The New England Patriots have been the gold standard in the NFL since Bill Belichick made Tom Brady the starting quarterback in 2001.
The Buffalo Bills within that time, have not.
Within that time span, the Patriots have been to eight Super Bowls, winning five of them. The Bills, however? Only one playoff appearance, which came last season. The Patriots under Belichick have dominated the Bills routinely with a 32-5 record. You could compare their record to the average one seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
There are many factors that could be explained as to why the Bills haven’t had much success. However, a lot of what they are dealing with comes down to what the Patriots have done, and what the Bills haven’t achieved yet: a strong culture of excellence and the lack of a stable quarterback.
If the Bills want to be better than the Patriots, they must at least attempt to emulate how the Patriots operate. Belichick has made his mark by harping on discipline and preparation. No matter the players previous or current circumstances, Belichick wants his guys to approach game days with winning in mind. That has translated to their success through the years, dominating the AFC East and the conference, too.
But it starts with coaching stability. Belichick has been housed as the Patriots’ coach since 2000. His tenure is currently the longest active in the NFL, which has granted him coaching immortality. While the Bills don’t need an iconic coach per se, they will need a coach who can be with the team long enough to craft their culture.
Since Belichick’s start date, the Bills have had nine different head coaches. Their longest tenured coach was Dick Jauron, who coached for four seasons from 2006-2009.
Currently, the Bills have Sean McDermott as their head man in charge. But this season’s 5-9 record through Week 15 may raise eyebrows within the organization on if he’s truly the coach for the future. Yes, McDermott led the Bills to their first playoff appearance in 18 years last season. But it will take multiple seasons of success for the Bills to truly catch the Patriots.
Outside of coaching, the other hope for the Bills would be to bank on the success of their first-round draft pick, Josh Allen.
Allen has shown this season that he can operate as a dual-threat quarterback. His passing statistics could be better (1,633 yards, six touchdowns, nine interceptions, 52 percent pass completion) his rushing stats show promise (506 yards, six touchdowns). At 6-foot-5 and 237 pounds, Allen has the size, strength, and arm talent to thrive in the NFL.
Hopefully, Allen’s skill set can make him a stabilizer for the Bills’ offense. Since 2001, the Bills have started 18 different quarterbacks including Allen. The Patriots in that time frame? Five, with most of that due to a Brady injury, suspension, or before he took over.
But the Patriots’ culture is too rich for the team to falter on its own. If the Bills want to be better than the Patriots, it starts with McDermott establishing culture and identity. Allen must strive to make progress and prove he’s the quarterback of the future. If done right, the Bills can capitalize on the possible decline of Tom Brady, because age is undefeated, but talent within culture and systems can last forever.
If Buffalo works on establishing their quarterback talent and culture, then the year they can be better than the Patriots could come soon.
But how soon, exactly? If McDermott and Allen’s pairing works out, it could be possible that the Bills could be better than the Patriots by 2020. It’s well-documented that Brady wants to play well into his 40’s. But as aforementioned, age and decline goes hand and hand. Brady this season has been solid but not to the caliber of his MVP season in 2017. Belichick is also getting older (66 years old).
The Bills have the perfect opportunity to make their mark, as long as Allen and McDermott spearhead the renaissance.