Winning football teams commonly develop over a number of years before they reach the top of the mountain, which in the National Football League is a Super Bowl Championship.
The process begins with solid ownership that attracts bright individuals to fill both front office and coaching positions. Informed scouts feed a player personnel department that makes the right choices from the pool of college talent available in the draft.
In the 1970’s, I had an opportunity to see what it takes to win it all up close as a member of the Oakland Raiders front office. Al Davis was a leader that was able to draw forth the best efforts from people that were loyal to him. In the Raiders case, that included head coach John Madden and Player Personnel Director Ron Wolf.
That trio was among the best in football at what they did and they attracted a solid group of support people to take advantage of their leadership. In the 1970’s, that led to a Super Bowl win to complete the 1976 season and two more Super Bowl victories with Tom Flores serving as head coach in 1980 and 1983.
Often, a team will burst on the scene and catch the league by surprise, but without the foundation built through years of solid drafts and striving for the top echelon, their comet-like ascension is seldom enough to end in a hail of confetti while holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
This year, we saw one of those comets take the league by storm with a young team not yet expected to rise to the top of the football world. That team, the New England Patriots, opened the season with a loss to the Miami Dolphins and closed out the regular campaign with another defeat against their AFC East Division rivals.
Between those two setbacks to the Dolphins, the Patriots had a glorious regular season that included ten wins and the quick development and success achieved by rookie quarterback Mac Jones. In a quarterback-rich 2021 college crop, the first three picks in the draft were quarterbacks with the Jacksonville Jaguars selecting Trevor Lawrence, followed by the New York Jets taking Zach Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers making Trey Lance the third pick.
The Chicago Bears chose Ohio State Quarterback Justin Fields with the 11th overall selection and four picks later the New England Patriots completed the early run on quarterbacks by selecting Jones with the 15th pick in the first round.
For 20 years, the New England Patriots had the best quarterback ever on their roster, Tom Brady, who they “stole” with a sixth round pick in the 2000 draft. Last season, New England suffered their first losing season since before Brady became their starting quarterback in 2001. The one year experiment with one time top pick in the draft quarterback Cam Newton ended prior to the start of this season as head coach Bill Belichick turned the fortunes of his beloved team over to the rookie out of Alabama.
He was the fifth quarterback selected in the first round but few would argue he wasn’t the best during the 2021 season. Only he and the 49ers Lance are among the first round group that have advanced to the postseason. In Lance’s case, his role was a backup to starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Jones carried the weight of the starter from opening day to last week’s finale. He will complete his rookie season as a starting quarterback in the postseason, and by our calculations that will be a one and done conclusion.
The Patriots remained a force in the league during Brady’s time in New England, winning a record six Super Bowls behind the anointed GOAT. The fact that the Patriots put together a seven game winning streak in the middle of the 2021 season is a tribute to a great organization and one of the best coaches of all time.
But, let it also be known that the Patriots opened the season with losses in four of their first six games and three of their final four contests. The seven wins in the heart of their 2021 campaign was perhaps more of an aberration than a rule for the team that jumped ahead of schedule for achieving success in the wake of Brady’s departure.
Contrast the burst of success by the Patriots to the steady progress that brings the Buffalo Bills into Saturday night’s Wild Card Game between two AFC East Division foes. The Bills success has a foundation that includes solid elements at every level of the organization. The hiring of head coach Sean McDermott in 2017, led to their first playoff appearance in 18 years. After drafting Josh Allen in 2018, the team returned to the postseason in 2019 only to suffer a crushing loss that saw them relinquish a 16 point third quarter lead before suffering a three point road loss to the Houston Texans.
In 2020, the Bills made a second straight playoff appearance and won a pair of postseason games before falling in the AFC Championship Game to the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
With that development and established success, the Bills enter this year’s postseason as AFC East Division champs and as good of a shot as any AFC team to advance to Super Bowl LVI.
That journey begins against the inexperienced Patriots and their rookie quarterback spiked by the motivational edge gained from a regular season loss to New England in Buffalo. That game, played in wind gusts over 40 miles an hour, grounded the Bills pass-oriented offense and allowed the Patriots to escape town with a narrow win, 14-10, while guided by an offense that only attempted three passes on the night.
The temperatures in Buffalo this Saturday night will be cold, very cold, in the single digits, but the winds are mostly calm and no snow is in the weather forecast. Which means this, Buffalo will be able to utilize their full offensive arsenal while their defense will likely feast on their rookie competition.
Qoxhi Picks: Buffalo Bills (-4) over New England Patriots