It’s a little over three weeks after a disheartening, devastating loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the Divisional Round that ended a season of football. 2022 started with our Buffalo Bills as the distinct favorite to win the Super Bowl. As we all know (it’s embedded in our DNA), that championship would have been our first, our ticket out of an arbitrary NFL wilderness—an arbitrary wilderness we all feel very much is real if we are Buffalo Bills fans.
It would also be a win for a city that has lost so much over the past 60 years. Beyond just the usual adrenaline rush sports fans get for winning, hoisting the Lombardi next month feels like it would have been a catharsis for a city. Would it make up for the loss of industry, the multiple tragedies, the endless jokes at our expense? Well, no, but it would have been… something. Instead, we’re stuck with a hiccup in our throats and that often pathetic-seeming cry of “wait ’til next year”
It’s been a bitter pill to swallow for a large portion of the Bills Mafia. Many of us have gone through the stages of grief and are at acceptance. Some are still seething. This is another year that ended with a feeling of emptiness in our guts and it ended so abruptly and fecklessly. Select fans, content creators, and media have called for heads.
Ken Dorsey must go! He runs an uninspired offense that leans too heavily on Josh Allen and made some odd choices at times. He also had the number two DVOA offense in football (up from 10th under 2022 Coach of the Year Brian Daboll). Dorsey was a first year OC who still had the offense playing as one of the best units in football. Lest we forget people were calling for Daboll’s head the last few years before he became a premier football leader in Rutherford, New Jersey.
Leslie Frazier must go! His defense wilts when it matters and often gets run over. He also marshalled the number four DVOA defense in football. His unit has finished top five overall every year he’s been here but one, and this year’s team was riddled with injuries. Of the starters, all but Taron Johnson missed at least one game, as did six key backups—three All Pro defenders missed at least half the season (Micah Hyde, Tre’ White, Von Miller).
Sean McDermott must go! Well, I hardly even want to entertain this one, but yes, he sometimes struggles with challenges and he “doesn’t win the big game.” Or does he? He beat the now-reigning Super Bowl Champions two of the last three games—in Arrowhead! His first six years in Buffalo are almost a precise match for Andy Reid’s in KC in regards to how far they got in the playoffs. Yes, Reid didn’t have Mahomes yet, but that does not mean that McD is not poised for a Super Bowl run next year.
Brendan Beane must go! Well, to be fair, I don’t think anyone is actually suggesting this one, but I have seen comments that have started to question the glowing rep he has among fans and around the league. He hasn’t drafted a Pro Bowler since 2018. He’s put too much capital into an underachieving defensive line while ignoring the offensive line. But that does not tell the whole story (and since when is the ridiculous not-even-spectacle that is the Pro Bowl a measure for anything).
Other than Cody Ford, none of the draft picks have officially been a bust. Ed Oliver may not be living up to his 9th pick but he’s been an important cog of a top-rated defense, Gregory Rousseau has been progressing well and would have had double-digit sacks had he not missed a month in the middle of the season, and Kaiir Elam was straight-up coming on at the end of the season. Also, the defensive line was borderline dominant until Hall of Famer Von Miller tore his ACL (around the same time Rousseau went out).
The offensive line was genuinely pretty bad—Mitch Morse and Dion Dawkins the only real exceptions; however, it’s not like they did not have a plan coming in with guard acquisition Rodger Saffold joining four returning lineman who had a five game stretch without giving up a sack near the end of 2021. It just didn’t work as Saffold had his worst season as a pro and Spencer Brown failed to make the next step to star at right tackle. Rick/Ryan Bates was also there.
Their window is quickly closing due to Allen’s contract and Beane’s mismanagement! There’s no money to extend Tremaine Edmunds after the MLB finally proved his value to even the heartiest haters. All-Pro Jordan Poyer is a goner. Well, you know where this is going. Beane has yet to have to let anyone go because of the salary cap and they have plenty of restructuring options—including over 20 million in Allen’s contract. There is certainly a limit, but it’s hard to know what that actual limit is as all the NFL’s TV and gambling money hasn’t kicked in yet. Kicking the cap can down the road—while it could still backfire—is not bad strategy at this point. The Bills can control Edmunds’ money so that most of it does not hit until he’s 27! Poyer’s probable loss hurts, but good teams eventually lose some stars.
They don’t have the talent of the other two AFC powers! That’s not it either. They were only the third team in the history of Football Outsiders’ DVOA to have top 5 units in all three parts of the game (Offense 2, Defense 4, Special Teams 1). And even if all the FAs walk, they’ll still almost certainly have All-Pros Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White, and Von Miller back healthy in 2023. Newly minted Pro Bowler/All-Pro Matt Milano may lose a slight step without Edmunds cleaning up tackles behind him (on the off chance Edmunds walks), but he’ll still be one of the best.They’ll still have 2022’s quietly great addition DuQuan Jones. Rousseau and Ed Oliver could still finally let loose. Then there’s Dawson Knox and Gabriel Davis and second-year player Khalil Shakir who are more likely to be better than worse next year. Most importantly, they have Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs.
The rest of the AFC East got better and we got worse! Do the Dolphins, Jets, or Patriots suddenly have a Josh Allen now? No? Wake me when they get close to their franchise QB. Jets had the draft of the decade but are still quite a ways away and are back to the ol’ drawing board at the main position on the field. The Dolphins have an intriguing team but still wound up five games behind the Bills and arguably have a worse salary cap situation than the Bills. It’s hard to believe it, but the Patriots are just not good and Mac Jones would appear to have already worn out his welcome.
So, maybe, just maybe, the sky is not falling, the roof is not caving in, and the Buffalo Bills are still one of the favorites to win in the 2023 season. Vegas’ earliest speculation indeed puts them right behind the currently celebrating Chiefs. If a psychic fan during the 17-year playoff drought, or the back-to-back 2-14 seasons in the 1980s, or during their constant losses in the OJ Simpson era, saw some of our moaning reactions to a team that is winning playoff games every season, you’d have to imagine they would think us crazy, or at least entitled.
It’s still hard to invest all this time knowing that even if you win 14 or more games in the regular season, there’s a good chance you’ll be feeling miserable when it all ends. Even knowing that 31 of 32 fanbases feel this way every year is cold comfort and “Wait ‘Til Next Year” can seem the refrain of a loser. For over a decade, it was the (often ironic) rallying cry of the Brooklyn Dodgers of yore.
For most of the first half of the 20th Century, the Brooklyn Dodgers were baseball’s laughing stock. They earned their official name for the borough’s residents who had to “dodge” trolleys whizzing by at 20 miles per hour to make it to Ebbets Field. Most fans called them by their nickname, “Dem Bums.” But by the late 1940s, the Brooklyn Dodgers had built a powerhouse with Don Newcombe, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, and, of course, the barrier-breaker himself, Jackie Robinson.
The team would dominate during the season, but there was always a Giants or Yankees blocking their way. In 1951, the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” (their “13 Seconds”?) became a “thing.” Bobby Thompson would crush the Bum fan dreams with a last-minute playoff home run. At the end of every season, inevitably Dodgers fans would feel the same slow burn of sadness and would have to resort to that familiar chant they made famous.
In 1954, the Dodgers were out of the playoffs by five games and as only two teams went to the post-season that year they were still on the outside looking for their first championship as the New York Giants beat the Cleveland Indians. After ten years of having a lot of the same players and narrowly missing out on the big prize, Dodgers fans had to be pretty down. Then, in 1955, it all came together and they won the National League pennant by 13 1/2 games. They even lost the first two games of that year’s World Series to the hated crosstown rival Yankees. It looked as though it might all come crashing down again. But after Game 7, the Brooklyn-ites were lifting up the trophy. They had won it all. If you don’t know, don’t look into what happened just two years later. That’s not the point and we have a date with a new stadium in 2026 anyway.
The Buffalo Bills could still get there and have been built to contend every year for the foreseeable future. Every one of those years is a chance to win it all. Convinced this team and our fanbase will never get to experience that feeling? For the Brooklyn Dodgers of the distant past, it was always “Wait ‘Til Next Year,” until one year, it was, indeed, next year.