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AFC playoff picture: Buffalo Bills rooting interests, Week 16

The Bills need some help. here’s who can give it to them.

Matt Warren is Associate Director of NFL coverage for SB Nation and previously covered the Bills for Buffalo Rumblings for more than a decade.

The Buffalo Bills are 7-7 and need a two-game winning streak and some help to make a push to the playoffs for the first time since social media was invented. The best/worst part about the Bills’ path is it seems entirely possible that it could happen. It’s just enough of a “maybe” where Bills fans get pulled back in.

AFC Standings

1. New England Patriots (12-2^)
2. Oakland Raiders (11-3^)
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)
4. Houston Texans (8-6, head-to-head win over TEN)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)
6. Miami Dolphins (9-5)
7. Baltimore Ravens (8-6, 7-3 AFC)7
8. Tennessee Titans (8-6, 5-5 AFC, head-to-head win over DEN)
9. Denver Broncos (8-6, 5-5 AFC, head-to-head loss to TEN)
10. Indianapolis Colts (7-7, 4-6 AFC, 1-1 in common games vs BUF)
11. Buffalo Bills (7-7, 4-6 AFC record, 1-2 in common games vs IND)
12. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8-1*)
13. San Diego Chargers (5-9*)
14. New York Jets (4-10*)
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12*)
16. Cleveland Browns (0-14*)

^ Clinched a playoff spot
* Eliminated from the playoff race.

Who to root for

Games are presented in order of most importance for the Bills. Here are the tiebreakers we will be discussing.

Games the Bills need

Buffalo Bills (7-7) over Miami Dolphins (9-5)

Saturday, December 24th, 1:00 p.m. ET

All of the Bills’ scenarios end if they lose. If they are going to avenge their early-season defeat, they get to do it in the comfy confines of New Era Field.

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) over Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

Sunday, December 25th, 4:30 p.m. ET

If Baltimore and Pittsburgh both get to nine wins, Buffalo’s season is done. The Steelers are on a roll and let’s hope they stay that way and give Bills fans a Christmas gift.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-7-1) over Houston Texans (8-6)

Saturday, December 24th, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Texans went through a quarterback upheaval a week ago and held on to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars. Make no mistake, the Bengals are good enough to win this game. Buffalo needs either Houston of Tennessee to lose but both would make it even better.

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) over Tennessee Titans (8-6)

Saturday, December 24th, 1:00 p.m. ET

Jacksonville didn’t fold against the Texans a week ago and they won’t roll over for Tennessee either. Especially not with a new head coach at the helm and all the players knowing their jobs are up in the air. Buffalo needs either Houston of Tennessee to lose but both would make it even better.

Oakland Raiders (11-3) over Indianapolis Colts (7-7)

Saturday, December 24th, 4:05 p.m.

This game takes on so much significance for the Bills. If Oakland wins, it means New England needs to play their starters in Week 17 against the Dolphins to confirm home-field advantage. Buffalo needs a Miami loss in Week 17. It also gives the Colts their eighth loss of the season, putting them safely behind Buffalo in any three-way tie situations. The Colts play the Jaguars in the last week of the season, and two consecutive wins would put them in over Buffalo.

New England Patriots (12-2) over New York Jets (4-10)

Saturday, December 24th, 1:00 p.m.

I didn’t think this game meant a lot. The NY Times Playoff Simulator makes it pretty important based on a few things happening in Week 17, but I’m not sure why. Still, it’s probably going to be an easy victory for the Patriots. If the previous four results happen, this one becomes icing on the cake and unimportant again.

Games that don’t matter

Denver Broncos vs Kansas City Chiefs

Even if the Broncos win to get to 9-6, a loss next week to the Raiders and Buffalo winning out will put the Bills ahead thanks to record vs common opponents. Denver could beat Kansas City and it doesn’t matter because Buffalo hasn’t played the Chiefs. It’s funny because last week, a Broncos win would eliminate Buffalo. Now it’s pointless.

Strength of Victory tiebreaker

After conference record and record in common games, the tiebreaker is strength of victory. The Bills are unable to win any strength of victory tiebreakers. Right now, Buffalo’s wins have come against teams with a combined 31 wins. If you add in another 13 for the Dolphins and Jets (which will need to happen), they will have 42.

The teams Denver has beaten have 47 wins. Tennessee’s number is 49 and Houston’s is 48.

Buffalo would need some serious help from NFC West teams playing against Seattle, Cincinnati (who they need to win two games anyway), and the Jaguars to get up to 53 opponent wins at best. Tennessee and Houston would be guaranteed to beat Buffalo at 9-7 overall, since you have to add the wins from their presumed last victory. Tennessee would get to 51 by beating Jacksonville and add a pair more because of games between Detroit & Green Bay, Denver and Kansas City. Houston would get to 53 by beating Cincinnati, which would also put Buffalo at a max of 52. A win by Denver over the Raiders would give them the record vs common opponents tiebreaker over Buffalo but also push them well ahead in strength of victory.

Ed note: The following paragraph was added Friday morning to clarify. - MRW
Strength of victory also won’t matter against the Miami Dolphins, but for a different reason. Buffalo’s win over the Patriots in Week 4 puts them out of reach of Miami. Right now, Miami’s strength of victory stands at 27 wins, four below Buffalo’s 31. Add in a Buffalo win over Miami and Bills over Jets adding 9 and 4 wins to Buffalo’s total, and it’s clear that Buffalo would stay well out of reach of the Dolphins in that tiebreaker.

For this reason, we’re not putting strength of victory on as an important factor anymore. Buffalo is settled if it gets to that.

What it means

Buffalo’s chances of making the playoffs would go up to 8% or 12% from 1% (depending on the analytics site you use) if this all played out. The Bills wouldn’t have to worry about anyone in the AFC South passing them if they could manage a win over the Jets. The winner of the final week’s match-up of the Titans and Texans would win the division and Indianapolis would be 8-8 at best.

If the Texans or Titans win this week, the same team will need to win next week to eliminate the other. If both Houston and Tennessee finish 9-7, Buffalo is toast.

The Bills would have to root hard for a Ravens loss to the Bengals, a Broncos loss to the Raiders, and a Dolphins loss to the Patriots in Week 17. None of those are huge longshots.