Nearly 88% of the NFL's fan base does not have a proverbial dog in the fight for this weekend's championship games. While most fans will have to wait until September to cheer on their team again, many fans (if they haven't already) will likely choose a new team to support for the remainder of the 2020 season.
Those fans have four options: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills. Each team has a compelling narrative. Tom Brady is in search of his first ring since leaving the Patriots. Aaron Rodgers is hoping to cap off a likely MVP season with a second Super Bowl win. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are trying to become the first team since the 2003-04 Patriots to win back-to-back titles.
While those narratives are good, they pale in comparison to the ones regarding the Bills, the only remaining franchise that is still in search of its first Lombardi Trophy. Here are five reasons why fans outside of Tampa, Green Bay and Kansas City should be cheering for the Bills this weekend in the AFC Championship Game.
5. Sean McDermott finally gets his due
It's easy to forget the dire straits the Bills franchise was in less than five years ago. From 2000-16, the franchise endured 17 consecutive non-playoff seasons, 15 non-winning seasons and eight last-place finishes in the AFC East division. Buffalo's playoff drought was the longest in the NFL.
The low point may have come in December 2014, when Doug Marrone -- despite leading the Bills to a 9-7 record in his second season as their coach -- opted out of his contract. At that point, it appeared that no one wanted to coach or play in Buffalo, a city that is known for its wings, passionate fan base and frigid temperatures.
Things quickly changed upon the arrival of Sean McDermott, who was hired in January 2017. McDermott, who came to Buffalo following a successful six-year run as the Panthers' defensive coordinator, spearheaded an immediate turnaround. In his first season, the Bills ended their long playoff drought. Two years later, Buffalo reached double-digit wins for the first time since 1999. In 2020, Buffalo won its first division title since 1995. And by virtue of their playoff wins over the Colts and Ravens, the Bills are back in their first AFC title game since 1993.
Despite that success, McDermott's work in Buffalo has been somewhat overlooked. Sean McVay, not McDermott, was tabbed as Coach of the Year in 2017. John Harbaugh won the award in 2019 despite fielding a team with more star power. A win over Andy Reid's Chiefs this weekend, however, would undoubtedly lead to McDermott getting his due as one of the NFL's top coaches.
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4. A 'new era' QB gets a ring
Unlike the NBA, the NFL is not as dependent on star power to keep its ratings and interest up. That being said, it certainly helps when household names -- particularly at the quarterback position -- are playing deep into the postseason. That was the case on Sunday night, when nearly 29 million fans tuned in to watch Brady and Drew Brees duel in what was possibly Brees' final game.
Brees is one of three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks that might be calling it quits this offseason. Brees may be joined in retirement by Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, who were non-committal when asked about their futures following first-round playoff exits. And while Brees and/or Roethlisberger and Rivers may decide to come back, it's just a matter of time before the NFL's "old guard" will be spending their Sundays doing something else.
With that in mind, it would certainly be good for the NFL to have more young quarterbacks playing deep into the postseason. That will be the case in Sunday's AFC title game, when the 25-year-old Mahomes (assuming he clears concussion protocol) will go against 24-year-old Josh Allen. The NFC Championship Game will feature either Brady or Rodgers under center, but the AFC's Super Bowl quarterback could be someone whose stardom is likely still on the rise.
A Super Bowl win would validate what has been a breakout season for Allen, who accounted for 45 of his team's touchdowns during the regular season. It would also make him just the second active starting quarterback (with Mahomes being the other) under the age of 30 with a Super Bowl ring. A Super Bowl win would reward for the Bills for their patience when Allen failed to complete 60% of his passes as a rookie. In the process, it would reinforce the importance of not rushing to judgement when it comes to young quarterbacks (looking at you, Dolphins fans).
3. The defense (of defenses) rests
It's hard to blame anyone who thinks having a great defense is no longer a necessity. A record 12,692 points were scored during the regular season, as pro football continues to trend towards being a league dominated by quarterbacks. That narrative would at least temporarily be debunked if the Bills are able to win Super Bowl LV.
While not as dominant as last year's unit, Buffalo's defense has routinely come up with timely plays. Josh Norman's forced fumble of Darren Waller helped key the Bills' Week 4 win over the Raiders. Taron Johnson's 51-yard pick-six gave Buffalo the lead for good in its Week 14 win over Pittsburgh in a game that helped determine which team won the AFC's No. 2 seed. On Saturday night, a week after holding Colts' rookie sensation Jonathan Taylor to under four yards per carry, Buffalo's defense out-scored Baltimore's offense following Johnson's 101-yard pick-six that sealed the Bills' 17-3 victory.
A Super Bowl win for the Bills would be a win for teams that desire to play team defense. While their unit includes two Pro Bowlers in linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and cornerback Tre'Davious White, Buffalo's defense largely depends on a multitude of players. Sixteen players recorded a sack during the regular season, 10 players recorded an interception, and 26 players made at least two starts. The Bills' depth on defense has been one of the main reasons for its success, and it will likely be one of the main contributors should the Bills win the Super Bowl. This is not only a good thing for the NFL, but for the game of football in general.
2. An ode to the '90s teams
While nothing can replace the sting of a Super Bowl loss -- or four -- rest assured that members of the early '90s Bills teams would take great solace in the current team winning it all. Don Beebe, the former Bills' receiver whose chase-down of Leon Lett is part of Super Bowl lore, said as much during a recent appearance on "The DA Show."
"I'm pulling for them," Beebe said. "I know what (Bills fans) have endured. I know what they want. I know what kind of people they are. I'm pulling for that organization. … I'm pulling for the people to win that Super Bowl. Because that would be great for them to be able to experience it."
Led by Beebe, fellow receivers Andre Reed and James Lofton, quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas, defensive end Bruce Smith, linebackers Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett, special teams ace Steve Tasker and coach Marv Levy, the Bills of 1990-93 became the first team to win four consecutive conference titles. But despite their mastery of the AFC, Buffalo lost their Super Bowl matchups against the Giants, Washington and Dallas (twice) while becoming the only team to lose four consecutive Super Bowls.
Many of the players that made up those teams have remained close since their careers ended. Those players continue to publicly support the franchise they helped put on the map. If the Bills are able to win the Super Bowl, fans can expect to see many of those legendary Bills taking part in a celebration that would last well into the start of next season.
1. Bills Mafia
Outside of Cleveland, is there a fan base that deserves a Super Bowl title more than Buffalo? Despite enduring decades of irrelevance, four consecutive Super Bowl losses, and another two decades of irrelevance, "Bills Mafia" has stuck by their team through thick and thin. And while the prospect of witnessing a fan base celebrate their first Super Bowl win is reason enough, the generosity Bills fans have bestowed upon Lamar Jackson's favorite charity is yet another reason to get behind the Bills and their devoted fan base. Buffalo has spent 54 years watching other cities hold Super Bowl celebratory parties. It's time for arguably the NFL's most loyal fan base to have their own.