In 2017, the Bills defied the odds and ended the franchise's 17-year playoff drought. Truthfully, there was a fair amount of luck involved in reaching the postseason in year one under head coach Sean McDermott.
Buffalo played valiantly against the Jaguars in Jacksonville but managed just a field goal in a 10-3 Wild Card game defeat.
The narrative for the 2019 Bills is something quite different. Buffalo got off to a strong start and just kept pushing, reaching their first double-digit win season since the turn of the century.
We asked the players who were both a part of the 2017 Bills roster and this year's edition to explain why the 2019 Bills are much more playoff ready than the team they were a part of two years ago.
There were a lot of new parts that were added to Buffalo's roster this past offseason. More than a dozen free agents signings and a new set of draft picks. Though the Bills rookies are brand new to NFL football, most of the veteran signees came to Buffalo with playoff experience on their resumes.
That helped to fortify deficient areas like the offensive line and the receiving corps with players who had games under their belt and could blend quickly.
"This is the third year in Sean's system and under Sean's management, Sean's coaching, Sean's leadership," said Pat DiMarco. "That first year was kind of like a rebuild. I think we surprised a lot of people and were better than we were expected to be. We're a much more mature team now. We have a lot more older guys, a lot more leaders, and I would say the big difference is everybody's bought in."
"I feel like that this team is more together. We've bonded more," said Tre'Davious White. "Obviously, we've got guys who've been here for three years, so we know what to expect too. I feel like we've got more experience."
2. Stronger mindset
Among coach McDermott's principles for his team is you "earn the right" to win a starting job, win a game, qualify for the playoffs etc. In 2019, Buffalo unquestionably earned their AFC Wild Card berth. The Bills' ability to do so was due to a collective commitment to the process and a true belief in what they were, and are, capable of as a team.
"It's different now," said Jordan Poyer. "That year in 2017 nobody really expected us to win. It just kind of happened. This year we expect to win no matter who we're playing or where we're playing. It's just the mindset of our team and type of guys we have in our locker room. The culture we have here, we work extremely hard and we expect to win and that's just our approach."
"The difference from this team and the 2017 team is we got in just by the blessings of another team," said Dion Dawkins in reference to the team's good fortune two years ago. "This year we solidified (our playoff berth) by our own doing. So it's a totally different feel. I would say that we'll be more ready than the last time."
"Expectations are higher for us now," said Reid Ferguson. "Everybody saw the way we got into the playoffs previously with having everything go our way. Now we know with the guys we've got on this team and all the work we've put in this year, we've set ourselves up to be successful in the playoffs, so the playoffs is just the first step."
"Things change from year to year," said White. "But going into the playoffs with this team I feel way more confident than 2017 for sure."
3. Battle tested
The NFL season might only be 16 games, but for players' bodies it feels like a marathon. For Buffalo, a team that typically does not run away from teams on the scoreboard, their formula for success might appear to be even more mentally and physically taxing on players. But the Bills insist they're built for just that kind of weekly grind. Nine of their 16 games were decided by seven points or less, and it's that kind of football that's most often seen in the playoffs.
"We've been in almost every single situation that you could be in," said Poyer. "We've been up and down. We started with the first game against the Jets you know we were down 16-0 and found a way to come back and win the game. Even the Giants game, they shove it down our throat the first drive and then we were able to adjust. I mean we've been in every situation you could think of."
"Playoff football is the same as December football when you're in contention," said safety Micah Hyde. "So once you get in, play good, fundamental ball late in the season. It prepares you for the playoffs. I think that throughout the games we've had late in the season, the road games, it's been a playoff-like atmosphere. That's going to help us."
"It's just like war, you know, the harder the war is the better the warriors will be for that next battle, and that's kind of what it is here," said Dawkins. "Every game is extremely hard and especially for the offense here, like we've been playing against great defenses week in and week out. You keep fighting, you keep practicing and the better you get at sparring then the better you'll be for the actual fight."
"I think the way that we play being complementary football, you know, we were always going to be in the game," said Ferguson. "Our defense is going to keep us in the game. And then when the offense performs well, that's when we look super dominant. I don't think anybody wants to see us in playoffs for sure."
"I know what it takes, I know what it looks like and this team has the makings for that," said Lorenzo Alexander of playoff football. "Hopefully we are able to put together a great game plan and a great week of practice to go down to Houston and show well collectively and get a 'W' down there."