Nyheim Hines knows what it's like to come to Buffalo as an opposing player for a playoff game.
"It was loud as hell," he recalled.
The day was Jan. 9, 2021 with Hines and the Indianapolis Colts facing off against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park. Protocols from the pandemic kept crowd attendance to 6,700 people as Bills hosted their first playoff game since 1996 — the same year Hines was born.
Still, the energy in the stadium was enough of a factor that the Colts' game plan was to strike early to dampen the noise.
"Get the crowd out of the game and neutralize them," Hines described Indy's mentality heading in.
The Bills' won 27-24 in a down-to-the-wire affair, outlasting the Colts as Phillip Rivers' Hail Mary was knocked down giving Buffalo its first playoff victory in 25 years. Since that game, the Bills have outscored opponents 64-20 in two home playoff games.
After setting Highmark Stadium ablaze with two kickoff returns for a TD last week, Hines and the rest of the Bills are as ready as ever to have a home playoff game this weekend.
"Having played against (the Bills), I'm excited to be here and get on the right side of things," Hines said.
Buffalo's home field advantage for playoff games is as special as it comes in the NFL. The combination of a Bills Mafia fanbase that can inject energy into the stadium with a snap and a wintry weather system that can bring snow and wind on any given day makes Highmark Stadium a football-lover's dream for a postseason setting.
The Bills are 20-5 in their last 25 regular season games in Buffalo and 3-0 in home playoff games during that stretch.
"It's tough to play here. And I think anyone that plays here would tell you that. No one likes coming to Buffalo, especially this time of year. So I can't wait to see our fans take full advantage of that this weekend," head coach Sean McDermott said this week.
Added Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniels, "If you're trying to compete with a team like that, that's earned their home field advantage in the playoffs, you have to try to compete with them as a team and not in phases. Otherwise, you'll end up wishing for the existence you're trying to avoid."
Almost all of the Bills' home games in the 2022 regular season have felt like a must-see experience. From the Monday night home opener against the Titans, Halloween Eve vs. Green Bay, a snowglobe finish against Miami, to this past week's storybook game vs. New England.
There's been many chapters in a roller coaster season thus far and the Bills' goals that they set at the beginning of the year are still right there in front of them.
"Every football fan right now watching feels like the perfect story has been written about the Buffalo Bills and it just needs that last page. It just needs that perfect ending," ESPN NFL reporter Dianna Russini said.
That perfect ending starts first with a win on Sunday in a Wild Card round against a Dolphins team that already beat them this season, so the Bills know they can't take their opponent lightly, even with rookie QB Skylar Thompson starting for Miami.
"We know that if we don't win, we go home," QB Josh Allen said. "Making sure that we're holding ourselves to our own standard."
Allen, who threw for three touchdowns last week and was second in the NFL in total TDs (42) in the regular season, has a knack for raising his standard in the postseason. In six career playoff games, he has a passer rating of 106.6 which ranks as the highest in NFL playoff history (min. 150 attempts) and holds a TD/INT ratio of 14 to 1.
"That's the guy you play for. That's what the best guys do. He's the best," Hines said.
As he approaches his seventh playoff game, Allen took the time to reflect on how he's grown from that fateful afternoon in Houston.
"That first playoff game. Year two, still pretty young in this league," he said. "Didn't feel like I had my feet all the way wet and just understanding the emotions of that game, I felt like I pressed a little bit throughout that game."
Fast forward to 2023, Allen has 9 TD passes in his last two playoff games and he credits that to the team's continual learning process through the ups and down in each season. The quarterback's answer may sound cliche, but he's seen firsthand that the team that
"We don't have to do anything special, we've just got to go out there and do our job," Allen said. "Staying within the system and trusting the 10 guys on the field with me."
If the Bills do their job the way they have at home this season and in past playoff outings in Buffalo, Sunday could shape up to be another memorable postseason day.
"I like people to watch greatness. And I see myself as a spark of greatness, just like Josh does, and Diggs and McDermott, and whoever else is walking around here," offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said. "For the world to be watching us do what we love to do – shoot, watch greatness work."