With six weeks to go… here’s how the Bills stand in a very muddled AFC playoff race.
Chasing a Bye
For the first time ever, the NFL only is awarding one bye per conference. Even if it were two (as it was since 2002), the Bills would still be a long shot to land one.
Let’s say Buffalo runs the table, wins their last six games and finishes 13-3. It’s hardly impossible. Only the Steelers stand as a major roadblock. Even then, Buffalo will need massive help.
A six game season ending winning streak would include a win over the currently top seeded Steelers and, thus, hand Buffalo a tiebreaker with Pittsburgh. It still means Big Ben and company would have to lose two other games. There are three lose-ABLE games on the Pittsburgh schedule outside the trip to Buffalo (possible L’s in bold: v. BAL, v WAS, at CIN, v IND, at CLE), but expecting a team to start 10-0 and then finish 3-3 is a fairly big reach.
Kansas City is the two seed for the moment, but they have the tiebreaker over the Bills courtesy the Monday night win in Orchard Park. The Chiefs would also need to finish 3-3 to fall behind Buffalo and also have three losable games remaining: (same code as before) at TB, v. DEN, at MIA, at NO, v. ATL, v. LAC. The Chargers did take Pat Mahomes to overtime back in week two, so there may be hope there. However, even the thickest blue and red glasses won’t see three losses to close the season for KC.
Maaayyyyybe one of the two fall into range for Buffalo. While getting the two seed no longer includes a week off, it does guarantee a second home game in the playoffs. I’m very curious to see if Sean McDermott–or any NFL head coach–feels that carrot is reason enough to chase a move up to #2.
Holding the Division
It’s Thanksgiving and the Patriots are not a factor in the AFC East race. Take a moment and suck in a couple big gulps of that fresh air.
The Miami Dolphins, however, are a factor despite a surprise loss to Denver over the weekend. The Bills have two big things going for them.
Number one, they have a one game lead on Miami. Number two, they juuuust about have the tiebreaker locked. There is a scenario were Miami can steal the tiebreak, but it’s very unlikely. It involves a Dolphins loss to the Bengals, a Bills loss to New England, the sudden aviation of pigs, a Bills fan criticizing Josh Allen and the overturn of the election results in Michigan. In that order.
All the Bills really have to do is win all of the games they are expected to win in the next five weeks. That should clinch the division before Miami even comes to Buffalo for week 17. The Dolphins face two of the creamiest cream puffs ever in the next two weeks (Jets and Burrow-less Bengals), but follow that with Kansas City, New England and Las Vegas. Even if Miami somehow wins two of those three, four Bills wins will end the division by week 16.
The earliest you could be ordering those AFC East Champion hats and T-shirts is following the Steelers Sunday night game. If the Bills win their next 3, Miami loses to the Chiefs AND drops a stunner in one of their easy games, you could have your division championship gear in time for Christmas.
The Bills open the door to the division only by stubbing their toe against the Chargers, Niners, Broncos or Patriots. None of those are layups. Buffalo will need to handle their business.
Missing the Playoffs?
The most likely finish that gives Miami a division title is the Dolphins at 11-5 and Buffalo at 10-6. Ten wins was usually a lock to grab a Wild Card when there were six playoff teams per conference. Could it possibly not be enough this year with seven playoff teams? I think it might.
The AFC glut of Cleveland, Baltimore, Indy, Tennessee and Las Vegas could all get to 10-6 without beating a team over .500. If you, theoretically, throw in the Bills, two of those six teams must be left out.
In this scenario, Buffalo is still in very good shape. They should own the tiebreaker over the Ravens, Browns and Colts because those three teams are/will be 4-0 against the NFC. Thanks to Hail Murray, the Bills have an NFC loss (worse NFC record=better AFC record). Unless a couple of those teams win 11 games and still finish second, there will be a place at the postseason table for the Bills.
It’s hard to imagine the Bills deviating much from where they are now. The super mega likely outcome is Buffalo will be a three or a four seed, host their first playoff game in over two decades and then need to win two on the road to make the Super Bowl.
Of course, we should know better than to assume anything in 2020 will go as expected.