The Buffalo Bills have clinched the No. 2 seed in the AFC after overcoming a 6-6 record in Week 13 and defeating the Miami Dolphins Sunday night to win the AFC East and shock the NFL world, in which many had already written Buffalo off after their slow start to the season.
Now, the Bills will host the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday in Highmark Stadium in what is projected to be a cold and rainy afternoon in Orchard Park. Here's what the national media is saying about how Buffalo ended the regular season and what they expect to see out of the Bills in the Super Wild Card round.
The Buffalo Bills have a wealth of veterans on their roster, including safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer and quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, among many others. With one of the best defensive minds in football at the helm in head coach and defensive play-caller Sean McDermott, the Bills defense has been able to withstand significant injuries to some of their top-paid players and remain one of the most successful units in football.
The Athletic's Robert Mays thinks that because of Buffalo's depth and experience, they will pose a threat to any team they match up against in the playoffs.
"When they get to the postseason, they can throw some weird stuff at you because they have veteran players, they have some versatile pieces and they have an experienced defensive play-caller. … That's the seasoning with this Buffalo team specifically that I think can get you excited about what sort of postseason challenge they might be for anybody."
Josh Allen threw for 359 yards and two touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins, overcoming a three-turnover performance and willing the Bills to victory in the fourth quarter. While the Bills quarterback had the second-most turnovers in the NFL regular season with 22, he also scored 44 touchdowns, six more than any other player in the NFL.
FOX Sports' Colin Cowherd, who has had plenty to say about the Bills this season, said that, because of Josh Allen's unique skillset and his ability to overcome mistakes made early on in games, Buffalo is the team to beat in the AFC East.
"Buffalo ultimately is the team you can trust in this division. And you saw it, the overwhelming talent and natural ability of Josh Allen was on display. … Josh was the only person beating Josh last night – a couple of bad picks, three turnovers – and he overcomes it on the road on sheer talent, stuff that almost nobody else on the planet can do."
Down 14-7, the Bills were in need of a score when the defense forced Miami to punt early in the fourth quarter. Because of returner Deonte Harty, Buffalo got even with the Dolphins without their offense having to take the field. Harty, for the first time since coming to Buffalo, returned the punt 96 yards for a touchdown, setting a team record for the longest punt return in Bills history.
NFL Network's Pete Schrager thinks that the punt return sparked the Bills' dominant fourth quarter that led to them claiming the No. 2 seed and AFC East championship.
"That was the sparkplug. That was everything … Harty just completely ignites this team. I think it's the play of the season for Buffalo. I think it was everything they needed to get going, they took care of business from there. The offense woke up, the defense stopped the Dolphins."
After the first 30 minutes of the Bills' eventual win over the Dolphins, it seemed that the points Buffalo left on the scoreboard could come back to bite them in the second half. With two interceptions thrown in the Miami end zone and a two-minute drive that ended just short of the end zone.
The Bills defense held Miami to zero second half points, Deonte Harty's punt return injected life into the Buffalo sideline and Josh Allen led a game-winning touchdown drive to quell any doubts as to who is on top in the AFC East.
Around the NFL's Marc Sessler called the Bills "overcomers" for what they've been able to work through this season, highlighted by their efforts in the Miami game.
"They really are overcomers. To go through what they went through in the first half and have Josh Allen to have two end zone interceptions, a fumble later on and you're kind of just waiting at some point for Miami to heat up because the injury list for Buffalo was starting to rack up … I thought the Josh Allen in the final 30 minutes was truly special."
Despite their 6-6 record, the Bills' message of believing in themselves never changed. Five wins later, fans and media members across the country are joining Buffalo in believing that a playoff run is certainly within reach of a Bills team that has shown it can outduel any team, with a NFL-best 5-1 record against playoff teams.
Peter King quoted the Grateful Dead in his summation of Buffalo's 2023 campaign and called the Bills one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs.
"What a long, strange trip it's been. … Buffalo is one of the three or four most dangerous teams in the tournament, warts and all. The quarterback turns it over too much, but the quarterback is one of the best players in the sport, and time after time he makes up for an unwise throw by throwing his body over the first-down stripe or throwing a beautiful ball 60 yards downfield."
Josh Allen is well-known throughout the league for being one of the most dynamic players in football as well as one of the most competitive. Allen proved that he will do anything necessary to win Sunday night, using his legs to pick up first downs, absorbing contact on his way past the chains. However, FOX Sports' Henry McKenna noted Allen's ability to chew clock, make smart plays and put his talented playmakers in position to comeback from a 14-7 deficit and hold on to win a division title on the road.
"The craziest part about what we saw from Josh Allen tonight was not that we saw crazy Josh Allen, not that we saw sensational Josh Allen, not that we saw bone-headed Josh Allen, it was that we saw game manager Josh Allen. In the fourth quarter after the Bills took the lead, he protected the heck out of that lead. We saw him sliding near the sideline … was sort of otherwise spotless in a way of managing the game. … Josh Allen did everything he could to play as smart and safe as he could for about ten minutes and that was just enough for Buffalo to pull off the win."
Bills running back James Cook has shown significant growth in his second year as a pro, leading the AFC in rushing yards and serving as a valuable asset in the Bills' passing attack. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs has continued to connect with quarterback Josh Allen in key moments, including a 36-yard deep ball to set up Buffalo's first touchdown of their win over Miami.
With Cook, Diggs and Allen, CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin thinks that Buffalo has one of if not the most talented trio in the NFL.
"They struggled to close key contests earlier this year, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more dangerous offensive trio than Josh Allen, James Cook and Stefon Diggs. They have January hurdles to clear, but throw in an improved Sean McDermott-led defense featuring ballhawk Rasul Douglas, and they might be the contender that nobody else wants to play."
Sean McDermott is known around the league for his defensive prowess, but there's a reason most teams employ both an offensive and defensive coordinator in addition to a head coach: it's hard to lead a team and focus in on one side of the ball.
With a defense that has performed extremely well from a statistical standpoint and come up clutch in key moments in the Bills' five straight victories, ESPN's Mina Kimes gave McDermott credit for the job he has done on the defensive side of the ball while leading the Bills to the No. 2 seed.
"Credit to Sean McDermott, because coming into the season, Leslie Frazier left and the narrative was like, 'Well Sean McDermott's taking over the defense, could that backfire?' And I think, on the season, eighth in EPA per play, second in success rate, sixth in opponent QBR, the results are what they are and this is a big part of why they are such a threat."