Bills aim to upend and replace Chiefs as class of AFC

It is no longer cute to make geography-based wisecracks about how the Bills — not the Jets or Giants — are the best NFL team in New York.

It has stopped being worthy of major celebration when the Bills clinch the AFC East. Is anyone even surprised they won another playoff game?

After 20-plus years as an afterthought, the Bills have transformed, in what feels like an instant, from a feel-good underdog story to having a lot to lose Sunday when they visit the Chiefs in the AFC divisional playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium. They are out of steps forward — other than the ones leading to the Super Bowl.

“Every year is Super Bowl-or-bust,” safety Micah Hyde said. “We want to win a Super Bowl around here. The same held true last year. It holds true this year. That’s what we’re out here playing for. Every year is definitely different, though.”

Take last year, for example. When the Bills’ breakthrough season ended with a loss to the Chiefs, there was solace to be found in winning a playoff game for the first time since 1995 and reaching the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1993.

Josh Allen and Sean McDermott
AP; Getty Images

It will be harder for the Bills to find a pick-me-up Sunday because the slightly favored Chiefs are beatable. It didn’t seem that way last year in the AFC title game, but since then Kansas City was routed by the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl LV and started this season with a 3-4 record, including a blowout home loss to Buffalo.

“They are the mecca of the AFC,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said. “To be in three AFC Championships in a row and two Super Bowls in a row, that’s the type of level we want to be. In order to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

The Bills should have staying power as contenders for as long as Allen, 25, and head coach Sean McDermott, 47, remain together.

But the championship clock might be ticking for others overseeing this five-year rise: Assistant general manager Joe Schoen already has been hired away as Giants GM. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who has held the job since McDermott started in 2017, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who joined the staff in 2018, both are interviewing to be head coaches with the Giants, Dolphins and Bears.

“I want this game for my team so that we can take that next step because we have a bad taste in our mouths,” center Mitch Morse said. “Not so much from this game last year against this team, but just with what we felt like we have. These moments are fleeting for every player.”

Nobody needs to convince a Bills fan: Four straight Super Bowl appearances gave way to a 17-year playoff drought. Just like the way a 50-year championship drought was painful for Chiefs fans until they broke through in 2020.

“We understand they are a different caliber than a lot of organizations,” Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins said. “They got the whole thing done.”

The time has come for the Bills to be measured against the Chiefs, not on progress.

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