Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! As this publishes, I am thinking about much better things than the Buffalo Bills' playoff chances. Still, for you gluttons not only for turkey but painful and crippling optimism, here's the rooting interests for this week.
With the way this all shakes out, only a few games matter anymore. Strength of victory is out the window for the time being. Strength of schedule is gone, too. The best the Bills can do is 11-5, so that's the maximum record the teams ahead of them have to fall to.
Buffalo Bills over New York Jets
They can take it one game at a time if they want, but Buffalo has to win out unless they get some major help. It starts in the Meadowlands this Sunday, as the Bills get their second shot against the Jets - who again have an extra couple of days to prepare.
San Francisco 49ers over Baltimore Ravens
One of the teams that could collapse and potentially open the door for the Bills to sneak into a playoff spot is Baltimore. This is the Ravens' toughest remaining game on paper, so if they are going to go from 7-3 to five losses or more, this is Buffalo's best bet.
Kansas City Chiefs over Pittsburgh Steelers
See what I said above for the Ravens game? Pretty much the same thing here. Maybe a thumb injury could hamper Ben Roethlisberger's big passing attack and knock the Steelers within one game of the Bills.
Cleveland Browns over Cincinnati Bengals
Another obstacle in the race for the wild card, Cincinnati effectively has a 1.5-game lead over the Bills thanks to their Week 4 victory. If Cleveland could pull off an upset over the 6-4 Bengals, who currently sit alone in the sixth and final playoff spot, Buffalo could pull even. It's a longshot, but you never know in a divisional game.
Philadelphia Eagles over New England Patriots
If Buffalo wants a chance to win the division, they need the Patriots to lose at least one game between now and their Week 17 matchup. The Eagles might just be the team to do it with a talented secondary and effective running game. With or without Michael Vick, root hard for the Eagles this week.
San Diego Chargers over Denver Broncos
Buffalo faces both the Titans and Broncos at home over the last five games. Since they are currently tied with each team, that win is essential in the wild card races as well as for the Bills' playoff hopes in general. Therefore, these games mean nothing - unless you think Buffalo will be able to pass one of those AFC North teams with a 10-6 record. I don't.
If things all go Buffalo's way - and recent history should tell you they won't - here's what things will look like come Monday morning. Buffalo is still out, but has gained major ground:
No. 1: New England Patriots (7-4)
No. 2: Houston Texans (7-4; lose strength of victory tie-breaker to NE)
No. 3: Baltimore Ravens (7-4; lose conference tie-breaker to NE and HOU)
No. 4: (6-5)
No. 5: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4; lose head-to-head tie-breaker to BAL)
No. 6: Cincinnati Bengals (6-5)
No. 7: Buffalo Bills (6-5; lose head-to-head tie-breaker to CIN)
Also-rans: Denver Broncos (5-6), Tennessee Titans (5-6), New York Jets (5-6), San Diego Chargers (5-6),(5-6), (5-6), (4-7), (4-7), (0-11)
If things all go against Buffalo, they won't be eliminated, but it will be a virtual certainty that they will be out:
No. 1: New England Patriots (8-3)
No. 2: Houston Texans (8-3; lose strength of victory tie-breaker to NE)
No. 3: Baltimore Ravens (8-3; lose conference tie-breaker to NE and HOU)
No. 4: (7-4)
No. 5: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3; lose head-to-head tie-breaker to BAL)
No. 6: Cincinnati Bengals (7-4)
No. 7: Denver Broncos (6-5)
No. 8: Tennessee Titans (6-5)
No. 9: New York Jets (6-5)
No. 10: Buffalo Bills (5-6)
Also-rans: San Diego Chargers (4-7),(4-7), (4-7), (3-8), (3-8), (1-10)
The Bills would be three games back of the Patriots in the AFC East and three games back of the Steelers for the first Wild Card spot. They would be only two behind the Bengals, who still have several tough games, but Cincinnati's tie-breaker win over the Bills would necessitate some three-way tie-breaker scenario for Buffalo to advance.