The magic number every year is 10.
That’s how many wins it generally takes to make the playoffs in the NFL.
Even if the Bills get to ten, they may still have a problem.
There is likely already one wild card spot out of reach for the Bills, courtesy the AFC West.
The 9-2 Raiders would need a four losses out of five free fall to end up at 10-6. Kansas City is only one game worse at 8-3, but a loss by the Chiefs in Atlanta this weekend does the AFC no good.
Teams like the Bills and Dolphins only catch the Chiefs at 10-6 with three conference losses. KC finishes with three straight home games against the Raiders, Titans and Broncos followed by the season finale at San Diego.
Keep in mind, the Chiefs swept the entire AFC West the first time through the lineup. A sudden collapse now seems a pipe dream, so Bills fans should probably consider that wild card spot closed.
The AFC South is its usual morass of barely realized potential, mediocrity and failure. Unless two of three among the Texans, Colts or Titans run the table to close the season, their second place team won’t have 10 wins.
Pittsburgh and Baltimore each are 6-5 like the Bills, but they still have a game against each other. Baltimore also must go to New England. The Bills can handle Pittsburgh themselves in Orchard Park next Sunday, likely a must in a Buffalo 10-win season. Again, a ten win second place AFC North team is not a Buffalo concern.
That leaves Miami and, now, the problem.
Buffalo lost in South Florida, so even a win Christmas Eve in Buffalo leaves the head to head tiebreaker even.
Buffalo is 1-3 in division while the Dolphins are 2-1. That home win still wouldn’t square the division records, so the Bills need Miami to lose one of their other two remaining division games against the Jets or Patriots.
And Buffalo must lose to Oakland.
The next tiebreaker when it comes within the division is common games. All division foes have 14 games in common. The easy shortcut to project this tiebreaker is non-common games.
The Dolphins’ non-common games are San Diego and Tennessee. Miami is 1-1. Buffalo beat Jacksonville and has Oakland next. A win against the Raiders would make Buffalo 2-0 in their non-common games.
If the overall record is equal, the team with the better non-common record is going to have a worse common games record. That makes Buffalo the loser in a possible 10-6 tie.
For Buffalo to finish second in the AFC East, they must lose to Oakland and finish the year with four straight wins. And Miami must lose to an AFC East team in addition to Buffalo (they play at the Jets the week before Christmas and host the Pats the week after).
Even then, the Buffalo/Miami tie would be even in AFC record and come down to strength of victory. The Bills currently lead by half a game (thank you, Cincy tie).
The only other likely option is Miami finishing 9-7.
It’s not impossible. The Dolphins are in Baltimore this Sunday and, if the Jets are good enough to scare Tom Brady at home, there’s no reason they can’t do it with Ryan Tannehill.
There still is Denver to contend with, but the Bills have outs there.
The Broncos face Jacksonville this week, but finish with at Tennessee, home for the Pats, at KC and home for the Raiders. A four-game losing streak and an 8-8 finish is not out of the question.
If the Broncos do get to 10-6, common games would decide the tie.
Against New England, Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Oakland, the Bills would be 3-2 with a loss to the Raiders Sunday. Denver is 1-1. Losses to New England and Oakland would make them a loser next to the Bills. Very reasonable.
If the teams are tied in common games, Denver would crush the Bills in strength of victory. So, Bills fans need to hope it doesn’t get that far.
Sure, a win in Oakland could help Buffalo against the Broncos, but the NFL doesn’t do three-way ties for a wild card spot with two teams in the same division.
First, the division tie must be broken. That means Miami is priority one and a loss to the Raiders might actually work out ok.
There still is a mathematical chance Buffalo could get in at 9-7, but it involves John Harbaugh getting violently ill, Marcus Mariota quitting football and the AFC West leaving to form their own league.
If the Bills did happen to run the table and finish 11-5, all they would need is one more loss by Miami and a loss by Denver to the Jags, Pats or Raiders.
11 has always been more magic than 10.