Buffalo Bills: Best upgrade and worst downgrade in franchise history

Buffalo Bills Head Coach Marv Levy. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart/ALLSPORT
Buffalo Bills Head Coach Marv Levy. Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart/ALLSPORT /

As the Buffalo Bills find their way back to respectability in the NFL, we look at the best upgrades and worst downgrades in franchise history.

With NFL training camp just two weeks away, the Buffalo Bills are the fourth team in our series of articles about the best upgrades and worst downgrades for Toronto and Buffalo sports teams. our edition of the series. The Bills are the only NFL team to win four consecutive conference championships, all under the guidance of the franchise’s most iconic coach.

Then Buffalo fell into a slump and owned the longest active postseason drought in North American professional sports. They finally ended the unwanted streak in 2017, with their first playoff appearance in 18 years.

As mentioned above, there’s good reasoning as to why the following events stand out. One is considered the best upgrade, while the worst downgrade may have something to do with a lack of talent at one position.

The biggest upgrade in franchise history

Three moments stand out in Bills franchise history. First was the arrival of O.J. Simpson, the first overall pick of the 1969 NFL Draft. Long story short, the Bills’ inaugural superstar became the first running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards or more.

Then there’s Jim Kelly, who Buffalo drafted 14th overall in the 1983 NFL Draft. Kelly and Simpson would become the face of the franchise at different times, but there’s another man who helped the franchise reach new heights.

In 1986, when Marv Levy was hired to coach the Bills, he brought with him more than 30 years of coaching experience. Following a two-year coaching hiatus and a season as the head coach of the Chicago Blitz of the USFL, Levy returned to the NFL. In his first two seasons, the team returned to respectability under Levy’s guidance, going a combined 9-13 in that span.

The 1988 season would see Levy and the Bills post a 12-4 record and win their first of six AFC East division titles. With his “no-huddle” offense, Levy set a new standard for NFL coaches, leading the team to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.


While their Super Bowl runs ended in heartbreak, Levy and the Bills were first in winning percentage in the AFC from 1988 to 1997. To this day, Levy is the winningest coach in franchise history, recording a 112-70 regular-season record and 11-8 in the playoffs.

The upgrade: Hank Bullough to Marv Levy as head coach.

The worst downgrade in franchise history

Heroes fall, but no one fell further than Simpson. His fall hit hard, especially for the Buffalo Bills, a franchise steeped in a lot of history. Then, the Bronco chase happened on that June 17, 1994 day, leading to a dramatic court trial. But, that wasn’t the worst moment in franchise history, there’s been a few more.

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While they are disappointing moments, “Wide Right” and the other Super Bowl blunders aren’t necessarily a downgrade. On the other hand, we can consider the “Music City Miracle” to be a downgrade due to head coach Wade Phillips started Rob Johnson over Dough Flutie.

That moment would mark Buffalo going from being a dominant team in the 90s to becoming a walking doormat for most of the 21st century. All of this starts with the end of Kelly’s career in 1996.

From 1997-2019, 18 different quarterbacks started for Buffalo. There was Flutie, Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, J.P. Losman, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and E.J. Manuel.

Notably, Bledsoe lost his job to Tom Brady in New England. When he signed with Buffalo, he lasted three seasons before Losman took over, and it didn’t get any better after that. (Here’s looking at you, Nathan Peterman.)

When Tyrod Taylor came into the fold, the Bills made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Luckily, the Bills quarterback carousel came to a halt when they drafted Josh Allen with the eighth overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, and he helped the Bills reach the postseason for the second time in three seasons.

The downgrade: Jim Kelly to a carousel of quarterbacks. 

Next. How the Patriots signing Cam Newton changes AFC East. dark

What are your thoughts on the Buffalo Bills’ top moments in franchise history? Is there another one that should be on the list? What was the most forgettable one for you? Let us know in the comments below.