury. Knox’s younger brother, Luke, was tragically lost at far too young an age. And then there was the Damar Hamlin saga which played out in front of a national television audience.
All of that takes a toll on a team. There were some who felt as though the Hamlin incident may be a galvanizing moment for the Bills. In the end, perhaps the pressure and emotions were just too much to overcome, especially with the history that Buffalo has as a sports town.
Despite making four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1990-93, the Bills have never hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. And in 63 seasons, Buffalo’s playoff record is just 18-20.
How do they get over the hump?
For now, this is the million-dollar question. If anyone had the answer, there is a pretty good chance that the Bills would be playing the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs for the third year in a row. As it stands, there are a lot of hanging heads and question marks abound.
At first glance, the easiest answer is health. What happens in the game against the Bengals with a healthy Miller? What about a secondary that has a healthy Hyde? Even though the offensive line was largely intact for the Bengals game, it could not have been at 100%.
If changes are to come, they will be minor. With a healthy unit in place, the defence can challenge anyone. The Bills could use another pass rusher (who couldn’t?) and maybe another depth piece in the secondary. On offence, Davis needs to find consistency or they need a better second option.
At the end of the day, there is no major surgery that needs to happen to this roster. It’s hard to win a Super Bowl and the Bills will get more chances with this team, though the window won’t stay open forever. Getting over the hump is something that needs to happen as soon as possible. Until that day, the yips will continue to follow not only the team, but the fan base as well.