One win. That’s all the stands between the Buffalo Bills and a 5th Super Bowl appearance. A couple of years ago, this might have seemed unlikely, but the Bills fended off the Baltimore Ravens and some vicious wind conditions to punch their ticket to their first AFC Championship game since 1994. Next up is the defending champs.
While the Bills haven’t been overly impressive in either playoff game, what is impressive to me is how they keep finding ways to win games. Throughout most of the season, they relied on an explosive offense to win them games. Last week against Indianapolis, they made just enough plays on offense before the defense held firm in the end. This week, the defense bottled up Lamar Jackson all night before Taron Johnson made one of the biggest defensive plays in Buffalo history.
The story of this game, believe it or not, was the win. Trust me. As a Lions fan, I know a thing or two about the wind. Don’t forget, in Detroit, when games go to OT, we don’t take the ball. We take the wind. When Justin Tucker, the most accurate kicker in the history of the sport, is double doinking, you know something is wrong. Ask any quarterback or kicker and they will tell you they’d rather play in the rain or snow than in windy conditions.
Three Unbiased Opinions
1) A Lot Depends on Mahomes’ Status
All eyes this week will be on Patrick Mahomes’ status for the AFC Championship game. It’s impossible to know at this point what his availability will be for Sunday’s game. Concussions are a tricky thing, and it’s not an injury that you can just tough out. It requires passing five steps set out by the NFL before you are cleared to return to the field. Some guys take vicious hits to the head and are cleared by the following week. Other players get concussions during routine plays and miss the next three weeks. There’s no way to know how Mahomes will respond to his concussion. According to research on concussions, the average time an NFL player misses with a concussion is between 7 and 19 days. Obviously, that’s a large span, but if it’s anything beyond the bare minimum, Mahomes would miss the game. It’s still early, but I’d set the chances at 50/50 that Mahomes plays in the AFC Championship game.
If Mahomes is forced to miss the game, the Bills become the obvious favorite. No disrespect to Chad Henne (who played for my beloved Michigan Wolverines), but he’s a giant step down from the former MVP and Super Bowl champion. The Chiefs still have plenty of weapons and one of the best play callers in the game, but if Henne is starting the game, expect to see the Bills advance to the Super Bowl.
If Mahomes is able to play, he would be at the very least limited in his practice and participation in team meetings throughout the week. A great player like that can surely miss practice and suit up on Sunday and be just fine. But in a game of this magnitude between two great teams, every advantage matters. Expect Mahomes’ health and availability for this game to dominate the air waves this week, and for good reason.
2) How About Some Love for McDermott and Frazier?
McDermott and Frazier. Sounds like a law firm you could call if you were in a motorcycle accident. In this case, these two came up with a heck of a game plan to limit one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. Every pundit seemed to think Lamar Jackson was destined to become the first QB in NFL history to run for 100+ yards in consecutive playoff games. He didn’t come close. In fact, the Bills defense held Jackson to his 2nd lowest rushing output of the season.
The Bills seemed content to give up some body blows up the middle to J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Whenever Jackson tried to pull the ball and get to the edge, the Bills had defenders waiting. In passing situations, they brought pressure and sacked the game’s most elusive player three times. Yes, the Bills gave up 150 yards rushing, but that’s still over 40 yards less per game than the Ravens average. If you remove Tyler Huntley’s garbage time scrambles, the Bills held Jackson, Dobbins, and Edwards to 118 yards on 29 carries, good for 4.0 yards per carry. That’s a great defensive effort.
3) The Worst Rule in Sports
Okay, so this technically doesn’t have anything to do with the Bills game, but as a Lions fan, we believe that you should complain about the officials every week. In this case, it wasn’t a bad call so much as it is a bad rule, but it very well may have cost the Cleveland Browns a win in Kansas City, and thus, costing the Bills a chance to host the AFC title game. Just before halftime, Rahard Higgins makes a catch near inside the five yard line, turns, and extends the ball toward the goal line. He gets hit and fumbles through the end zone. Chiefs ball.
This is undoubtedly the worst rule in all of sports. If you fumble anywhere else on the field and the ball goes out of bounds, it’s returned to the spot of the fumble if it was going forward. But if the fumble happens near the pylon and trickles out of bounds just behind the pylon, the other team just gets the ball? They get a free turnover? And not just that, they call it a touchback, advance the ball 20 yards and give it to the other team. The NFL absolutely has to revisit this rule and change it to returning the ball to spot of the fumble. You can’t just give the ball to the other team and give them 20 free yards. It’s a rule that makes no sense, and, on Sunday, it potentially changed the outcome of a playoff game. Come on, NFL. You’ve experimented with every other rule change in the book, but you can’t fix the most obvious one?
One Last Thought…
As the Outsider here, I have to congratulate #BillsMafia for their generosity. Seeing Lamar Jackson go down with an injury was disappointing. We all want our teams to win, and none of us want to see guys get hurt. Most fan bases would just send out some Twitter get well wishes and call it a night. But #BillsMafia decided to honor Jackson by donating to a charity he supports called Blessing for Backpacks, a charity that supplies elementary school children with food for the weekends who might otherwise go hungry. At last check, over 9,000 donations have been made and over $240,000 has been given by Bills fans. Wow.
What you may not know about me is that I’m not just The Buffalo Bills Outsider and a jaded Detroit Lions fan. I also work at a school in Michigan with a very high poverty rate. Childhood hunger is literally an issue I come face to face with every single day, and it’s a cause that is near and dear to my heart. Your generosity is overwhelming.
If you haven’t already, please join me in donating at https://www.blessingsinabackpack.org/