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AFC playoff picture: New England Patriots fail to clinch AFC East on Monday night

The Bills are still going to need some help.

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

After their thrilling, snow-filled victory in overtime over the Indianapolis Colts, the Buffalo Bills (7-6) look to the AFC playoff standings and received a little bit of help in Week 14.

On Monday night, the New England Patriots (10-3) failed to clinch the AFC East, losing to the Miami Dolphins. The division is still in play with three games remaining, though four consecutive losses by the Patriots seems unlikely.

The biggest help during Week 14 came from the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, who knocked off the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans, respectively. While both Tennessee and Baltimore (arguably) remain in playoff spots, they are much more vulnerable to being overtaken.

Conversely, the Los Angeles Chargers just keep winning. We need to root for them to win win the AFC West now and let the Chiefs fall back into the Wild Card race.

There is some controversy as we progress through the week, though. One of the tiebreakers used to determine playoff teams is record vs. common opponent. The Bills have wins over the Raiders and Colts (2-1) while the Ravens beat the Bengals, Dolphins, and Raiders (3-0). Buffalo has two games against the Dolphins to bring up that record while the Ravens face Indianapolis and Cincinnati over the final two weeks of the season. While some outlets won’t count this tiebreaker yet because the two teams haven’t yet played four common opponents, they are on the schedule eventually so I’m counting them here. That puts Buffalo below Baltimore. If you don’t count it, Buffalo wins on the next tiebreaker (strength of victory). It should be noted, Buffalo and Baltimore both eliminate the Chargers based on AFC record which is why they aren’t in this initial conversation. Once the Ravens eliminate the Bills, the Chargers and Bills go back to head-to-head where Buffalo loses out.

So,, and a bunch of other outlets have the Bills in the lead at 6th. But ESPN’s playoff machine, the Monday Night Football broadcast, and a lot of other outlets have Buffalo in 8th. Until Buffalo controls their own destiny, we think it’s better to put them on the outside looking in.

Here is the full AFC playoff picture with only the relevant tiebreaker information listed:

AFC Playoff Standings (with common opponent tiebreaker)

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2)
2. New England Patriots (10-3)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4)
4. Kansas City Chiefs (7-6, head-to-head win over LAC)
5. Tennessee Titans (8-5, head-to-head win over JAX)
6. Baltimore Ravens (7-6, 5-4 AFC record, 3-0 vs. common BUF opponents)
7. Los Angeles Chargers (7-6, head-to-head loss to KC, 4-5 AFC, head-to-head win over BUF)
8. Buffalo Bills (7-6, 5-4 AFC, 2-1 vs. common BAL opponents, head-to-head loss to LAC)
9. Oakland Raiders (6-7, head-to-head victory over MIA)
10. Miami Dolphins (6-7, head-to-head victory over MIA)
11. New York Jets (5-8, 5-5 AFC)
12. Cincinnati Bengals (5-8, 5-6 AFC)
13. Houston Texans (4-9, 3-6 AFC)
14. Denver Broncos (4-9, 2-7 AFC)*
15. Indianapolis Colts (3-10, 2-6 AFC)*
16. Cleveland Browns (0-13)*

* Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Denver have been eliminated from the 2017 postseason race. Houston is technically alive with only six conference losses compared to Denver’s seven.

I wanted to include this for folks who want to see it. Here is the race for the sixth spot without including the record vs. common opponent. This does not take into account future games played against common opponents.

AFC Wild Card Standings (without common opponent tiebreaker)

6. Buffalo Bills (7-6, 5-4 AFC, better strength of victory than BAL)
7. Baltimore Ravens (7-6, 5-4 AFC record, worse strength of victory than BUF)
8. Los Angeles Chargers (7-6, head-to-head loss to KC, 4-5 AFC)