Pretty soon, the Buffalo Bills are going to run out of haters and doubters.
A 9-3 start and a nationally televised rout of America’s Team on Thanksgiving will do that. After the win over the Dallas Cowboys last Thursday, the outlook for the Bills has shifted.
On Sunday night, their Week 15 game at Pittsburgh was flexed into the premier spot on the NFL calendar – Sunday Night Football on NBC.
Before that, though, comes another highly anticipated matchup, with MVP candidate Lamar Jackson leading the Baltimore Ravens into New Era Field on Sunday.
“We take it one week at a time, as you know,” coach Sean McDermott said Monday as the Bills returned to work after the holiday weekend. “Big challenge coming in here this week, really good football team. Probably one of the, if not the, hottest football team going in the NFL.”
The Ravens bring an eight-game winning streak with them to Orchard Park, so McDermott understandably wanted nothing to do with questions about playing in prime time the following week. The coach, however, seemed to grasp it was a sign of the Bills finally getting some national respect.
“I think it comes from the work that the guys have put in,” McDermott said. “We talk a lot about things being earned and the guys have earned that. I don't think we shy away from that, from that standpoint, because they've earned it. But we also know [there's] a lot of work ahead of us, a lot of runway to go yet.”
The Bills earned a good deal of respect with their win against the Cowboys, but the conversation will be amplified with a win over Baltimore. Consider this: If the Bills win Sunday and the New England Patriots lose to Kansas City, Buffalo would control its own destiny for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
“You’d like to be playing meaningful games in December,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. “That’s the goal.”
In that sense, it’s been mission accomplished – even if the Bills haven’t really accomplished anything yet. At 9-3, they are in great shape for a playoff berth, likely needing just one more win to secure a spot. That could come as soon as Sunday, if the Bills win is combined with a loss by Houston and a loss or tie by both Oakland and Indianapolis.
“I’ve seen a lot, being in the league for 20 years, both good and bad,” Daboll said. “You have to stay at it. You have to be consistent with your approach. Things aren’t always going to be perfect. There are going to be down times and there are going to be up times.
“We try to stress that one week really has nothing to do with the next week. And it’s true. I mean, look around the league. Everybody thinks certain teams should beat other teams. This is the National Football League. There are 32 teams in this league, some really good football coaches and really good players. And you have to be at your best every week. You’d like to be at your best every week, and sometimes that’s not always the case. But, you work at it, you prepare; you have a positive, consistent attitude, approach. You try to do everything you can do as a staff of putting the players in good positions, and trusting your players.”
That meant giving the players some downtime after their win over the Cowboys. While the team’s coaching staff worked Friday and Saturday, reviewing the Cowboys game and starting preparations for Baltimore, players got to enjoy a long weekend.
“Those are the guys that are in the fire, and they're out there putting their bodies on the line and everything and then there's a mental component to that, as well,” McDermott said. “We wanted them fresh – physically, spiritually, mentally as well. So, that's what we expect to see when they come back here.”