Roman’s redemption could officially culminate with a playoff win over the Buffalo Bills, the team that set him on his current path in 2016.
As an Atlantic City native, Greg Roman probably knows all about rags-to-riches stories. He’s well on his way to penning his own and can gain a quantum of revenge along the way.
A spotlight will shine on both Roman and his compatriot in offensive coordination Brian Daboll on Saturday night, as the former’s Baltimore Ravens visit Western New York to battle the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional playoffs (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC). The powerful offenses of both Buffalo and Baltimore will face off against not only opposing defenses but a second opponent of Mother Nature. Orchard Park’s Saturday weather forecast heralds an 80 percent chance of snow on Saturday with winds reaching 15-25 miles per hour. This could present a problem for the Bills (second in the NFL at 396.4 yards per game) and the Ravens (NFL-best 191.9 rushing yards per game) and their high voltage offenses.
Earlier this week, Roman talked about what sort of an impact the snow could have on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. The multi-threat and most recent NFL MVP put up 315 total yards in Baltimore’s AFC Wild Card victory over Tennessee last Sunday afternoon.
“The snow will be much easier for him to deal with than some of the heavy sheets of rain, some of the torrential downpours weâ€™ve played in the last couple of years,â€ Roman said, per Aaron Kasinitz of Penn Live. â€œThose are the games that really, really impact it. Snow? Not so much. Wind? Yes; wind can be a major factor.â€
“I definitely think (the snow) can aid somebody with his skillset…as far as the footing of the people trying to corral him.â€
Roman knows all about Buffalo winters. The long-tenured NFL assistant coach spent 18 games as the Bills’ offensive boss over the 2015-16 seasons under Rex Ryan. In one of the more controversial in-season firings in recent memory, Roman was dismissed from the Bills’ staff shortly after a nationally televised loss to the New York Jets in Week 2 of the 2016 campaign. The ousting came after the Bills tallied 393 yards of offense in a 37-31 defeat.
He wasn’t out of the NFL for long, as John Harbaugh came calling in the ensuing offseason, calling Roman to oversee the Ravens’ tight ends for two seasons before his promotion to offensive coordinator in 2019. Roman previously work with Harbaugh’s brother Jim for six seasons at both Stanford University and the San Francisco 49ers.
By now, there’s use in talking about revenge. There’s little leftover from the Ryan days in Buffalo and Roman already made the return to WNY last season when Baltimore took a 24-17 decision in December. Despite being held to only 257 total yards as a team, the Ravens broke through thanks to three scoring passes from Jackson.
Roman’s work with Jackson has earned acclaim and has put him on the shortlist of teams searching for new head coaches. Choosing to center the Baltimore offense around Jackson’s talents both through the air and on the ground, Roman has kept the Ravens in contention since the team moved on from franchise staple Joe Flacco during the 2018 season. Jackson has hit the height of his powers under Roman, with their magnum opus to date likely being last week’s showing in Nashville.
Buffalo is set to counter with their dynamic offensive pair of Daboll and Josh Allen, who have likewise hit new heights together in Orchard Park. Approximately 24 hours before Jackson earned his first playoff victory, Allen likewise broke his own, brief streak of postseason futility, putting up 378 yards and three total scores in the Bills’ 27-24 victory over Indianapolis. With Allen listed as one of the popular contenders to succeed Jackson as the NFL MVP, it’s safe to say that things have worked out on each respective side.
Yet, one can wonder what Roman could’ve done with the fresh clay of Allen has his Buffalo tenure not come to an early end. During his lone full campaign with the Bills, Roman helped another multi-talented threat, Tyrod Taylor, earn the best numbers of his career. It featured Taylor’s personal bests in passing yards (3,035) and total touchdowns (24) as the Bills earned a respectable ledger of 8-8, securing what was then their first pair of non-losing seasons since 1998-2000.
Current Bills radio analyst Eric Wood theorized this week that prior knowledge of Roman’s systems can help the modern incarnation neutralize Jackson. Wood played nine seasons for the Bills and went to the Pro Bowl after Roman’s only full season.
“You can’t completely abandon what you do defensively because you can’t re-learn a defensive scheme in a week,” Wood remarked through team reporter Jordan LaBarber. “You won’t understand all the different aspects of it. That’s what Greg Roman wants you to do. He wants you to get the defense and get your guys into positions that they’re not used to playing. So, you’ll probably see more base defense from the Bills this week than we’ve seen a majority of this season.”
Though Roman got the last laugh in the teams’ meeting last season, the Bills’ defense did manage to hold Jackson in check by allowing only 185 yards out of him. It was the only time that Jackson was held below 200 personal yards during the 2019 season. Baltimore’s offense has undergone little turnover since, with the only major addition being second-round rookie rusher J.K. Dobbins.
While several BIlls defenders have vowed to study the film from that game, Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott believes that Roman is well-capable of adjusting despite the relatively same personnel.
â€œIâ€™m sure theyâ€™ll be looking at that tape,â€ Bills coach Sean McDermott said of his defense, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. â€œTheyâ€™ve got a lot of new stuff this year that weâ€™ve been looking at that theyâ€™ve added to their offense. So, I think itâ€™s a frame of reference, or a reference point, but not a be all end all.â€
An offensive showcase is expected in Orchard Park next weekend, as the Buffalo Bills battle Baltimore for an AFC title game ticket.
The last time Bills Stadium hosted an AFC Divisional playoff game, the Baltimore Ravens didn’t even exist.
That streak will finally end on Saturday night, as the Ravens will descend upon Western New York to battle the Bills in the second round of the NFL’s 2021 postseason tournament. The Bills have earned the prime time slot, as the game will kick off at 8:15 p.m. ET and be broadcast nationally on NBC.
Buffalo (14-3) earned the AFC’s second overall seed but missed out on the lone bye under the new playoff format. The Bills nonetheless took care of business in this weekend’s Wild Card proceedings, topping Indianapolis 27-24 in their first home playoff game since December 1996. Meanwhile, No. 5 Baltimore (12-5) earned entry into the Divisional round with a 20-13 win over Tennessee.
This will be the first postseason meetings between the Bills and Ravens but Baltimore leads the all-time series 6-3, having won the last three matchups. The most recent meeting came in December 2019 in Orchard Park, with the Bills falling 24-17. Lamar Jackson threw three touchdown passes for Baltimore while Josh Allen threw one to Cole Beasley. Buffalo’s last win in the matchup came in September 2013, when they won 23-20 at home
There’s potential for offensive fireworks when the Ravens come to town next weekend. The Ravens aren’t as explosive as they were during their AFC standings-topping campaign last season, but they rediscovered some of their lost prowess on Sunday in Nashville. Baltimore earned 401 yards in their upset victory, with Jackson putting up 315 total yards en route to his first career postseason victory. The Ravens led the league with 191.9 rushing yards per game during the regular season, paced by 1,005 from Jackson. J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards also eclipsed 700 yards and united for 15 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Buffalo, energized by the emergence of Josh Allen and the arrival of Stefon Diggs, was second in the league in total offense at just over 396 yards per game, behind only Kansas City.
Elsewhere on the AFC playoff bracket, the top-seeded Chiefs will take on the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS). On the NFC side, No. 1 Green Bay will take on the sixth-ranked Los Angeles Rams in Saturday’s late afternoon window (4:35 p.m. ET, Fox) while a divisional battle between No. 2 New Orleans and No. 5 Tampa Bay rounds things off at night (6:40 p.m. ET, Fox).
As the Buffalo Bills prepare for the postseason, five of their brightest start received All-Pro nominations.
The Buffalo Bills earned a bit of a morale boost as they prepare for their long-awaited AFC Wild Card matchup at home against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET, CBS). Five Buffalo representatives appeared on the NFL’s All-Pro teams, whose rosters were released on Friday. Stefon Diggs appeared on the first-team group, ending yet another dubious streak in Bills history, as he’s the first receiver to earn the honor in franchise history.
Diggs, 27, has proven to be well worth the four draft picks Buffalo sent west to obtain him from the Minnesota Vikings. Best known for his game-winning touchdown at the end of the 2018 NFC Divisional playoffs against New Orleans, Diggs set Buffalo records with 1,535 yards on 127 receptions, both of which led the league. He earned AFC Player of the Week honors for his Week 16 performance against New England, earning 145 yards and three scores on nine receptions.
Returning to the All-Pro list are returner Andre Roberts and cornerback Tre’Davious White, who were respective first-team members in 2018 and 2019. Roberts led the league with 30 yards per kick return and ranked seventh with a 9.9 average on punts. White is living up to a four-year, $70 million extension ($55 million guaranteed) bestowed to him in September and lived up to it with 57 tackles, 11 pass breakups, and three interceptions despite missing two games due to a back injury.
New to All-Pro lists are quarterback Josh Allen and receiver Cole Beasley, both second-teamers. Like Diggs, Allen spent this season rewriting the Bills’ record books, tallying 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns through the air. Allen was responsible for 46 scores overall, picking up eight rushing tallies and one receiving through a trick play collaboration with John Brown. As for Beasley, he also set career-bests despite missing the last two games of the year with injuries of his own. The former Dallas Cowboy earned 967 yards on 82 receptions, four of which went for six.
The Buffalo Bills are firing on all cylinders as the NFL playoffs get underway. But does the AFC still belong to the Chiefs? ESM investigates.
Are you ready to party like it’s 1994? For once, someone other than New York Rangers fans are willing to do so in the Empire State.
Five months before Mark Messier accepted the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden, the Buffalo Bills battled the Kansas City Chiefs for AFC supremacy in January’s conference title game at what-was-then-known-as Rich Stadium. Through a dominant effort from Thurman Thomas (186 rushing yards and three scores), Buffalo rolled to a 30-13 victory that clinched their fourth consecutive Super Bowl berth.
27 years later, the two teams appear to be on a collision course toward a rematch in the game’s 2021 edition. Kansas City (14-2) and Buffalo (13-3) are the top two seeds in the first edition of the revamped AFC playoffs. Fulfilling the star-crossed prophecies of Western New York sports, Buffalo secure the second overall seed…in the first year that the conference runner-up is not entitled to a bye week (or at least first since the adjusted 1982 playoffs due to a players’ strike). The lone automatic advancement goes to the defending champion Chiefs, while the Bills take on the first extra wild-card, the seventh-seeded Indianapolis Colts, in the official postseason opener on Saturday afternoon (1:05 p.m. ET, CBS). Buffalo missed out on a first-round bye, but, on the brighter side, the earliest they would face the Chiefs is the potential conference title game.
So should the Bills, slowly becoming America’s adoptive squad, be the favorite as the playoffs get underway? ESM investigates why…and why not:
Why: They’re taking care of business
If not for Kyler Murray’s miracle in Glendale back in November, the Bills may have entered the playoffs on a 10-game winning streak…with their last loss coming to Kansas City. Since that heartbreaker in the desert and the ensuing week off, Buffalo has won six in a row, each victory coming by no less than 10 points. They and the Green Bay Packers enter the postseason with the longest active winning streak in the NFL (though Kansas City would probably have a streak of 11 in a row if they hadn’t rested their starters in a Sunday loss to Los Angeles).
The Bills are just winning games…they’re dominating them. Their point differential of 119 over the past six weeks is by far the best in football in that span (fellow AFC participant Baltimore is in second at 92) and the Bills’ offense is averaging just under 430 yards per game (also best in that timeframe). Team records are falling on both the individual (through Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs) and team level. For example, last week’s 56-26 victory a Miami Dolphins team that had much to play for allowed the Bills to set a personal-best for most points scored in a single season (501).
It’s not like the Bills are bullying AFC slouches, either. In addition to eliminating Miami, Buffalo’s winning streak featured a healthy Sunday night win over Pittsburgh. Save for the Arizona nightmare, they won every leg of their interconference slate, which included wins over the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks (who face off in the NFC wild-card match immediately after the Bills-Colts game). If this were the College Football Playoff, we’d likely see the Bills swiping one of the top four spots..probably to play Alabama.
Buffalo’s domination contrasts the relatively exciting football Kansas City has played. Most of the Chiefs’ contributors from their Super Bowl run are back, headlined by the lethal duo of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. But each of the team’s past seven victories has come by only a single possession. The last game featuring Kansas City starters was a sloppy 17-14 slugfest against the eliminated Atlanta Falcons, a game that avoided overtime because of a rare Younghoe Koo miss. Their top unit has another week to get things rolling as they simmer in a first-round bye.
Why Not: They have little playoff experience
The Bills have broken countless streaks of futility this season. One, however, looms large: a postseason win drought dating back to December 1995, when they topped Miami in the Wild Card round. The dry spell nearly ended in Houston last season, but victory slipped through their grasp in overtime. For most of the players on this team, their knowledge of January football stems from either the heartbreaking visit to Buffalo or the 10-3 Wild Card slugfest in Jacksonville back in 2018. The former loss still looms large on the Bills’ psyche as they prepare to attempt to finally get over the hump against the Colts.
â€œIt still lingers a little bit, just knowing the situation of the game, knowing what I couldâ€™ve done differently, reads I couldâ€™ve changed. If I could change it, obviously would, but I canâ€™t, and Iâ€™m glad for the lessons I learned throughout that game and throughout the three years Iâ€™ve been playing so far,â€ quarterback Josh Allen said to Mary Margaret Johnson of WIVB. â€œWithout failure, you wouldnâ€™t know success. Weâ€™ve got to find ways to put our best foot forward and try to get a victory.â€
Kansas City, on the other hand, is the only team in the league that has won playoff games in consecutive seasons, reaching the AFC title game before their Super Bowl triumph over San Francisco last season. According to Mahomes, the former playoff trip played a vital role in his eventual Vince Lombardi Trophy hoist. In his first full year as a starter, the Chiefs topped Indianapolis in the Divisional round before bowing out in overtime to the eventual champions from New England in the AFC title game.
Mahomes mentioned just how important the prior experience was when gearing up for the run to Super Bowl LIV last season.
â€œFor me, I think the only thing that is really different is having the experience,â€ Mahomes said prior to the AFC Divisional round against Houston, per Charles Goldman of Chiefs Wire. â€œBeing able to play in games like this at Arrowhead and being able to win one and lose one. I understand that every single play counts, how much every single rep in practice counts, and how you have to take advantage of every single opportunity that you get.â€
Mahomes’ quick adaptation from playoff heartbreak led to a Super Bowl title. Buffalo will have to channel similar energy if they’re hoping to end this season on the right note.
Why: Their defense is finding a dominant stride
Any battle between the Bills and Chiefs would likely require a backup scoreboard on standby at Arrowhead Stadium. Buffalo (501) and Kansas City (473) are good for first and third respectively in the AFC in scoring, sandwiching Tennessee. The Chiefs top the NFL at just over 415 yards a game, with Buffalo the first team behind them at 396.
But that’s where the Bills’ defense can step in. The NFL may be a league that worships an offensive deity known as “fantasy football”, but several important games over the past few seasons (i.e. Super Bowl LIII) have proven that defense still has its place in modern professional football. Buffalo’s defense is getting hot at the perfect time. Not only did they hold three consecutive opponents under 300 yards in December…almost an impossibility in today’s offense-happy NFL..they’ve been forcing turnovers as well. The Bills have forced at least one turnover in all but one of their past 11 games, the rare exception being their most recent visit to New England, when they allowed only 201 yards of offense in a 38-9 win. In their elimination victory over the Dolphins, they earned four takeaways, headlined by Josh Norman’s interception return for a touchdown.
In a report from team writer Jordan LaBarber, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds described the Bills’ defensive endeavors as “fun” after they dismantled fellow division champion Pittsburgh on national television.
“The biggest thing is starting fast, playing physical, playing free, and guys just having fun. I think, if I had to say the number one thing, it’s having fun. If you have fun, a lot of those things kind of take care of itself,” Edmunds said. “I honestly take my hat off just to the whole, you know, the team, just the people I have around me. I can’t do it all by myself. I think just us as a team, we are having fun. And any time you have fun, I think those plays just kind of show up.”
Why Not: They’re hurting
For most of the season, the Bills dodged the 2020 demons brought on by COVID-19 and injuries. Reserve tight end and goal line target Tyler Kroft, for example, was placed on the reserve list twice but was activated each time without further incident. But the Bills have some major question marks when it comes to their receiving corps as they enter Saturday’s game in Indianapolis.
Diggs would be the scariest absence, as he has missed out on practice on Wednesday due to oblique issues. The NFL’s leading receiver (127 receptions, 1535 yards, both Bills records) has indicated that he’ll be ready to go for the Colts’ visit, but head coach Sean McDermott was more cautious. Diggs did partake in Thursday’s preparation at Bills Stadium, as did Cole Beasley, per photos from Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. The slot receiver Beasley set new career-bests this season (82 receptions, 967 yards) but missed the Week 17 contest with a knee injury. Thursday’s proceedings were his first form of football action since the week prior in New England. Isaiah McKenzie, fresh off a career-game against the Dolphins (three touchdowns, including a punt return), has also been limited all week.
Though Bills fans may exhale about Diggs’ confidence to play this week, the receiver noted how well the Buffalo depth compliments each other. Fourth-round rookie Gabriel Davis has tallied seven scores this season while John Brown made his return in the regular season finale after missing the past five games with a knee and ankle issue.
“Having that depth, having guys, in this playoff run, you donâ€™t whatâ€™s going to happen,” Diggs said in a report from Parrino. “Guys can get hurt, (with) COVID and all the stuff thatâ€™s going on. Having depth doesnâ€™t hurt you. It kind of puts you in space where that next man up is really, really real. I say more so give all the credit being able to find the open man, deliver a strike and being able to have success offensively with the guys you havenâ€™t typically had a lot of reps with.â€
Why: They have Josh Allen
There’s little doubt about Allen’s ability at this point. He has silenced pretty much any doubters with an MVP-worth season that has yielded 46 touchdowns through the air (37), ground (8), a trick play from Brown (1). To put that number in perspective, punter Corey Bojorquez has been called upon only 37 times.
But the feel-good stories of the NFL, particularly those found under center, can quickly be neutralized by a lack of playoff success. For example, it took one botched field goal for Tony Romo to be eternally labeled as a fourth-quarter choker (though his stats often proved otherwise). Jared Goff’s reputation with the Rams hasn’t been the same since a brutal day in the aforementioned Super Bowl against the Patriots. Conquering the postseason is the last hurdle Allen has to clear before officially cementing his superstar status.
Allen escaped a good share of the blame for the heartbreak in Houston, even though he mustered only one receiving touchdown (another toss from Brown) and he had a fumble at the onset of the fourth quarter that led to a Texans field goal. But, with more postseason futility, the inevitable, if not unjust, question of “how many playoff wins does he have?” is inevitably going to come up.
But, going into the postseason, Allen isn’t worried about his personal case. His perspective is entirely team-focused.
“The only thing when I’m on the field is my fear of letting my teammates down,” Allen said to LaBarber. “As quarterback of the team, your job is to move the ball and to score points. So, when we’re not scoring points, that’s my biggest fear. It’s putting our defense in a bind if we’re not moving the chains on third down, again, that puts us behind the eight ball and we’ve got to punt the ball away. That’s what drives me. That’s what motivates me. I fear letting the guys who drafted me, this front office, and this organization, down.”
Why Not: They don’t have Patrick Mahomes…and Travis Kelce…and Andy Reid…and…
October gave us a potential preview of this matchup, with Kansas City prevailing in a somewhat sloppy 26-17 triumph. Each side’s discombobulation could potentially be attributed to the fact it was a Thursday nighter shifted to a Monday late afternoon due to COVID-19 issues with the Bills’ prior opponent in Nashville. But the Bills weren’t looking for excuses.
“We weren’t good enough. I was not good enough,” said Allen, held to a season-low 122 yards, to LaBarber and Dante Lasting. “I got to do a better job. It’s plain and simple. I didn’t play very good tonight. I know that, understand that. This team can’t afford to have me play poorly. Early on, just not being as accurate with the ball as I should have been, making the right reads, making the right throws.”
There is, technically, no shame in losing to Kansas City. Last season’s Super Bowl run was a firm statement that they didn’t save the AFC from New England monopoly…they simply declared the conference was under new management. The Chiefs were not only set up for short-term success but packed things up for the long-term, locking Mahomes to his infamous half-billion-dollar deal that somehow seems like too little. Super Bowl hero Damien Williams (understandably) opted out of the 2020 proceedings and the Chiefs didn’t lose a step, sustained by Mahomes’ passing antics to weapons like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. So there’s little shame in colliding with a team of destiny and coming out on the wrong end.
But the Bills know that success in the NFL is far too fleeting to rely on the future. That Jacksonville team that beat them in 2018 went to the AFC title game and seem destined for a return trip. The Jaguars are now choosing first in the 2021 NFL Draft this spring.
It’s going to be hard to top Kansas City, but first thing’s first…beating the Colts on Saturday.
The Buffalo Bills booted the Miami Dolphins from the AFC playoff bracket with a dominant effort in Orchard Park.
The Buffalo Bills’ historic regular season ended with “Scoragami“, a No. 2 seed, and a gift for the Tennessee Titans.
Buffalo capped off a dominant stretch with a 56-26 victory over the Miami Dolphins in the 2020 regular-season finale at Bills Stadium. Isaiah McKenzie scored two touchdowns through the air, while Antonio Williams added two more on the ground. Receivers Gabriel Davis and John Brown also had touchdowns, the latter also earned 72 yards in his first action since November 15 in Arizona.
With the win, the Bills (13-3) have clinched their best win tally since 1991 and they also locked up the No. 2 seed in the upcoming AFC playoffs. While the first-round bye only applies to the top-seeded Chiefs, the Bills will be assured of a home game if they reach the Divisional round and will face the defending champion from Kansas City no earlier than the AFC title game. Their win over the Dolphins (10-6) also allowed the Tennessee Titans to clinch a playoff spot and put Miami’s own playoff dreams on life support, now needing a loss from the Indianapolis Colts to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
ESM hands out game balls from the final regular season game…
Those tuning in were treated to a lite version of Allen, who was removed in the early stages of the second half for Matt Barkley. While he struggled in the early going, a stretch that included his first interception since Week 14 against Pittsburgh, he was able to turn the game into one last case for MVP voters, tallying three touchdowns, including one to the returning John Brown, before giving way to Matt Barkley. Allen also managed to cap off his 16-game slate with one more team record, passing Drew Bledsoe’s mark in 2002 for the best passing-yard tally in a single season.
Norman gave fans an incredible blast from the past in the rout. In addition to two crucial pass breakups (one of which stifled a Miami comeback deep in the red zone), he took back a Tagovailoa interception 16 yards for a score to help bury their aquatic foes. It was Norman’s first touchdown since the pair he scored during his magical 2015 season in Carolina. Under Norman’s veteran leadership, Buffalo’s secondary is firing on all cylinders at the perfect time. In addition to the three turnovers, the defense let up only 171 yards from opposing throwers in their prior contests.
Often seen as a “gimmick” receiver that comes up big on trick plays, McKenzie played a larger role on the receiving front on Sunday with Cole Beasley injured and Stefon Diggs getting some rest. He took full advantage of his extended opportunity, earning new single-game bests and his first multi-touchdown game. McKenzie also scored through more traditional methods, taking back a punt 84 yards for a score that more or less put the game away early in the first half.
In 2020, we learned just how small sports were on the grand scale. Even so, these New Yorkers brought hope and joy to the beleaguered area.
Ah, 2020…we knew ye too well.
“Auld Lang Syne” will hit a little differently this New Year’s Eve, as the country and the world entire prepares to bid farewell to one of the most brutal 366-day cycles in recent memory. The year even took away sports at one point in time, which might’ve almost been seen as a merciful act considering the modern endeavors of New York sports. Metropolitan athletics have consistently fallen far short of their inflated expectations. Save for the New York Islanders’ surprise trip to the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals, each of New York’s teams either endured early postseason exits or missed out entirely.
Yet, there were several names in the sports world, before and after the period of pause and reflection, that gave the metropolitan area hope in this brutal season. ESM bids farewell with 20 legends…
So brutal were metropolitan affiars this season that we had to turn to our friends in Western New York. But, unless you’re a Jets who has two annual meetings with Allen to dread for the foreseeable future, it’s hard not to appreciate what Allen has done for the Bills’ franchise, defying draft day expectations out of Wyoming and playing a vital role in ending their 17-year playoff drought and turning them into Super Bowl contenders. Entering Sunday’s regular season final against Miami (1 p.m. ET, CBS), Allen has broken Jim Kelly’s record for most touchdown passes in a single season of Bills football (34) and is within striking distance of Drew Bledsoe’s yardage record of the same variety. Allen has also taken home six Offensive Player of the Week Awards in his career (four this season), second only to the ten earned by the aforementioned Kelly.
As the New York Islanders go through a period of both transition and prosperity…being one of the rare metropolitan teams to experience postseason success in 2020…Barzal has evolved into a face of the franchise, taking over from the Toronto-based John Tavares. Appropriately, it was Barzal that informed the hockey world that the Islanders were going to be a problem in the bubble, scoring the game-winning goal in the their 2-1 win over Washington in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal round, a tally that gave the Islanders a 3-0 lead in the series. Ironically, Barzal’s moment of glory came in Tavares’ current stomping grounds of Scotiabank Arena.
The New York Jets have a lot of questions to answer once the calendar officially flips. But Becton, the Jets’ first-round choice (11th overall) out of Louisville is crossing one need off their offseason shopping list. Called upon to protect Sam Darnold’s blindside, Becton has become one of the most dominant young blockers in football, ranking at or near the top of several analytical rookie lists. The Jets aren’t quite sure who their quarterback is going come next September. They do know, however, that Becton will be serving as his security.
Formerly under general manager Dave Gettleman’s watch in Carolina, Bradberry came to New York with relatively little fanfare. He has since gone on to become one of the biggest reasons why the Giants have a shot at anotherwise inexplicable playoff spot. Bradberry has done his part to make sure that Big Blue is at least well represented in the SportsCenter Top 10, making several acrobatic interceptions that led to his first Pro Bowl nomination.
A lot of adjustment was required to make it through 2020, but the Mets remained their same disappointing selves, tying with the defending champion Washington Nationals for last place in the NL East. But, thanks to new owner Cohen, there’s legitimate hope in the organization for the first time in ages. The Great Neck-born hedge fund manager has immediately endeared himself to fans with promises to use his surplus budget in free agency (which manifested early with the signing of James McCann), his willingness to clean house shortly after his arduous purchase was completed, and his lighthearted interactions with supporters on Twitter.
The shortened seasons denied Yankees fans the full Cole experience in the early going, but it’s safe to say the newly minted $324 million man lived up to the hype. He saved the best for last, earning a 1.00 ERA over four starts in September and later struck out 13 without a walk in the Yankees’ Wild Card Series win over Cleveland. Such a feat had been accomplished since Tom Seaver’s endeavor in the 1973 NLCS.
The trade for Diggs feels like it happened years ago, as do all the tweets and thoughtpieces that claim the Bills gave up too much for the former Minnesota Viking. But the Minneapolis Miracle worker has made the four-pick exchange worth it, even erasing the fact that the Bills missed out on rookie sensation Justin Jefferson. Like Allen, Diggs is rewriting the Bills’ record book, breaking Eric Moulds’ former marks for single-season for receptions (120) and yardage (1,459). Both of tallies lead the NFL entering the final week of the regular season.
Brooklyn Nets fans received a bit of a special Christmas gift this year, as they were finally treated to Kevin Durant’s debut in black and white. Teamed up with Kyrie Irving, the ten-time All-Star hasn’t lost a step, putting 28.3 points and 5.8 rebounds over his first four games. Durant apparently saved the best for first, torching his former compatriots from Golden State for 22 points on opening night before scoring 29 in a Christmas win over Boston.
The draft lottery has turned into a cruel custom for the blue and orange hardwood representatives in New York, but the Liberty hit the jackpot with the drafting of Ionescu in April. The city didn’t get the full Ionescu treatment in her rookie season, with an ankle injury limiting her metropolitan antics to three games. But the Oregon alumna is on pace to be a true face of women’s sports in the area, with her jersey sales ranking fourth in the WNBA this season. Ionescu gave her new Brooklyn fanbase something to be excited about before fate stepped in, scoring 33 points in only her second career contest.
Irving’s 2020 heroics likewise required patience. He partook in only 20 games during the shortened 2019-20 campaign (none of them during the Nets’ endeavor in Disney World) but managed to drop 54 points (on 19-of-23 shooting from the field) in a January win over Chicago. Irving likewise emerged as one of the most vocal voices in social change alongside his basketball brothers and sisters. He was more than willing to carry on his basketball antics on the court once he was ready to get rolling again, torching the Celtics for 37 points on Christmas.
Perhaps no one defined the 2020 New York Liberty sense of resiliency and development better than Jones. Bookending the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft with Ionescu, Jones took full advantage of relatively consequence-free basketball, making herself essential when the Liberty’s plethora of veterans potentially return in 2021. The Louisville alumna took over point guard duties after Ionescu went down, resuming a role she last played during her high school days at Florida A&M University’s Developmental Research School. She put up 10.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game, earning a spot on the league’s official all-rookie team.
Signer of a six-year deal to remain an Islander before the season started, Nelson became one of the team’s most reliable and clutch performers during their run to the conference finals. He scored three game-winning goals and finished second on the team in postseason points with 18.
New York Guardians Defense
The second attempt at XFL feels like an endeavor from years ago, but briefly took over the February calendar with a slate that wound up lasting five games. It allowed MetLife Stadium to enjoy at least some form of victorious football, as the local Guardians won each of their two games at the venue. Their defense was particularly strong, as Cavon Walker led the league in sacks (4.5) and six different defenders earned at least one interception.
If there was ever a year toÂ notÂ take risks, 2020 was certainly at, or at least near, the top of the list. Despite Panarin’s many talents, many saw the Rangers’ seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the former Blue Jacket (a smaller price tag after Panarin spurned the Islanders) as too much dedication to a single player. But Panarin lived up to the massive deal, finishing off the shortened season with a career-best 95 points (good for a third-place tie on the NHL ledger).
As a Rutgers alum, New Jersey native, and the man who took Tom Brady’s final New England throw back for a touchdown, Ryan seemed destined for a metropolitan collaboration. The Giants took the plunge shortly before the season began, and Ryan has rewarded them with a strong showing that has included good coverage, 91 tackles, and an interception that clinched the season sweep against Washington (which will come up big if the two sides tie for the NFC lead after Sunday). It has been an emotional season for Ryan, whose wife Ashley endured an ectopic pregnancy. Ryan later inked a three-year deal to stay with the Giants on Christmas Day.
The National Women’s Soccer League was the first North American team sports league to make its return this summer, staging its annual Challenge Cup festivities in Utah. Sky Blue FC, their debut season at Red Bull Arena pushed back due to obvious reasons, had struggled in recent years but put on a strong showing with a fourth-place finish. Sheridan was the driving force behind the effort, winning the tournament’s Golden Glove award to the tune of three shutouts. Sky Blue also had a respectable showing in the NWSL’s fall showcase, earning a matching fourth-place mark.
Wishing someone association with the James Dolan-owned sounds like a punishment one would avoid giving their worst enemy…at least their worst hardwood enemy. Thibodeau, however, returns to the ranks of head coaching to face what’s his toughest challenge yet. But, unlike his predecessors, it appears Thibodeau has a plan for the Knicks moving forward, seeking to change the culture and build a team-centered atmosphere. So far, it’s played in the Knicks’ favor. The team has played competitively in the infantile stages of the season, sitting at 2-2 after the first four games (including a dominant win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee). They’ll have chance to end the season on the right note on Friday night against Toronto (7:30 p.m. ET, MSG).
The jokes against Islander goaltending officially ended, or were at least put on hold, through Varlamov’s efforts. He came up with several big saves during the playoff trek and was one of only six goalies inside the Canada bubbles to record multiple shutouts. His 2.14 goals against average was also fourth amongst goalies with at least 10 playoff starts.
Williams retook control of the narrative surrounding his career, as many felt he was destined to be a bust after struggling in his rookie season (and with Pro Bowler Josh Allen going shortly after him). But Williams responded with a stellar sophomore season, leading all interior defensive linemen in both traditional and analytical categories as one of the most consistent backfield invaders in the league.
Zibanejad is perhaps responsible for the most dominant one-man effort of the 2020 sports season, tallying a jaw-dropping five goals, including the overtime winner in a March win over the Capitals. The yield from one of the biggest robberies in New York sports memory (the biggest loss being Derick Brassard to Ottawa in the trade), Zibanejad again put up his best numbers despite a shutdown, scoring 41 goals (fifth in the league) in 57 games.
The Buffalo Bills were division champions either way, but a national display of power meant a little more considering who it came against.
Trophies for division titles don’t exist in the NFL. There was no trophy ceremony after the Buffalo Bills won their first AFC East honor last weekend in the Rocky Mountains. Sure, a good portion of Bills Mafia flocked to Buffalo Niagara International Airport to welcome them home, but there was no, say, sword or official championship belt to display upon landing.
But the Bills were more than happy to stage a coronation ceremony in front of a national audience on Monday night.
Granted their fourth consecutive nationally televised contest, the Bills added insult to the New England Patriots’ injury to the tune of a 38-9 shellacking at Gillette Stadium. Buffalo (12-3) dominated every aspect of the victory, outgaining New England 474-201, limiting them to 11 first downs, forcing a quarterback change that signified that the search for Tom Brady’s successor is anything but over, and causing the eternally stoic Belichick to lose his cool on an innocent sideline phone.
The victory is the Patriots’ most one-sided loss of the Belichick era and the worst endured at the modern Foxboro stadium since its 2002 opening.
On paper, the victory over a Patriots team that fell to 6-9 on the season. Buffalo did what they were supposed to do. They did a little thing, thoroughly defeat a squad removed from the playoff picture, extraordinarily well.
But there’s no denying that the opponent played a role in Buffalo’s elation.
â€œWeâ€™re nobodyâ€™s little brother. Weâ€™re not nobodyâ€™s little cousin, little dog,â€ offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said of the win, per Sean T. McGuire of NESN. â€œWe are here. Youâ€™re going to respect us and youâ€™re going to play us hard. Youâ€™re going to circle us on your schedule.â€
Monday marked the exorcising of horrifying gridiron demons beyond imagination, malevolent football spirits that had haunted Western New York since the turn of the century. The two most dreaded days in Buffalo in recent years…other than opening night of Sabres season…have been the yearly get-togethers with the Patriots. New England entered 2020 with a downright jaw-dropping 35-5 advantage in the new millennium. One of the rare Buffalo victories came when Brady was serving a suspension for his role in the infamous “Deflategate” incident.
But with Brady having absconded to Tampa Bay (and joining the Bills in the NFL playoffs), the Patriots have fallen and the questions have only accumulated. The Bills took a hard-fought 24-21 decision from New England in the Orchard Park portion in November and had a chance to earn their first double against the Patriots since 1999. They entered the game as Foxboro favorites and were in no danger whatsoever of losing their status as division champion.
A nationally televised opportunity to earn that elusive sweep, however, was a perfect chance to stage a changing of the guard through symbolism often found only in storybooks.
The Patriots’ utter dominance in the Buffalo series often served as fuel toward their unprecedented streak of AFC East titles, winning all but three since 2000. Those wins over the Bills (as well as wins over fellow also-rans from East Rutherford and Miam) were unimpressive and easy to dismiss on paper. But New England did those little things extraordinarily well, and did so on a consistent basis. It’s part of the reason why they have, more often than not, been among at least the final four contenders come Super Bowl time.
Buffalo’s synergy in symbolism and the timing of one of their most dominant efforts in recent memory could not have been better. Whereas New England faces indefinite questions about their franchise quarterback slot after Cam Newton was mercifully pulled from the proceedings for Jarrett Stidham, Josh Allen threw four more touchdown passes and strengthened his MVP case. The Patriots’ shortcomings on both the free agent and draft fronts were made all the more apparent through the efforts of Buffalo acquisitions like Stefon Diggs (9 receptions, 145 yards, 3 touchdowns). Shown to be unstoppable to opposing defense over the past few weeks, Allen and Diggs have also laid waste to the Bills’ record books, shattering historic marks left and right en route to AFC East supremacy. Diggs is now the Bills’ single-season leader in receptions and yardage, surpassing campaigns from Eric Moulds, while Allen broke Jim Kelly’s long-standing touchdown pass record.
Elsewhere, day three depth gem Siran Neal, normally a safety, channeled his high school days at Miami Killian and picked up a first down through a fake punt reception from fellow former Cougar Jaquan Johnson…another choice found at the tail-end of the draft.
Those who bore the most brutal form of New England-based punishment played their part in the victory as well. Reserve tight end Lee Smith, used primarily for his blocking talents, scored a four-yard touchdown that permanently shifted momentum after a New England scoring drive…one that proved to be their last thanks to a sterling defensive effort from a Bills defense featuring Jerry Hughes. Smith and Hughes are the lone holdovers from Buffalo’s 17-year playoff drought and the New England nightmares that came with it.
There was no better way for Buffalo to inform New England that there was a new sheriff in town and to warn the rest of the NFL that their Super Bowl dreams are just as legitimate as those conjured in Kansas City.
“Weâ€™re going to come out swinging out the gate. Thatâ€™s just Buffalo Bills football,â€ Hughes said in a report from Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. â€œWe find a way to put our backs against the wall, thatâ€™s our mentality. Once that kickoff happens, youâ€™re getting us. Youâ€™re getting dogs, youâ€™re getting controlled aggression. Weâ€™re coming at you.â€
“This is an organization, being the Patriots, that (has) given the Bills fits over the years,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said in the postgame, per Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “Itâ€™s a win in both games against the Patriots and then to win the way we did tonight, I think it just speaks volumes about our players and coaches and the team that (general manager Brandon Beane) has put on the field.â€
Hughes was all too gleeful to add that, after years of enduring New England’s bullying, it was fun to be on the dealing end of it.
“I was telling some of the guys on the sideline, I havenâ€™t had this feeling in Foxborough ever,â€ Hughes said in the Parrino update. â€œThis was a nice feeling to come back here in this stadium and return a nice punch in the face. It felt good.â€
One could write a book about the dubious streaks this magical season has ended. Buffalo knows their most vital streaks…particularly those of postseason futility…loom large.
But this slaying of the metaphorical New England dragon shouldn’t just scare the Patriots’ faithful…but the rest of the league as the playoffs approach.
The changing of the guard in the AFC East was officially completed with the Buffalo Bills’ blowout win in Foxboro.
The holiday may be a time for forgiveness and unity…but the Buffalo Bills weren’t interested in bestowing such virtues against one of their greatest tormenters.
Buffalo (12-3) put up 476 yards of offense and watched Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs make team history in their seasonal wrap-up with the New England Patriots. The ensuing 38-9 victory allowed the Bills to clinch their first season sweep of the six-time champions since 1999. They also earned the most one-sided victory for an opponent at Gillette Stadium since its opening in 2002, breaking a record set my the San Francisco 49ers earlier this season.
The Bills are no longer able to catch the Kansas City Chiefs for the top seed in the AFC playoffs but are now guaranteed to place no worse than third in the opening bracket. Buffalo currently holds the second seed thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker with Pittsburgh. Such a seeding will also allow the Bills to avoid the defending champion Chiefs until the potential conference title game.
ESM has game balls to hand out from a downright historic evening on the road…
Smith is one of two leftovers from the Bills’ postseason drought, currently in the midst of his second stint and sixth season with a charging buffalo on his helmet. Used primarily as a blocker, Smith almost got into the scorebook last week but his touchdown in Denver was erased by a penalty. The Buffalo offense had him covered this time around, though, as he would score a four-yard touchdown in the latter stages of the first half to put Buffalo up 17-9. Smith would later earn a 27-yard reception in the fourth quarter to set up Allen and Diggs’ third and final scoring hookup on the evening. His 31-yard output was his highest since November 2018, when he was a member of the Raiders.
Another week, another breakthrough performance for Allen, who is eliminating any remaining doubters he had left. More Buffalo history awaited him on Monday, as Allen’s fourth and final score of the evening, his 34th of the season, broke Jim Kelly’s single-season record for touchdown passes. That mark had stood since 1991. Relieved for Matt Barkley in the fourth quarter, Allen is 40 yards away from breaking Drew Bledsoe’s record tally for single-campaign yardage.
Finally armed with a team capable of conquering the AFC East, the Bills were more than happy to flex their muscles in front of a New England team that has bullied them since the turn of the century. Diggs, engaged in a war of words with J.C. Jackson all night, and his incredible run-after-the-catch prowess were some of their most prominent displays of supremacy, His 50-yard score just before halftime more or less snapped the Patriots’ will. That score allowed Diggs to make Buffalo history in style, as he surpassed a pair of historic years from Eric Moulds to become the Bills’ single-season leader in receiving yardage. Diggs is also on pace to finish the year as the NFL’s leader in both receptions and yardage, which would be a first for a Bill in both categories.
The Buffalo Bills’ 2021 was finalized during Sunday’s action, as the outliers are shown to be fellow division champions.
While the Buffalo Bills are doing their best to make 2020 tolerable, it’s hard not to join the rest of the nation and look toward next year, especially with December 31 mercifully approaching.
Through a series of scenarios, the Bills’ 2021 list of opponents was finalized, primarily through the crowing of fellow division champions. The Bills are also set to face competition from the AFC South and NFC South, as well as their yearly pair against AFC East divisional competition.
ESM looks ahead at the Bills’ 2021 slate below…
The Bills and Falcons don’t meet often, but it’s often dramatic when they do. Five of the six most recent meetings have been one-possession games, including Atlanta’s overtime victory when they last visited Orchard Park in 2013.
Buffalo will welcome Carolina to Bills Stadium for the second edition of the de facto Sean McDermott Bowl. McDermott’s former employers gave him a rude welcome to head coaching in the first meet-up in 2017, when the Panthers prevailed in a 9-3 win in Charlotte.
Houston’s visit will be their first since 2015, a 30-21 Bills victory. This will also be the first get-together between the teams since their instant classic wild-card showdown back in Janaury, won by the Texans in a 22-19 final.
This former AFC East rivalry will mark the first time the Colts come to visit since their snow battle in December 2017. Indianapolis took home a 37-5 triumph in 2018 at home in the interim.
The Bills will visit Duval County for the first time since making their playoff return in January 2018, falling 10-3 in a wild-card slugfest to a Jaguars team destined for the AFC title game. While the presumed addition of Trevor Lawrence should generate headlines, this game will also be the first showdown between Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Jaguars pass rusher Josh Allen.
Kansas City (Away)
Could this be an AFC title game rematch come next season? Time will only tell, but hopefully, there will be less drama around its staging. The 2020 matchup between the Bills and Chiefs was initially scheduled for Fox and NFL Network’s Thursday Night FootballÂ package, but had to be shifted due to complications with the ongoing health crisis.
The Dolphins are one of two opponents remaining on the Bills’ ongoing slate, as the team will square off in the Week 17 finale. Buffalo will be going for its second straight sweep of Miami, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 2006-07.
New England (Home/Away)
Another opportunity for a divisional sweep comes on Monday night, as the Bills have a chance to truly cement their status as the new kings of the AFC East with a sweep of the eliminated Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC). Buffalo’s last sweep of the Patriots came in 1999, the final year before Bill Belichick’s Foxboro-based reign of terror began.
New Orleans (Away)
The Bills have ended countless dubious streaks this season, but will have to wait until next year to conquer a demon that has been anything but The Big Easy. Buffalo has not beaten New Orleans since 1998, with the Saints winning all five meetings since.
NY Jets (Home/Away)
Will this meeting feature a new quarterback adversary for Allen instead of his offseason buddy Sam Darnold? Either way, the Bills have taken control of the rivalry, winning four of the past six meetings, including their first season sweep since 2015.
Victories over the Steelers that set off big celebrations are becoming a bit of a tradition in Western New York. The Bills clinched a playoff spot with a win in Pittsburgh in 2019 and NBC’s Sunday Night FootballÂ cameras made their first trek to Bills Stadium since 2007 to document the team’s 26-15 triumph earlier this month.
Tampa Bay (Away)
The Tom Brady nightmare isn’t over quite yet, or at least Buccaneer fans hope it won’t be. Buffalo has been one of the biggest victims of Brady’s dominance, as the arguable GOAT owns a 32-3 record against the Bills.
It was the delay in the Tennessee visit that caused the aforementioned rescheduling of the Bills’ meeting with the defending champion Chiefs. This will mark the fourth consecutive season to feature a showdown between the Bills and Titans, whose most recent tilt had the honor of being the NFL’s first Tuesday game in almost a decade.
With apologies to Lexus, the Buffalo Bills have been the true providers of a “December to Remember” in 2020.
With the Christmas season in full swing, the Bills are enjoying one of the most successful and publicized campaigns in team history. Buffalo (11-3) has won four in a row, including each of their three December contests. That trio has each been televised to a national audience, and that trend will continue on Monday when the Bills battle the New England Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN). They can clinch the second overall seed in the AFC playoff bracket with a win over the Patriots and a Pittsburgh loss to Indianapolis on Sunday.
In the midst of their preparation, the Bills did take some time to acknowledge the holiday as they prepare to head to Foxboro. For example, it began to look at lot like Christmas at the team facility this week, appropriately on December 24. Quarterback Josh Allen bore a green sweatshirt under his practice jersey, bearing the insignia “Felic Navidad” and an animated image of namesake and starting offensive lineman Jon Feliciano dressed as Santa Claus. Receiver Stefon Diggs likewise appeared to be clad in such a hoodie. A certain Buffalo defender gave a whole new meaning to “White Christmas”, as cornerback Tre’Davious White wore gold cleats adorned with wreaths, holly, and lights.
The Bills also made time for gift-giving during the week. Fortunately for the fans, these Christmas surprises came not through Sunday turnovers, as they kept the exchange to off-the-field…heck, maybe even off-the-road…endeavors.
Buffalo receivers had a special surprise for receivers coach Chad Hall, coming together to purchase the former Air Force second lieutenant with a new Ford F-150 pickup truck. Hall’s emotional reaction was captured in a video since deleted from Isaiah McKenzie’s Instagram page but preserved by The Bills Wire’s Bradley Gelber.
As a team, the Bills commemorated the holiday by having their players sing the seasonal carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. The video’s introduction features general manager Brandon Beane channeling Randy Quaid’s character fromÂ National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, clad in a bathrobe and Bills winter hat. Beane also jokingly laments that he and the front office were unable to find better singers for the holiday season.