Bills could really be in business — and soon
Things are about to get very interesting for the Buffalo Bills. On and off the field.
For starters, they are the top-ranked team in the NFL according to most U.S. power rankings heading into Monday night’s game in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. This is a game with particular significance for the Bills, given that the Titans demolished Buffalo 42-16 last fall after a perfect 4-0 start for the western New Yorkers.
It didn’t wreck their season, as the Bills went on to play for the AFC Championship. But it was a tad embarrassing, a game decided by three Buffalo turnovers and a Tennessee attack that accumulated 139 rushing yards, 57 from star Derrick Henry.
Just as the Bills enjoyed every minute of beating the Chiefs in Kansas City last week to partly avenge that loss in the AFC final, so too would Sean McDermott’s team like to give the Titans some payback before a national audience on “Monday Night Football.”
With Arizona (6-0), Tampa Bay (5-1) and Baltimore (5-1) all hot on the heels of Buffalo for the unofficial title of the NFL’s best team, the Bills will need to maintain the momentum they’ve established in winning their last four games by an average of 28.8 points if they want to stay camped at the top.
In the AFC, with Kansas City (3-3) and Cleveland (3-3) off to difficult starts, right now it looks like a battle for supremacy between the Bills and Ravens. That said, the Chargers, Bengals and Raiders, winners on Sunday in their first game without the disgraced Jon Gruden, all have ambitions of their own.
Going into the Music City match, the 4-1 Bills are one of the NFL’s highest-scoring teams, both offensively and defensively. Quarterback Josh Allen is looking like an MVP candidate, receiver Emmanuel Sanders has added depth and the defence all but shut down Patrick Mahomes last week. The 3-2 Titans, meanwhile, have performed unevenly this season, although Henry has run wild in the last four weeks, racking up 582 yards.
Buffalo’s rise to the status of legitimate Super Bowl contender comes at an intriguing time when team owners Terry and Kim Pegula have launched a power play for a new stadium. Currently, 38-year-old Highmark Stadium is one of the NFL’s oldest buildings.
Plans are afoot for a $1.5 billion (U.S.) stadium project, and the Pegulas have made it abundantly clear they expect taxpayers to pay for most of it.
“The stadium that the Bills play in now was built by the taxpayers,” a Pegula Sports and Entertainment spokesperson said in August. “As we could not have been more clear, and as we’ve said on the record, we want, eventually, some sort of public-private partnership that will get this stadium built.”
That’s a “partnership,” it should be noted, in which the Pegulas pay a little and the taxpayers pay a lot. Adding to the intrigue is that Buffaloborn Kathy Hochul is the new governor of New York State, taking office in August following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo amid a sexual harassment scandal.
Everyone knows what’s at stake here. San Diego turned down a stadium referendum involving public money five years ago, and now the Chargers play in Los Angeles. Asked last month if the Bills are going to stay in western New York, Hochul said: “They sure as hell are.”
Having a Buffalo booster in charge at Albany and perhaps the NFL’s best team are elements that enhance the possibility that the Pegulas will successfully loot the public treasury to pay for their stadium.
Interestingly, a new Bills playpen wouldn’t open before 2025, but their current lease expires after next season. There’s already talk that the team will need a temporary home for two or three seasons. And yes, Toronto has already come up as a speculative place for the Bills to rest their heads.
Those who remember the ill-fated Bills Toronto Series would see the irony in Buffalo’s NFL team turning to southern Ontario again. With the Toronto Argonauts barely showing a pulse these days, this is naturally not a scenario the CFL would prefer to see come to fruition.
Other than the stadium debate, and the ongoing distraction over the refusal of receiver Cole Beasley to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s been all rainbows and unicorns for the Bills since a curious Week 1 loss to the very average Pittsburgh Steelers.
If the Bills can get a win over the Titans, they could really be in business. They have one of the easier schedules this season, and would follow up Tennessee with games against the Dolphins, Jaguars, Jets and Colts, all sub-.500 teams. Buffalo ends the season with games against the Falcons and then the Jets again. So there’s definitely an opportunity to better last season’s 13-3 finish, and possibly secure home-field advantage if they can make it back to the AFC title game.
There are two late-season matchups with New England, which may or not be a spent force in the AFC East, and a tasty Week 14 collision with Tom Brady and the Bucs in Florida. Buffalo’s record at that point, and where the stadium debate is at, will continue to make the franchise the centre of a good deal of daily conjecture and intrigue. The Sabres, after all, aren’t likely to steal much of the spotlight.
This is a football franchise that has been searching for a secure future and a winner since the century began.
The search continues. And it’s sure getting interesting.