Another Super Bowl has arrived without the Buffalo Bills.
For roughly 20 years, it was a foregone conclusion before the season the Bills wouldn’t be playing in the Super Bowl, but the rise of Josh Allen and theoretically one of the NFL’s most talented rosters has yet to yield an appearance in the Big Game and only one conference championship appearance.
There is no questioning Allen’s status as one of the premier players in the NFL. He was the face of the league’s new NFL Sunday Ticket package and on the cover of Madden. Allen ranked in the top-10 in the NFL’s weekly jersey sales 15 times this season, eighth-most in the league, a year after being No. 1.
But another second-round exit and a third playoff loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs has Allen on the verge of being tagged as the next guy who can’t win big. Meanwhile, questions about whether Mahomes can usurp Tom Brady’s GOAT status has been ping-ponged around by talking heads during the lead up to Super Bowl LVIII.
The strange thing about not being able to be the big one is that most of the guys given that label end up winning a championship. LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Peyton Manning are among the classics to hold that crown and they all won — more than once.
Allen finished in the top-five of the MVP voting once again and he was the only player other than Lamar Jackson — who is facing similar nonsensical claims as Allen now — to earn a first-place vote. Barring any whacky injuries, Allen is on a trajectory to be a Hall of Famer, which also means that odds of reaching and winning a Super Bowl are in his favor.
Of the 22 Hall of Fame quarterbacks who played during the Super Bowl era (since 1966), 19 reached the Super Bowl at least once and 15 won a championship. There are also 15 Hall of Fame quarterbacks who played their entire careers during the Super Bowl era and only Dan Fouts and Warren didn’t reach one.
But one area in comparison to those 15 quarterbacks that doesn’t work in Allen’s favor is that he has played six seasons and the only player in the pool to wait longer as a full-time starter (at least 10 starts per season) is Manning, who made and won his first Super Bowl in his ninth season. Drew Brees, who is a surefire Hall of Famer in 2025 waited eight years as a full-time starter and changed teams before winning.
Allen turns 28 in May, while Brees and Manning were both 30 at the time of their first Super Bowls. Of course John Elway was 26 in his first Super Bowl and his Broncos lost three in four years before winning his first at 37 years old.
Now Allen is on the cusp of joining the category of Dan Marino and Fran Tarkenton. The eye test and statistics say both were among the best quarterbacks ever — both were the all-time passing leaders upon retirement — but both have tumbled down the list of top quarterbacks ever with a resume lacking a championship.
But even before Allen can get into that category, he’s currently stuck in the realm of Fouts and Philip Rivers. Fouts and the Chargers reached back-to-back AFC championship games in 1980 and 1981 and never got there again before retiring in 1987, while Rivers took the Chargers in 2007 and got back in his 13 seasons.
Even the guys who reach the Super Bowl and win aren’t guaranteed multiple bites. After splitting a pair of Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, Brett Favre didn’t get to a conference championship for another 10 years. Aaron Rodgers won with the Packers in 2010 but his closest sniff to another Super Bowl are four NFC championship game losses.
Ben Roethlisberger won two Super Bowls in his first five seasons and went to three in seven, but played another 11 years without getting back. Heck, even Brady went 10 years between Super Bowl wins.
Naturally, the whole discussion about one player’s ability to win a team championship is hogwash, especially when the bar moves consistently amongst the talking heads. Manning won the big one, but then lost two and got all the same criticisms once again. Somehow winning four MVPs has diminished Rodgers’ Super Bowl win because hasn’t gotten to another one.
A Super Bowl berth for the Bills with Allen as their quarterback seems imminent, it just may take a little patience.