There are two types of sports fans in this world, and their differing characteristics shine in the postseason; one prays on the downfall of the squad that eliminated his/her team, and the other hopes it goes all the way so that the heartbreak isn’t for nothing.
While I can see valid reasoning in both stances, I aligned myself with that of the latter after the Steelers fell to Buffalo, and any yinzer who’s cared to even glance at this season’s installment of the NFL Playoffs—particularly after last Saturday—should understand why without hesitation.
Entering the second half of the Divisional Round, the three teams remaining in the AFC bracket were the Bills, the opposing Kansas City Chiefs, and the conference title game-bound Baltimore Ravens. From a Pittsburgh diehard’s perspective, how would the Bills not have been the most appealing option?
Think about it: The Chiefs are not only the defending Super Bowl champs, but they are in the middle of what many would call a dynasty. After a team’s had some time in the sun, most fans want them to get lost so another can get some tanning done too, but the Chiefs haven’t gotten that picture, and that’s why everyone outside of Kansas City is so sick of them.
Oh, and their “unwarranted” coverage (Patrick Mahomes’ obnoxious family, State Farm commercials, the Taylor Swift cam running all game every game, etc.) doesn’t exactly help their case.
As for Baltimore, the reasoning behind Steelers fans not liking them should be even more obvious than the gripes they have with KC. The Ravens are not only divisional rivals with Pittsburgh, but in their short history, they have easily been the most competitive amongst themselves, the Bengals, and the Browns. For most of those in the Steel City, seeing them just make the Super Bowl would burn like salt on a slug.
When holding all of this next to facts like the Bills being convincingly the furthest removed from a Super Bowl (their last appearance being 30 years ago in a Super Bowl XXVIII loss) and them having never won one (0-4 all-time), it becomes crystal clear that Buffalo was the least of three evils. This is a stance that certainly could’ve been argued in previous years as well, as Buffalo has consistently encountered Kansas City in the bracket while Cincinnati has been a prominent power in the AFC as of late.
So in short, most of everyone and their mothers were Bills fans as we headed into the Sunday slate; all they had to do was beat KC, and if that was ever going to be an “easy” task for them, it was going to be this year.
The Bills came into this year’s playoffs looking to break the cycle
Simply put, just about everything was stacked in Buffalo’s favor, as the Bills had beaten the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium back in December and entered the Divisional Round on a six-game win streak.
Meanwhile, Kansas City had finished its regular season with the worst record it’s seen since 2017, and it was that dip in formidability that landed the Chiefs in a lower seeding than Buffalo, which dealt them something never before seen in the Patrick Mahomes era: A road playoff game. How could the Bills possibly screw this up, against such a familiar foe, no less?
Well, rest assured they found a way.
The game was as competitive as many thought it would be and then some, with multiple mistakes and lead changes placing Buffalo in a tight 27-24 hole with about eight-and-a-half minutes left on the clock. From there, the Bills gradually marched down the field before stalling out and sending kicker Tyler Bass to attempt a 44-yard, game-tying field goal…and he missed it…wide right.
We can spend all day talking about how tragically poetic of a finish that was as it parallels Buffalo’s infamous Super Bowl XXV blunder, but we won’t. Instead, I feel we need to discuss the status the Bills have achieved with it, as we so rarely see it in the vast world of sports—I refer to it as “HFS,” or “Hated For Sucking.”
No one deserves the "HFS" badge more than Buffalo
Some may see that label and think that I’m trolling, devoting all this time and effort just to clown Buffalo for losing due to bitterness over its win against Pittsburgh, but that could not be further from the case. Rather, I am genuinely amazed at how the Bills have virtually no one outside of their mafia in their corner any more thanks solely to their postseason mediocrity.
Now I can already hear the random NFL fan’s rebuttal to that: “But Austin, we make fun of teams for failing all the time. The Steelers? The Cowboys? The Browns? The Texas Longhorns before they finally made the CFP? What sets the Bills apart from all of them?” Simple—the reason people feel compelled to make fun of them.
Teams with backgrounds like those of the Steelers, Cowboys, and Longhorns catch strays because of just one thing, and that is their historical dominance. By being good enough for long enough, they established two things: 1) Large—and, at times, notoriously unbearable—fanbases, and 2) Generational haters. Neither would exist to their current severities without the teams' decorated histories.
Now sure, Bills Mafia is known for being “passionate,” which is definitely capable of crossing over into “irritating,” but they don’t get dragged like Longhorns fans do with the whole “we’re back” punchline, and that’s where we can actually see the gap in historical formidability make a difference.
With that said, what removes the infamously sorry Browns from this conversation is the bar not being set nearly as high for them as it’s been for Buffalo in recent memory, so when they fail, we shake our heads all the less.
For reference, 2023-24 Cleveland locked up the AFC’s fifth seed after going 11-6. That win count is tied for the best they’ve finished the regular season with since 1986. When considering that—along with their brutal division, QB changes, and an early injury to star RB Nick Chubb—their unfortunate playoff departure can still be shrugged off with “Well you still had a great year, so keep it up, fellas!”
The Bills, on the other hand, have been an annual favorite in the AFC bracket, play in a visibly weaker division, and had zero changes/injuries at QB or RB this year, yet hardly achieved more than Cleveland, so let me ask you this: When they lost to Kansas City on Sunday, did you feel any obligation to give them the good old “you’ll get ‘em next year” talk? Of course not; they’ve had their chances time and time again, all just to freeze up, time and time again. That makes up the Sucking part of HFS.
Where does the other part of HFS come into play?
At this point, I get what some may be thinking: Just because people don’t feel sorry for Buffalo anymore doesn’t mean they hate Buffalo, and that’s fair. However, are we sure? Remember all that stuff that I said about the Kansas City Chiefs earlier, about how easy it is to hate them? Well, the Bills are responsible for them making another AFC title game, harming the NFL’s parity while gifting KC all the more press.
Secondly, speaking of how much press a team and its players get, the Bills get constant love over how statistically dominant of a dual-threat QB Josh Allen is, and how he’s one of the best in the league and yada yada yada. People get tired of hearing the same name/seeing the same face every day when the player in question actually does something with his talents, but when he doesn’t, the undying praise is downright infuriating.
Thirdly, we have to account for the additional hate within those who root for teams that have lost to Buffalo in the playoffs. I mean seriously, if you’re going to knock my guys out of the hunt, can you at least run the table so it wasn’t all for nothing? No? So you’re just going to fumble the bag the very next week? Great.
I’m certain that’s a conversation that fans of most backgrounds have had with themselves on at least one occasion in the past, and thanks to the Josh Allen era, Pittsburgh’s are only the latest ones to have it after encountering Buffalo.
They join a concerning list of fanbases (Indianapolis, Baltimore, New England, Miami, then Pittsburgh) that have lost to his Bills before they went on to lay some shameful egg. That would make for a fair amount of resentment, or perhaps Hate, would it not?
It may sound overdramatic, but when you let the league’s most irritating team inexcusably step all over you after receiving months of media hype and pointlessly ending other squads’ playoff runs, why wouldn’t people be fed up with your nonsense? It’s that insufferable formula that has placed the Buffalo Bills in a perfect storm of HFS, and they won’t get out of it until they either prove that they can finish what they start, or fall off the NFL’s radar entirely.