From 2010-2016, the Bills had three head coaches with a combined record of 46-66. Since Sean McDermott took over in 2017, he has a record of 48-32. McDermott transformed this Bills franchise that missed the playoffs for 17 straight seasons to one that has made the playoffs in four out of the five past seasons.
McDermott, Brandon Beane, and the players that have been here since 2017 have laid the groundwork for the team's success. McDermott started off by teaching his players how to win consistently and be a playoff-caliber team. Over the years, that has evolved with the goals that this team has and now it's all about having that championship-caliber mindset.
"There's a lot of hard work that's gone into that, not just this season, but over the course of the four or five years that we've been here," McDermott shared. "It's been a real team effort. I just think that we have an opportunity this weekend against a good football team in the Jets, that are playing really well, to take another step as an organization. And that's where our focus needs to be this week."
When McDermott was hired, he was a first-time head coach, but he was still able to break the long playoff drought and establish some credibility around the league. In his career as a coordinator, McDermott learned from two of the NFL's most accomplished head coaches in Andy Reid and Ron Rivera. McDermott instilled that knowledge in Buffalo to help attain sustained success.
The success wasn't instant. The Bills battled through adversity in 2018, only winning six games, but with a rookie quarterback, that's to be expected. This Bills players learned a lot about themselves during Josh Allen's rookie season as he showed glimpses of how good he could be in the NFL. In the next three years after that, the Bills have won 10 or more games in each season. McDermott has become only the second head coach in team history with three straight seasons with 10 or more victories, joining Marv Levy's four-season streak in 1990-93.
Aside from quarterback, Allen knows that head coaching is one of the toughest jobs to have. To bring a bunch of grown men together for one common goal and keep them motivated throughout the whole season is a big ask. Allen is glad to have a coach like McDermott and is proud of the continued success they've had in Buffalo.
"He's been awesome in meetings," Allen said. "He's never lost his cool, he's just been upfront and honest about everything going on. He's given us the keys as captains to be like, 'this is your team. I'm here for guidance, but I'm not gonna push anybody in one certain direction or not.' So, I think just the maturation and growth of him as a coach too, the last couple of years, has been awesome to see."
McDermott brought on defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to run his defense when he came to Buffalo. Those two have led one of the NFL's best defenses since 2017 and are at the top of a number of categories. The Bills are first in total defense (317.3 YPG), second in takeaways (131), first in passing defense (202.1 YPG), first in opposing passer rating (78.7), and third in points per game allowed (20.6 PPG). That veteran defense helped keep the team competitive while the offense was still finding its footing.
The backend of this defense has played with each other for four to five seasons and that continuity is rare in the NFL and is a big factor of their continued success. With their first two playoff runs in 2017 and 2019, the team learned what it was like to get there. They then took that experience and ran with it in 2020 and made it all the way to the AFC Championship game. That past postseason experience has helped set them up to make a deep run this season.
"Coming into the league, the first time you go into a (playoff) game, the first time you get your feet wet, it's a little wide-eyed," Jordan Poyer said. "When the game goes on or the season goes on, you get more reps at it, you feel a little more comfortable in those situations. Our guys have been to the first round, been to the second round, so we understand what to expect as far as all the outside noise and stuff that comes with it. I would say, I do think it helps. Guys being in the playoffs a couple of years now, we've had the AFC championship game last year, so we understand what to expect and what it takes, and we've got to continue to grind it out to get there."
With all this recent success, these young players that the Bills have drafted only know ending the season with the playoffs and don't know what it's like not to make it. To make sure that these players don't end up taking the playoffs for granted, McDermott finds it important to talk with them and remind them of the hardships that they went through so they appreciate the special moments in the coming weeks.
"As you get further and further out from the 2016-2017 transition, not a lot of the players that are with us now, especially these younger players, years one through three, in particular, they think it's the same every year and that this just happens," McDermott said. "So that critical piece of that for us going forward is we make sure those guys don't take it for granted and make sure those guys know -- because they will eventually become the leaders that then educate and influence the younger guys that come in as we go down the road here."
Turning around a franchise that had 17 straight years of nine wins or less to one that has 10 or more in three straight seasons is a huge accomplishment. Allen is happy that he's been one of the leaders in Buffalo's resurgence, but he knows the team's goals are bigger than just winning seasons.
"It speaks a lot about the guys in this locker room, about the front office, and our coaching staff," Allen stated. "Being as consistent as possible three years in a row, it's not easy. Winning isn't easy in this league, and you need to celebrate it when you can. But at the same time, we're not just hoping to get into the playoffs. That's not our goal. Our main goal at the start of the season is to give ourselves a chance to win the Super Bowl, and yes, to get to the Super Bowl, you've got to make the playoffs. So, we've accomplished that goal, but we have loftier ones ahead of us."
What it would mean to be crowned AFC East champs at home
In 2020, the Bills beat the Denver Broncos in Week 15 and won the AFC East for the first time since 1995. This year, the team has the opportunity to win the AFC East in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990-1991. It's been since the 1990s since the Bills have been able to win their division at home and it's something that Bills Mafia deserves.
"It means a lot," Allen said. "Coach told us this morning that it hasn't been done at home in I think around 30 years. So, for us to give that to the fans, especially after last year with COVID and them not being able to be there, I think it'd mean a lot for them. But at the same time, we're just trying to go win a game and go 1-0. We understand that the Jets are gonna come in here and they're gonna be extremely hungry and they're gonna be ready to play on Sunday, so we know that, and they know that. So, we got to be ready to come out and give everything we got."
It's been a while since the Bills have won the division at home and some have never experienced that in their lives. The last time it happened was Dec. 17, 1995 against the Dolphins. If the Bills can beat the Jets on Sunday, it will be a special day in Buffalo and the players know that.
"Obviously, it would be a huge accomplishment for the city of Buffalo," Poyer said. "I think one of our coaches was talking earlier about his neighbor, a season-ticket holder for 20 years, and how it would be the first time he's ever seen the Bills win the AFC at home. We know how special it would be. We've got to continue one day at a time and put the work in this week to be ready to execute on Sunday."
What the defense is expecting from Zach Wilson's Jets as they attempt to spoil the Bills' regular-season finale
With a win on Sunday, the Bills would sweep the season series against the Jets for the second straight season and the 21st time overall. The Bills would improve to 66-56 all-time in regular season play against the Jets with the 66 wins representing the most of any opponent.
Since Mike White played against the Bills in Week 10, this will be the first look at rookie Zach Wilson for Buffalo. Wilson, the second overall pick, has had at least one passing or rushing touchdown in the last three weeks and had his highest completion percentage of the season in Week 16.
Cornerback Levi Wallace explained what the defense has seen on film from Wilson.
"Definitely a different quarterback than Mike White," Wallace said. "He's a lot more athletic, I think a lot of his big plays come up when he's out of the pocket creating plays. He has great arm talent, and he's hard to defend and prepare for, so it's going to be a group effort to try to contain him."
With the Jets eliminated from the playoffs, one of their motivations for this week's game is being in that spoiler role. They have a chance to stop the Bills from winning back-to-back division titles. Poyer has been in that spot before and he knows what type of Jets team they will be up against Sunday.
"I've been on the flip side, you really want to go out with a bang and try to spoil someone's season," Poyer said. "They're playing really good football right now. They took the Bucs to the wire. I think the last three or four weeks they've been leading at halftime. It's a team that's pretty hot right now. And they're going to come in and try to spoil our season, spoil our postseason, whatever you want to call it. So, we're going to have to play well and execute."