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TONY’S TAKE – DESPITE LOSS, FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT FOR BUFFALO

The Buffalo Bills’ loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the wild-card round of the playoffs clearly isn’t an ideal way to end this season. Only one team finishes a campaign on a truly high note, and that is the Super Bowl champions. But there’s been much worse ways to end a year than this, and Bills fans should know that after the last 17 years.

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This season was the definition of overachievement. When the vast majority of media members and fans expected Buffalo to finish with around a 3-13 or 4-12 record – myself included – and still went 9-7 with both their offense and defense ranked in the bottom half of the league, you knew something had to be going in the Bills’ favor. And for the first time in years, they were the beneficiaries of some bounces going their way – namely when it came to turnovers, making plays at just the right time (albeit not consistently throughout entire games) and some luck. As we all know, they needed that good fortune and more just to get into the postseason dance in the first place.

In some ways, maybe it would have been good for them to finish amongst the league’s worst teams, what with their bevy of draft picks and the opportunity to acquire a long-sought after franchise quarterback from this year’s supposedly strong crop of college players. But there’s another way of looking at it.

The term “winning culture” is thrown around in sports almost to the point of ad nauseam, but for a franchise that had a 1,000-pound gorilla on their back for 17 years – and also had no earthly idea how to build a winning franchise since the Doug Flutie/Wade Phillips era – the hiring of Sean McDermott and his staff has clearly brought a different vibe and mindset to the team compared to coaches from the past. The Bills didn’t beat themselves with penalties and blown assignments as much as they did in recent years, instead for the most part their understanding of situational football increased little by little every week. (It’s still not to the level of the league’s consistent contenders, but it’s improving.)

Plus, getting to the playoffs is a huge mental hurdle that the team has finally gotten past, and that’s a godsend for a franchise that had fallen off the national radar. Being on national television during the playoffs will lead to more primetime games next year, and that type of exposure might actually help the Bills become a more desirable destination for free agents and players around the league.

A word of caution, though: it’s obvious though that this type of season isn’t going to happen again in 2018. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, and McDermott and Brandon Beane know that there’s plenty of work to do on the roster. There’s still quite a few holes to fix – namely their offensive line, lack of speed at wide receiver, the Tyrod Taylor conundrum and little depth at linebacker and on the defensive line – but considering the Bills still reached the playoffs despite all of their flaws, I can’t wait to see what the future holds in 2018 and beyond. If this is a harbinger of things to come, well, it sure looks positive for the first time in a long time.