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The Playoff History of the Buffalo Bills

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As we know all too well, the Buffalo Bills have a storied past. With 31 career playoff games played since 1960, the Bills have a record of 14-17. More importantly, despite making it to the Super Bowl four times, they have not been able to earn their first ring as a franchise.


This article will take a deeper dive into the historic Buffalo playoff teams of the past.

Four Consecutive Playoff Appearances in the 60s

Back before a number of you were Buffalo Bills fans, the team experienced great success, making the playoffs from 1963-1966. Although they have never won the Super Bowl, Buffalo does have two championships coming right before the AFL-NFL merger in 1966.


One key culprit in making the Bills a competitive team in the 60s was Buffalo star QB, Jack Kemp. In 1965, Kemp won the AP AFL Player of the Year award. He earned six Pro Bowl berths with the Bills.


Coached by Lou Saban (no relation to Nick Saban), Buffalo finished with the AFL East’s best record in 1964 and 1965. For having the highest win-loss percentage back then, you automatically clinched a spot in the Championship game. Buffalo dominated the then-San Diego Chargers in those Championship title games in back-to-back seasons, winning 23-0 and 20-7.


It wasn’t until 1974 when the Bills made their next playoff appearance. Facing the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, the Bills struggled to break through the “Steel Curtain” defense.


Even the powerful O.J. Simpson, running behind future Hall-of-Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure and “The Electric Company”, couldn’t top the 32 points Terry Bradshaw’s crew put up. Buffalo lost 32-14.

The Beginning of a New Era (1980’s)

With just over six years since their last playoff appearance in 1974, the Buffalo Bills went 11-5 in 1980 to make the Divisional Round. Facing Don Coryell’s San Diego Chargers, the Bills would lose 20-14. Fortunately, Buffalo made it back to the playoffs the very next year.


Playing the New York Jets in the Wild Card game in 1981, Buffalo got out to a hot start, leading 24-0 before the Jets could score any points. They made it close, but the Bills, coached by Chuck Knox, came away with a 31-27 win. 


Their next opponent was the high-scoring Cincinnati Bengals. In this one, the Bengals got out to a 14-0 lead before the Bills could get on the board. It was a back-and-forth game, but the Bills could not beat the Bengals, losing 28-21. The Bengals would go on to lose in the Super Bowl a couple of games later.


With that, the Bills Mafia had to wait until the 1988 playoffs before they made it back to the elimination games.


Now, coached by Hall-of-Famer Marv Levy, and quarterbacked by another Hall-of-Famer in Jim Kelly, Buffalo suddenly had a plethora of talent. Defensively, the Bills had one of the greatest players ever in Bruce Smith, the NFL’s all-time sack leader. I could watch the highlights of Smith all day. However, if you were a quarterback, No. 78 was the last guy you’d want to see within your field of vision.


Other HOF greats such as Andre Reed and Thurman Thomas helped the Bills become an offense few could slow down.


While the 1988 and 1989 teams only won one playoff game, they helped build a foundation that set up the nostalgic memories of the 90s.

The Greatest Era in Buffalo Bills History (1990’s)

The 2020s may prove to be the greatest decade in Buffalo Bills’ history. But for now, the best time to be alive for a Bills fan was in the 1990s. The Bills installed a brand-new no-huddle, hurry-up offense to catch opponents off-guard, allowing the Bills to utilize their offensive weapons to their advantage.


With a six-year streak from 1988-1993, Buffalo became an annual lock for the playoffs. They also clinched spots in ’95, ’96, ’98, and ’99. The only years they didn’t make the playoffs were in 1994 and 1997. Simply put, they were the class of the AFC East.


Although they were on top of the AFC, the NFC East became a thorn in their side in the years ahead.

Super Bowl XXV

In 1990, Bruce Smith was an absolute monster, sacking quarterbacks 19 times to earn Defensive Player of the Year. The Bills finished with the best record (13-3) in the AFC led by a no-huddle offense featuring a trio of Pro Bowl skill position players. Buffalo scored 26.8 points per game, more than any other team in the NFL, and they led the league in point differential. Buffalo easily won their first two playoff games to set them up for a date with the New York Giants in the big dance.


Pitting the highest-scoring team against the defense, allowing the least points, Super Bowl XXV was a great game that went down to the final moment. With the Giants leading 20-19, Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood lined up for the game-winning 47-yard field goal, only to have the kick miss and go off to the right. Everyone in Buffalo was devastated after such a captivating year of success. Bills fans remember this game as “The Miss” or “47-Wide Right”.

Super Bowl XXVI

Coming off an exciting year in which they nearly won it all, there was sustained optimism when the ’91 season rolled around. Although the record has since been broken, it was then that Bills fans set a single-season attendance record of 635,889 people at what was known as “Rich Stadium”. Thurman Thomas gave fans a good run for their money by parlaying all that local Bills stadium support into an MVP season, and yet another Super Bowl run as the Bills again finished with the best record in the AFC.


This time, the Bills had to face Washington, who held the best record in the NFL and scored more points than any other team. Super Bowl XXVI was ideal for those who like high-powered offenses as it featured the only two teams from 1991 to score more than 400 points over the course of 16 games.


Early in the second quarter, Washington got out to a quick 17-0 start of which Buffalo could not recover. Pro Bowl quarterback Jim Kelly was under constant fire, being sacked four times and throwing four interceptions leading to an eventual 37-24 Bills loss.

Super Bowl XXVII 

The road to Super Bowl XXVII for Buffalo wasn’t nearly as easy as it was for them in years past. Or at least that’s how they made it look. Entering the playoffs as a Wild Card team, they took the Houston Oilers to overtime before winning on a clutch 32-yard Steve Christie kick to advance to the Divisional Round.


Once they got to the Super Bowl, it was to face the Dallas Cowboys who were just beginning to build their dynasty with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. 


As the game got to the second quarter, it was apparent the Bills were in big trouble, star quarterback Jim Kelly got hurt, and backup Frank Reich had to take over. This game was an all-out disaster. The Bills turned the ball over a Super Bowl-record nine times, which the Cowboys used to score 35 of their 52 points. 


For the first time in Super Bowl history, the NFL booked a halftime performer to perform a musical act. Michael Jackson did his thing, and the rest is history. O.J. Simpson was also a part of the broadcast announcing crew for the game. It was a different time.


The Bills became the first team in NFL history to lose three consecutive Super Bowls. Sure it sucks, but it’s also damn impressive that they could climb the mountain again each time after being deflated. That reflects their toughness and desire never to give up.

Super Bowl XXVIII

The Super Bowl at the end of the 1993 season presented the only time the same two teams met back-to-back for a chance to win it all. Buffalo finally had some first-half momentum, leading 13-6 at the break. But it was all Dallas from there, with them scoring 24 unanswered second-half points. Everything that could go wrong for the Bills did. 


Thurman Thomas lost the football twice, and Buffalo’s porous D couldn’t stop Super Bowl MVP Emmitt Smith on his way to rushing for over 130 yards and two touchdowns. Buffalo had lost yet again, 30-13.


Coincidentally, all four times, the Bills made it to the Super Bowl; it was a team from the NFC East that beat them. Buffalo made it back to the playoffs four of the next six years but never advanced past the Divisional Round.

Josh Allen Introduces Himself

In his first year coaching the Bills, Sean McDermott’s crew, led by Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy, helped Buffalo sneak into the Wild Card Round with a 9-7 record in the 2017 season. Facing the Jacksonville Jaguars, neither team moved the ball very well. Tyrod Taylor suffered an injury and had to leave the game late, forcing Nathan Peterman to take over and officially throw the game away to give the Jags a 10-3 win.


Two years later, Josh Allen led the Bills back to the playoffs in his first full season as an NFL starting quarterback. Buffalo had to head to Houston for their Wild Card matchup against Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Stephen Hauschka’s strong leg helped the Bills get out to a 16-0 lead with six minutes to go in the third quarter.


Then, the Texans managed to score 19 unanswered points before Buffalo could tie the game as the fourth quarter ended to head into overtime. Both teams had a chance to win, with each of their first possessions ending in a punt. Once Watson got the ball back, he somehow escaped two oncoming rushers to unleash a pass to a Texans receiver, getting in position to kick the game-winning field goal.


Another disappointing playoff ending because of the outcome of a kick. The current regime is in the midst of building a team that can compete for years to come. Bills Fans, this could be the greatest era yet.



BillsFans.com - Andrew Buller-Russ


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   1 of 1 member found this review helpful 1 / 1 member

The good, the bad, and the ugly. Terrific write up!

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