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The Bills are learning to live with being the Super Bowl favorite

Quarterback Josh Allen throws a pass in the Bills' victory Sunday at Baltimore. (Terrance Williams/AP)

BALTIMORE — The Buffalo Bills occupy the NFL’s flimsiest, most precarious pedestal. They are, almost by acclamation, the league’s Super Bowl favorite this season, the darlings of those preseason prognosticators who so widely expect the team to follow the lead of quarterback Josh Allen and take the logical next steps after falling valiantly to the Kansas City Chiefs in an epic AFC playoff game in January.

And yet, with a wider view, the Bills remain the pluckiest of NFL underdogs. They occupy one of the league’s tiniest and chilliest markets, with a maniacally devoted fan base hungry for the franchise to recapture the glory days of Marv Levy, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and Bruce Smith. And even those Bills failed to capture the biggest prize, suffering four straight Super Bowl defeats between the 1990 and ’93 seasons.

The Bills’ next Super Bowl title will be their first. Their next Super Bowl appearance, even, will be their first since a 30-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 30, 1994.

“It’s all about wins,” linebacker Von Miller said here Sunday. “We don’t have the best weather. We’ve got really great food where we’re from. But where we’re at, man, it’s all about wins, man. It’s all about making great plays and bringing wins home to our fans. To bring a tough win like this and make the plane do backflips on the way home and when we land, we see Bills Mafia outside the plane — this is what it’s about.”

Miller was speaking soon after a 23-20 triumph over the Baltimore Ravens, a game in which Buffalo overcame a 20-3 deficit. That victory may have demonstrated the Bills’ championship mettle more than their lopsided wins — by a combined margin of 72-17 — over the Los Angeles Rams, the defending Super Bowl champs, and the Tennessee Titans, last season’s top playoff seed in the AFC, in the season’s first two weeks.

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“It wasn’t going our way early, due to multiple variables,” Coach Sean McDermott said of Sunday’s game. “But I thought the coaches adjusted. In some ways, we stuck with the plan. In other ways, they adjusted. And the players executed. … The poise to be able to do that in a hard environment like this against a good football team that’s well-coached also … that’s a really good sign.”

Until Sunday, the Bills had lost seven straight games decided by seven points or fewer, dating from last season. That streak included a 21-19 defeat last month at Miami and the 42-36 heartbreaker at Kansas City in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs last season, an all-time thriller that led the NFL to change its overtime rules for postseason games to ensure each team gets at least one offensive possession.

Over the same span, the Bills went 14-1 in other games.

“Anytime you get a win, it’s awesome,” said safety Jordan Poyer, who had a key end zone interception of a fourth-down pass by Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson before the Bills’ game-winning field goal drive. “A win like this, a close game — I think there’s been a lot of talk that the Bills haven’t been able to win the close games. … Nobody was pointing fingers. Nobody was saying hey, and this, that and the other. We just came out one play at a time, brick by brick, didn’t blink and made the plays when we had to.”

Said Allen: “It’s situational football. It’s what Coach McDermott preaches to us. … Those are games that you love winning. It’s a hard-fought battle both ways. Winning on the last play of the game is always fun. I’m proud of our guys.”

It perhaps was a sign of a team adding maturity to its considerable talent level. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs said he sat by center Mitch Morse in the locker room afterward and the two spoke about the sense of calm that accompanied the familiarity of being in a tight game against a formidable team.

“We’re hanging out, thinking about how the game went,” Diggs said. “And Mitch was just saying, like, ‘We’ve been here for some years now.’ … He said it was good to feel like we’ve been there before. We’ve been down before. We’ve rallied back before.”

It’s all part of being an upper-tier NFL team, a lofty perch with which the Bills are becoming increasingly comfortable.

“When you’re a good team,” Diggs said, “you’ve got to beat the good teams. You’ve got to rally. We were down 20-3. Some people probably were like, ‘The game is over.’ But nobody on the sideline was like that.”

Allen has become a legitimate league MVP candidate, a sturdy runner who has developed into an accurate passer. Diggs has topped 100 catches and 1,200 receiving yards in each of the two seasons since Buffalo acquired him in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings. There are capable complementary players on offense, including tailback Devin Singletary and tight end Dawson Knox. The roster is complete. The Bills are ranked third in the NFL in total offense and are tied for first in total defense.

“We’ve got a lot of heart, a lot of grit in this locker room,” Allen said. “… We play with a lot of love for each other. Typically when you have guys that do things the right way, work hard and care about each other, you’re going to have success.”

Von Miller’s eyes have ‘always been on Buffalo.’ Now, it’s a reality.

The Bills signed Miller as a free agent in the offseason not only for his pass-rushing prowess but also for his Super Bowl résumé. He added a Super Bowl victory with the Rams last season to his previous championship with the Denver Broncos. And when he was asked Sunday about the Bills’ struggles in close games, he called them part of a past in which he was not involved.

“I don’t know what was going on before I got here,” Miller said. “I don’t know. And I think ignorance is bliss. … I go into the game thinking that we have a chance to win any game versus any team. That’s just how I think. I think that energy just bleeds off on my teammates.”

The Bills’ injury-plagued defense has been playing shorthanded lately. Safety Micah Hyde, a key team leader, will miss the rest of the season because of a neck injury. The Dolphins have emerged as a viable threat in the AFC East. The entire AFC is top-heavy with would-be imposing contenders.

But just about everyone expects the Bills, again, to be among the final teams standing in January. The Bills themselves are among those with such expectations.

“Confidence is at an all-time high,” Miller said. “And we just keep playing until the clock says zero.”

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