When I made my best bets (which have been anything but so far this year) last week, I wrote about the Buffalo Bills — the team that just got done kicking the Chiefs’ ass on Sunday Night Football. In that article I concluded something that probably didn’t mean very much to anyone other than me, but so it is:
[As] a Chiefs’ fan I know what it’s like to be the odds-on favorite to win every week. That’s basically been the case for the last three years. It’s one thing to beat up on lesser competition when you, too, are vying to be the top dog. But what happens once you get there? Then you are the team that everyone is trying to knock off. I’m not saying the Bills aren’t that team, and I’m not here saying they can’t be. All I say is that we have yet to see what they look like when they are in that spot.
It’s just a coincidence that I referred to the Bills as a “dog,” because there’s this saying about ‘the dog that caught the car’ that I was trying to get at there. (I think I first heard it in relation to ‘the dog that caught the postman,’ but it’s the same shit.) Basically it’s the idea, per Urban Dictionary, of someone who has achieved a goal but doesn’t know what to do next. Operating within this analogy, the Bills would be the dog and the Chiefs would be the car.
I liked the team Buffalo was playing — Tennessee — who were getting 6 points at home on Monday Night Football, even though it really had nothing to do with how good I thought the Titans were. It was a fade of the Bills, a short sale of Buffalo’s inflated stock price having beat up on the AFC favorite the week before. It takes a good team to beat the Chiefs on the road, but it takes a great team to back that up with another win the following week.
Obviously I see the NFL from the very narrow perspective of a Chiefs’ fan, and it’s through that lens that I feel a unique understanding into the Bills’ plight. After all, Kansas City was no stranger to going toe-to-toe with the New England Patriots at the height of their power; they had two iconic wins in standalone national games, once in 2014 on Monday Night Football and another on Thursday Night Football in the 2017 league opener. These were impressive, quality wins, enough to make a fanbase start believing in the biggest prize the sport has to offer.
As it turned out, the Chiefs didn’t even make the playoffs in 2014, and in 2017 they lost to the Tennessee Titans, 22-21, in the Wild Card Round. Despite two of the better wins over the last decade of the franchise, what they had to show for it turned out to be minimal. While I would wager that the 2021 Buffalo Bills would be favored by around a touchdown against either of those Chiefs’ teams — making the comparison not totally fair — that shouldn’t discount just how large of a jump it is from being able to beat the best team in the NFL, to carrying that over to being the best team in the NFL.
But everyone loves a good narrative in the NFL. Oftentimes greatness gets taken for granted, and is quickly replaced by a good storyline involving a worthy challenger. So far, through six weeks of the season, the two-best stories have been the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers. And they do share impressive parallels, starting with having elite starting quarterbacks (Josh Allen and Justin Herbert, respectively). They each have forward-thinking head coaches. They each knocked off the Chiefs on the road. They each started 4-1 before losing in Week 6.
These are good football teams who are solid bets to make the playoffs this year. Having already accomplished the goal of winning the hardest game on their schedule, what matters now is how they are able to sustain being a front running team. Like I mentioned earlier, being able to beat any team in the NFL is a massive step in the right direction. But being able to absorb the opponent’s best shot, week after week, is perhaps an even larger step.
Tom Brady understood this better than anyone when he was a member of the Patriots, and it wasn’t until Patrick Mahomes came along some 18 years into Brady’s career that he finally met his match (to some extent). And since the Patriots weren’t willing to surround him with talent at playmaker positions — like the Chiefs did with Mahomes — Brady just assumed to pick up his ball and go to a team in the other conference who was willing to give him what he wanted. That paid immediate dividends, obviously, as Tom Brady won a Super Bowl in his first year with that team.
It is still a very young football season, and I don’t want to make any substantial proclamations about how it’s all going to end up. My gut feeling, however, tells me that the hunters — like Buffalo and Los Angeles — probably aren’t ready to beat Mahomes or Brady when all the chips are down. It makes for compelling television when the underdog comes out on top. But it’s usually the guys who are there every year, whose teams are conditioned to play the opposing team’s Super Bowl every week, that are still standing in the end.