Bills’ playoff spot not definite, but almost a certainty

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley scores a touchdown after catching a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles in October at New Era Field in Orchard Park.

Well, beating Dallas on Thanksgiving certainly helped.

The Buffalo Bills’ playoffs odds went from 82 percent to 93 when they beat the Cowboys, 26-15, on Thanksgiving Day, to improve to 9-3. After Sunday in which Tennessee beat Indianapolis and Kansas City topped Oakland, those odds rose to 95 percent.

Cleveland lost to Pittsburgh – which wasn’t the best outcome in Buffalo’s eyes – but all in all it was a very good week for the Bills and their hunt for the postseason.

For Buffalo, it will be just the fourth time in the past 20 years that the team will finish with an above-.500 record (9-7 in 2004, 2014 and 2017).

Now, capturing what has been an all-elusive 10th win for the Bills would likely guarantee they make the playoffs. Buffalo has four games remaining, starting Sunday against impressive Baltimore (10-2) which will be fighting for home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

After the Ravens, Buffalo is at Pittsburgh (7-5) and New England (10-2) before hosting the New York Jets (4-8) in their home finale. One win in any of those games would almost assuredly propel the Bills to the playoffs. Lose all four and Buffalo’s odds would be around 44 percent based on how the other AFC teams (namely Tennessee and Pittsburgh, both two games behind Buffalo) finish out.

This year, in the AFC, 10-6 is going to be good enough for a Wild Card spot, but there’s a scenario where Buffalo finishes 10-6 and doesn’t get in. That said, the Bills can actually clinch a playoff spot this week if four games go their way. If Buffalo beats Baltimore, Denver tops Houston, Tennessee downs (or ties) Oakland, and Tampa Bay beats (or ties) Indianapolis, the Bills would clinch a playoff spot, and here’s why:

(NOTE: the following ignores the tie outcomes)

— Buffalo would be 10-3, ahead of seven-loss Oakland and Indianapolis. Neither of those teams could pass Buffalo (the best either could be is 9-7).

— Houston and Tennessee would both be 8-5. They still play twice this season (Week 15 at Tennessee; Week 17 at Houston). If they split those games and both finish 10-6 (which would be the worst Buffalo could finish), Houston would win the AFC South tiebreaker based on division record. Buffalo would then be ahead of Tennessee based on the 14-7 win over the Titans on Oct. 6. If either Houston or Tennessee sweeps the other, whichever team is swept would have seven losses and couldn’t finish ahead of Buffalo.

Obviously Buffalo beating Baltimore will be a monumental task. But any of the other outcomes would inch Buffalo closer, especially if/when Buffalo wins its 10th game.

BUT, New England’s loss to Houston also opens another door. There’s still a chance (albeit, about 7 percent) that Buffalo wins the AFC East. If the Bills win out to finish 13-3, they would beat the Patriots along the way. New England could also be 13-3 (if its only other loss is to Buffalo). But New England would have the common games tiebreaker if the two finish at 13-3, based on wins over Cleveland and Philadelphia, both to whom Buffalo lost. So, if the Bills win out, New England would need another loss in any of its three remaining games (vs. Kansas City, at Cincinnati, vs. Miami) to get a fourth loss, putting it behind Buffalo for the division title.

Going further, if the Bills finish 13-3 and the Patriots lose to either the Chiefs, Bengals or Dolphins, the Bills would be the AFC’s No. 1 seed and have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

YET isn’t it fun that in Week 14 the Bills could potentially clinch a playoff spot? If they fail this week, they would very likely clinch a playoff berth with a win at Pittsburgh, because they would be at least two games ahead of the Steelers (10-4 to 8-6) with two games to play and would possess head-to-head tiebreakers over both Tennessee and Pittsburgh.

In 2017 when they clinched a playoff spot, their odds entering Week 14 were 15 percent. After defeating Indianapolis that week in overtime (remember the Snow Bowl?), those odds rose to 25 percent. We all know how that season ended, but this year Buffalo’s odds won’t be lower than 89 percent entering Week 15. Of course, those odds could be 100 percent and Buffalo could be playing for seeding the last three weeks.

BEST CASE SCENARIO THIS WEEK

— Buffalo over Baltimore

— Tampa Bay over Indianapolis

— Tennessee over Oakland

— Denver over Houston

— Arizona over Pittsburgh

Buffalo would clinch a playoff berth.

WORST CASE SCENARIO THIS WEEK

— Baltimore over Buffalo

— Indianapolis over Tampa Bay

— Oakland over Tennessee

— Houston over Denver

— Pittsburgh over Arizona

Buffalo’s odds would fall to around 89 percent. Still a very good shot though.

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