Here’s where things stand in the AFC after 11 weeks of the NFL season:
Top Wild Card: Buffalo Bills
Current record: 7-3
Likely wins remaining: 2 (vs DEN, vs NYJ)
Likely losses remaining: 3 (at DAL, vs BAL, at NE)
Toss-ups remaining: 1 (at PIT)
Overview: The Bills got back on track by demolishing the Dolphins Sunday. They are a home win against a 3-7 team from getting to Thanksgiving at 8-3. The Jets seem like a ninth win. So, who’s gonna be number 10? That’s the question facing Buffalo when we all start carving our turkeys, assuming they handle their business Sunday.
For Buffalo’s current situation in a tie with any of their playoff chase rivals, see below.
Second Wild Card: Houston Texans
Current record: 6-4
Likely wins remaining: 1 (vs DEN)
Likely losses remaining; 1 (vs NE)
Toss-ups remaining: 4 (vs IND, at TEN, at TB, vs TEN)
Overview: Houston is in this spot because they were the victim of Jacoby Brissett’s career game (326 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT) and are currently losing the head to head tie with the Colts. They can split the head to head with a win Sunday, but Indy actually has a slightly better chance to own this tiebreak regardless. Still, Houston would have a one game lead with a win and a softer remaining schedule. No guarantees when you play in the AFC South, but it seems unlikely the DeShaun Watson quarterbacked team is the one that will be competing for only a wild card.
Bills tiebreaker projection: Strong lean loss. The Bills can only tie Houston for conference record. The Texans have played just one game of five against a common opponent (NE, BAL, TEN, DEN), but seem likely to at least be 2-3. Buffalo would have to beat the Pats or Ravens to better that mark. Strength of victory would certainly belong to Houston. It’s difficult to see a path to a Bills win here.
Top Contender: Oakland Raiders
Current record: 6-4
Likely wins remaining: 1 (at NYJ)
Likely losses remaining: 1 (at KC)
Toss-ups remaining: 4 (vs TEN, vs JAC, at LAC, at DEN)
Overview: The Raiders didn’t look particularly playoff worthy, but did what they had to against Cincy this week. Their toss-up slate got a bit less dangerous with the Jags and Chargers both losing. They have their final breather this week (at Jets) before we find out if Jon Gruden really has a playoff team this year.
Bills tiebreaker projection: leaning loss. The Raiders are locked into a 2-2 NFC record. The Bills match that with a loss to Dallas. If the Bills win on Thanksgiving, their 3-1 NFC record would guarantee a worse AFC record if they and Oakland tie overall. The next tiebreak is common games. Both teams are yet to lose against their common opponents (NYJ, CIN, TEN, DEN), but the Bills have already gotten their toughest assignment here out of the way (Titans). If common games can’t break the tie, the Raiders currently have a fairly safe lead in strength of victory.
The More Likely Contender: Indianapolis Colts
Current record: 6-4
Likely wins remaining: 1 (at TB)
Likely losses remaining: 2 (at HOU, at NO)
Toss-ups remaining: 3 (vs TEN, vs CAR, at JAC)
Overview: Jacoby Brissett was back and so were the Colts Sunday, even if it was 264 yards and three touchdowns on the ground that ran over Jacksonville. The Colts can put themselves in control of the division with a win in Houston this week. If not, add in the likely loss in Saintsville and Indianapolis is left needing to perfectly navigate their other four games for a 10-6 record. We’ll likely know for sure after this weekend what Frank Reich’s team will be playing for in December.
Bills tiebreaker projection: likely win. It’s hard to imagine Indy being even with Buffalo at 10-6 and having even an equal AFC record. Let’s assume the Bills are 2-2 in the NFC. Indy is currently 1-0. The Colts can only lose twice more and still finish 10-6. That means both the losses have to come against NFC teams to even tie Buffalo’s AFC record. Then, the loss to Miami probably dooms Indianapolis against the Bills in common games.
Still a factor: Pittsburgh Steelers
Current record: 5-5
Likely wins remaining: 2 (at CIN, at NYJ)
Likely losses remaining: 1 (at BAL)
Toss-ups remaining: 3 (vs CLE, at AZ, vs BUF)
Overview: Mason Rudolph inspired zero confidence Thursday night, but drawing conclusions from a short week road game is a fool’s errand. The schedule is still plenty navigable to reach 10-6. Any real discovery on Pittsburgh’s future will be on hold Sunday when they play a get well game against the Bengals.
Bills tiebreaker projection: Decided by head to head. It’s possible there’s a three team tie that would negate the head to head winner’s tiebreaking advantage. If so, that’s bad for the Bills.
Anyone else: Hard to imagine.
Tennessee’s closing gauntlet of Houston-Saints-Houston still seems too daunting to merit real consideration here. Heck… the other three games (vs. JAC, at IND, at OAK) are no picnic either. Cleveland’s run the table fantasy would have a lot more legs if Myles Garrett wasn’t on the beach until next September.
Any chance at the division: Noooooope.
A real discussion about the Bills winning the AFC East involves a Patriots three game losing streak that starts Sunday or the Bills beating both Dallas and Baltimore.
We’ll have it if any of that happens. Until then, this category is now retired for the season.