Following their nail-biter victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead this Sunday, the Buffalo Bills found themselves back “in playoff position” tied with the sixth seed. The AFC is a bit of a confusing mess this year, with a plethora of other teams right behind the Bills’ 6-5 record. The Bills could make this easy and sweep the rest of their games, but with a little help likely to be needed we take a look at the schedules for the rest of the pack.
Both the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins sit at 4-7. The Bills are two games ahead of each and if they catch up, it’s likely due to the Bills faltering. Especially so for Miami who still has two contests against the Bills
The New England Patriots are sitting pretty at 9-2. The Patriots are about to embark on a three-week stretch of road games before getting to spend Christmas and New Year’s at home for the final two weeks. Buffalo could catch up and take the division if they take care of business. Buffalo represents two of the five remaining games. The Patriots would need to lose one more for the Bills to close the gap. The likeliest game would have to be against the Pittsburgh Steelers as their other options are the New York Jets or Miami Dolphins. This assumes Buffalo wins out, of course, something that’s unlikely. Otherwise the Patriots would need to find a loss or two elsewhere.
The Pittsburgh Steelers also sit at 9-2 and safe money has them taking this division. Pittsburgh’s toughest remaining game will be hosting the Patriots on December 17th. Their schedule also includes the up-and-down Texans, Ravens and Bengals and the 0-11 Cleveland Browns.
The Baltimore Ravens (6-5) bumped the Buffalo Bills’ out of their wildcard spot with a win on Monday Night against the Texans courtesy of a better conference record. Baltimore’s schedule will allow for a run if they can heat up. They’ll face the Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, and each of their division rivals once (Steelers, Bengals, Browns). Buffalo may be forced to get ahead of Baltimore. There’s a solid argument for the Ravens having the easier remaining schedule. If there’s a glimmer of hope, it’s that the Bills will have one more Conference game remaining than the Ravens.
The Cincinnati Bengals sit at 5-6 and could climb back into the picture pretty quickly. They close the year against the Ravens which could turn into a “win-and-in” situation for either team. In the meantime, the Bengals face off against Pittsburgh, the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, and Detroit Lions. The Bengals can’t do much to improve their conference record at this point and face some good teams down the stretch. Despite their head to head victory, the Bengals likely are less of a threat to the Bills at this stage than the Ravens.
The Tennessee Titans find themselves at the top of a tight AFC South thanks to their early season win over the Jaguars. At 7-4, they’re tied with the Jaguars for now, with many predictions having both teams seeing the playoffs. The NFL loves scheduling division games to close the season and the Titans will host the Jaguars to close the year. They’ll also face the Texans, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, and the LA Rams. Despite a solid record, the Titans have been somewhat up and down; losing to Houston once already and having tight games against the Colts and Browns. They’re a team to watch, but could stack losses to close the year.
Thanks to suffocating defensive efforts, the Jacksonville Jaguars are looking good at 7-4 as well. Games against Indianapolis, Houston, and San Francisco represent favorable match ups down the stretch. They’ll also play the Titans as noted to close the year and host the always dangerous Seattle Seahawks on December 10th. The Jaguars should have a good shot at overtaking the Titans, and both teams should be of interest to Bills fans.
Despite their loss to the Bills on Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs still sit atop the division at 6-5. The Chiefs currently define the word “declining,” with all five losses coming in their previous six contests. They’ll look to get back on track against the New York Jets this week. They’ll have excellent chances to ward off divisional playoff competition while righting the ship with games against the Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers still to come. A Christmas Eve game against the Dolphins can also be a nice present for the Chiefs’ fans and playoff hopes. If Kansas City comes back to life, the head-to-head tiebreaker won’t help the Bills any against a division leader. With two teams nipping at their heels, it might be beneficial to Buffalo for KC to fall off and let someone else take the division crown. And there’s always their first round draft position to think about.
The Los Angeles Chargers’ are looking to take the Chiefs’ spot, but may need to pull ahead outright. The Chiefs currently have the advantage in division and conference wins. Additionally, KC has only AFC games remaining with three in the division. L.A. has one NFC opponent remaining and only two AFC games come against the West. The Chargers’ need to face off against the Browns, Washington Redskins, Kansas City, the Jets, and the Oakland Raiders
At 5-6, the Oakland Raiders are neck-and-neck with L.A. and have a realistic shot at taking the division as well. Just like the Chargers, they are behind the Chiefs in division and conference records (and ahead of the Chargers in conference). Like the Chiefs and Chargers, the Raiders also can knock their rivals down a peg with two of their last games against these foes. The Raiders cannot improve their conference record beyond that however, as their other three games are against the NFC East. They’ll host the Eli Manning-less New York Giants and Ezekiel Elliott-less Dallas Cowboys and these could be wins they’ll need to pull ahead. They’ll visit the Philadelphia Eagles as well in this stretch, which should be a daunting task.
The Bills are right in the pack with most of these teams at 6-5. Two games against the Patriots look bad on paper. With the remaining games coming against the Colts and Dolphins (x2), the Bills have a realistic shot at 9-7. Unless the Bills shock the world to take the division, our path to the playoffs starts with the wild card round as the fifth or sixth seed in the AFC.
The AFC North is all but locked up for the Steelers, with the Ravens and Bengals competing for one of two wild card spots. The Ravens look to have the easier path forward. At one game behind, the Bengals will need to outpace the Bills in the next five weeks.
It’s a two-team race in the South between the Titans and Jaguars. Based on schedule and previous results, it won’t be a shock to see the Jaguars win the Division. Regardless of division leader, both teams are one game ahead of the Bills with solid conference records. Ideally for Buffalo, one or both will fall off completely. As it stands right now, this division will take one of the two wild card slots.
The West has a legitimate race to the top between three teams. The good news for Buffalo fans is that even the current division leader here has a tied overall record. Buffalo just has to take care of business with their own winnable games to come out ahead of the West for wild card purposes.
Here’s a look at the NFL tiebreaker procedures if you’re curious.