How the Bills expect to reach playoffs, vie for AFC dominance for years to come

Coach Sean McDermott has led the Bills to the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, including three years straight. Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott had a plan for after practice Wednesday.

The Bills have made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons as McDermott joined Marv Levy as the only Bills coaches to do that, making the postseason feel like the new norm in Buffalo.

The coach wanted to take some of his younger players aside to remind them how tough it is to get to this point.

“That critical piece of that for us going forward is we make sure [the younger] guys don't take it for granted,” McDermott said. “Make sure those guys know, because they will eventually become the leaders that then educate and influence the younger guys that come in as we go down the road here.”

That education reflects the changing tide that has occurred in Buffalo under McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane. It started with the end of an 18-year playoff drought in 2017 that was the longest in North American professional sports. After a down 2018, the Bills have rattled off three straight 10-plus-win seasons with a roster set up to compete for years to come.

“I don't want to say that it's expected to make the playoffs, but the standard that we hold ourselves to, it kind of is,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “That's the expectations that we have going forward. And really, every year it's our goal to make the playoffs and give ourselves the chance to go win the Super Bowl.”

The Bills have a chance Sunday to clinch the AFC East title for a second straight year against the struggling New York Jets (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). Buffalo needs a win or a New England Patriots (10-6) loss at the Miami Dolphins (8-8) to set up at least one home playoff game. It would be the first time the Bills have clinched the division in front of a home crowd since 1995. Having at least one home playoff game would be good news since the Bills are 0-3 in road playoff games under McDermott.

“One of our coaches was talking earlier about his neighbor, a season-ticket holder for 20 years, and it would be the first time he's ever seen the Bills win the AFC [East] at home,” safety Jordan Poyer said. “We know how special it would be. Obviously, we've got to continue one day at a time and put the work in this week to be ready to execute on Sunday.”

The Patriots, led by coach Bill Belichick, ruled the division for many years, winning it all but two times from 2001 to 2019. New England recovered from the departure of future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady before the 2020 season quicker than many expected and clinched a playoff berth last week. The teams each won a game in their regular-season series and there is a 33% chance they meet again in the wild-card round, per ESPN’s Football Power Index.

The Bills have won three straight games, but the season has been full of ups and downs, from a big win in Kansas City early in the season to a shocking loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Overall, the team has stayed relatively healthy, with only three players going on injured reserve during the season -- cornerback Tre'Davious White, defensive tackle Justin Zimmer and offensive lineman Ike Boettger.

Beyond this year, the Bills expect to remain contenders because of the cornerstone players they have signed to long-term deals.

Allen has been a top-six quarterback the past two seasons and gives the team a chance to win every time he steps on the field. He's under contract through 2028, thanks to his six-year, $258 million extension. Pro Bowl left tackle Dion Dawkins has been playing well, especially as of late, and is signed through 2024. Linebacker Matt Milano re-signed with the Bills last offseason, and White, a 2020 Pro Bowl corner, is signed through 2025.

“It's no secret that we got here, it's not by accident that we made it to the playoffs,” cornerback Levi Wallace said. “We put the work in, we worked for it. We have great leadership, right guys in great roles and pivotal roles and how we're together. We're a close-knit team and we know what it takes and especially the experience that we got last year going to the AFC Championship Game.”