This NFL Thursday miniseries now moves up the Eastern seaboard toward Canada: it’s time to look circle the wagons and look at the Buffalo Bills! With a .483 winning percentage in a franchise history dating back to 1960, the Bills have made the playoffs 22 times in 64 years. It seems like a lot more for a team that won two AFL titles (1964, 1965) and has appeared in four Super Bowls (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993). Strange highs and strange lows for this team that still has so many followers!
No. 5: 2004 Buffalo Bills
Almost every one of our lists has a surprise entry, and this is the it for the Bills: a 9-7 team that missed the playoffs despite finishing No. 5 in the overall SRS rankings. Buffalo was No. 7 on offense and No. 8 on defense as it finished third in the AFC East Division. An 0-4 start ended up dooming this team as it outscored its opponents overall by 111 points, but in the end, two teams finished at 10-6 to claim the final conference playoff spots, and the Bills were left on the outside.
The defense led the way in Approximate Value (AV) marks: linebacker Takeo Spikes (17), defensive back Terrence McGee (15), and DB Nate Clements (12) led the way. On offense, wide receiver Eric Moulds (11), quarterback Drew Bledsoe (10), and running back Willis McGahee (10) were the stars. The team missed the postseason when hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season finale at home: a defensive grind, the Bills gave up 13 points in the fourth quarter to lose, 29-24.
No. 4: 1990 Buffalo Bills
This was the first—and the best—of the four straight AFC championship teams from Buffalo. With a 13-3 record, this team was No. 1 in the AFC East, No. 1 in the SRS rankings, and No. 1 on offense. The No. 6 defense was just icing on the cake, really. In the conference plays, the Bills outlasted the Miami Dolphins, 44-34, and then they absolutely destroyed the Los Angeles Raiders, 51-3, in the AFC title tilt. Alas, the Super Bowl didn’t work out for them, as we all remember.
RB Thurman Thomas (19 AV), center Kent Hull (17), and defensive end Bruce Smith (17) all had exceptional seasons. But so did QB Jim Kelly (14) and WR Andre Reed (13). The team was loaded. The defense held off Dan Marino in the first playoff game, before completing stifling Marcus Allen in the second one. That’s a lot of MVP shutdown right there. Against the New York Giants, though, the defense was on the field for over 40 minutes of the game, and it just got tired.
No. 3: 2021 Buffalo Bills
Another AFC East title came courtesy of the No. 2-ranked team in the SRS overall. With an 11-6 record, these Bills may not have seemed formidable, but the No. 3 offense and the No. 1 defense suggest otherwise. The playoffs began with a 47-17 drubbing of the New England Patriots, a longtime rival. And then, Buffalo faced off against Kansas City on the road, and even though the Bills lost, 42-36, in overtime, it may have been one of the best games ever seen in modernity.
QB Josh Allen (19 AV) was the leader by far on this team, although he was supported well with 8 teammates earning double-digit AV marks. Five of the losses came by a combined 23 points, so the team still wasn’t really dominating. But the playoff win over New England was sweet. But in facing Kansas City on the road, the Bills just came up short in the fate column—again. Seemingly with the game in hand over the final 13 seconds, somehow the Chiefs pulled off a miracle.
No. 2: 1964 Buffalo Bills
We love seeing an old AFL team here, the first time we think this has happened in this miniseries. This team finished 12-2 to win the East Division with a clean sweep of our criteria: No. 1 on offense, No. 1 on defense, and No. 1 in the SRS overall. The team started out 9-0 and ended up beating the San Diego Chargers three times during the year, including the title game victory that clinched the team’s first-ever league championship. The 20-7 score doesn’t tell the whole story.
Ten players reached double-digit AV marks, but the only truly notable name among them is that of fullback Cookie Gilchrist (12). This truly was a team that reflected the working-class community of Buffalo like no one other in team history, perhaps. Playing the championship game at home, the Bills were ready for the West Coast team they’d already beaten twice: Buffalo intercepted the ball 3 times and held the Chargers to just 135 passing yards. The wagons were circled.
No. 1: 2022 Buffalo Bills
Once again, we have that rare moment where a franchise’s best team? Is the most recent one. With a 13-3 record, these Bills won the AFC East again, and they also finished No. 1 in the SRS overall. With the No. 2 offense and the No. 2 defense, Buffalo was primed for a Super Bowl run. But the team never really got into full playoff mode, holding out for a 34-31 wild-card victory over the Dolphins and then having a complete team breakdown against the Cincinnati Bengals at home.
Allen (20 AV) once again was the leader of the team, but LB Matt Milano (19) wasn’t far behind. WR Stefon Diggs (15) was just more life for the party here. After overcoming the unfortunate Damar Hamlin incident, the Bills focused on the playoffs as everything. They jumped out to an early 17-0 lead on Miami, but then the Dolphins came back to tie it before halftime. And then Buffalo didn’t have much left in the tank, sadly, against the Bengals—which we found very fishy.