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Buffalo Bills’ remaining schedule fuels playoff speculation

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Buffalo’s conference record gives them a margin for error in their playoff push.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills spent Monday morning savoring their 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders before gearing up to visit the New York Jets on a short week. At 5-2, the Bills are tied for the third-best record in the AFC, putting them in great playoff position. Based on historical data compiled by FiveThirtyEight, Buffalo would have a 73 percent chance of making the playoffs this year, given their current record.

The Bills have eight games remaining against AFC opponents. According to the New York Times playoff simulator, if Buffalo wins the four “easiest” games remaining on their schedule they have a 98% chance to make the playoffs. A 4-4 run against AFC opponents, added to their current 3-1 conference record, would give them a 7-5 record which should be near the top of tiebreakers.

If Buffalo goes 5-4 down the stretch, a 10-6 record would virtually guarantee them a playoff berth. A 9-7 record gives them a 90-92% chance of making the playoffs. At 8-8, we would need to start talking about individual win/loss results.

The Bills have come close in other seasons during the drought, but fell short many times. In 2008 and 2011, the Bills also started with 5-2 records. Both teams faded down the stretch as injuries and a tougher late schedule took their toll. In Buffalo’s case, their early opponents were some of the best defenses they’ll face on the season, and despite injuries to starters like Cordy Glenn, Charles Clay, and Jordan Poyer, backups have stepped up in a big way.

For the past three seasons, the Bills had come close to the playoffs, but ended up boxed out by tiebreaker scenarios. In 2014, four of Buffalo’s nine wins came against NFC teams. Their 5-7 AFC record wasn’t good enough to move them up the stack of wildcard contenders. The 2015 Bills had a 7-5 AFC record, but three losses to NFC teams sunk them to 8-8, again dropping them below the pack. 2016’s team sat at 6-5 entering the month of December, but lost four of its remaining five games, all against AFC opponents, to eliminate itself from the playoffs.

This year’s team hasn’t just won at a high rate - it’s winning games that matter. The Bills have a 3-1 conference record today, which is second-best in the AFC. 4-3 Tennessee has a 3-3 conference record, and 4-3 Jacksonville has a 4-2 conference record, roughly equivalent to Buffalo’s. 4-3 Miami has a 3-2 conference record.

The Bills are a long way from clinching a playoff spot, but a win against the Jets on Thursday, which would raise their record to 6-2 and their conference record to 4-1, would be a massive head start on the remainder of the season.

Remaining games:

Thursday, November 2nd: @ New York Jets

Sunday, November 12th: vs New Orleans Saints

Sunday, November 19th: @ Los Angeles Chargers

Sunday, November 26th: @ Kansas City Chiefs

Sunday, December 3rd: vs New England Patriots

Sunday, December 10th: vs Indianapolis Colts

Sunday, December 17th: vs Miami Dolphins

Sunday, December 24th: @ New England Patriots

Sunday, December 31st: @ Miami Dolphins