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AFC playoff race: Buffalo Bills rooting interests, Week 15

Bills fans have some strong 49er cheering to do.

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 do not control their own destiny into the 2017 NFL playoffs. As such, we need to root for some other AFC teams to lose this week and throughout the rest of the year.

The clearest shot to the postseason would seem to run through the Tennessee Titans, where an ailing Marcus Mariota must handle the surging Los Angeles Rams and stout Jacksonville over the final two weeks.

The winless Cleveland Browns could also help the Bills and a huge AFC West showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers will inform our Weeks 16 & 17 cheering. Here’s the full list:

Buffalo Bills (7-6) over Miami Dolphins (6-7)
Sunday, December 17, 1:00 p.m. Eastern

The Bills can’t eliminate the Dolphins this week and Miami can’t eliminate Buffalo, either, but make no mistake this is a playoff game. The loser will have a less than 6% chance of making the playoffs. Strap up that helmet, folks.

San Francisco 49ers over Tennessee Titans (8-5)
Sunday, December 17, 4:25 p.m. Eastern

The Titans’ brutal schedule down the stretch turns this into a must-win game for them. They need to get to nine wins before staring down the barrel of the NFC favorite Rams followed by a Week 17 divisional showdown against Jacksonville. San Francisco brings a two-game winning streak into the game, too.

Cleveland Browns (0-13) over Baltimore Ravens (7-6)
Sunday, December 17, 1:00 p.m. Eastern

Don’t laugh. There’s a reason only one team had ever gone 0-16. Cleveland took the Packers to overtime last week. They lost to the Chargers by 9 the week before. They aren’t that far away. And the Ravens are on a hangover from their big Sunday night showdown against the Steelers, right? RIGHT!?

Kansas City Chiefs (7-6) over Los Angeles Chargers (7-6)
Saturday, December 16, 8:30 p.m. Eastern

I can’t tell you which one to root for with much conviction. According to the New York Times playoff simulator, it’s better for Buffalo if the Chiefs win this game. That is, unless the Ravens and Titans lose, in which case it’s a lot better if we root for the Chargers. It all has to do with three-way tiebreakers and things like that, but we won’t know the outcome of the Titans and Ravens game until 24 hours after the Chiefs and Chargers kick off. So here’s what I will tell you; the Chargers play the Jets and Raiders over the final two weeks of the season while the Chiefs play the Dolphins and Broncos. You want either the Chiefs or Chargers to run the table and the other team to fall apart. Banking on the Browns to win is probably the wrong play, so we gave the slight edge to the Chiefs.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) over New England Patriots (10-3)
Sunday, December 17, 4:25 p.m. Eastern

According to the New York Times, this is the first game on our list that won’t have a statistically significant impact on Buffalo’s playoff chances, hence the line you see above. Still, Buffalo hasn’t been eliminated in the AFC East race just yet. If the Patriots lose this week and the Bills are able to knock them off last week, Buffalo would need the quarterback-weary New York Jets to pull off a shocking upset to allow the Bills to beat the Dolphins for their fourth win in a row to clinch the AFC East. Fun times.

Houston Texans (4-9) over Jacksonville Jaguars (9-4)
Sunday, December 17, 1:00 p.m. Eastern

Buffalo needs the Jaguars to fall apart down the stretch to overtake them in the Wild Card positioning (assuming Jacksonville doesn’t win their division). Houston has been eliminated from postseason play. No brainer.

Denver Broncos (4-9) over Indianapolis Colts (3-10)
Thursday, December 14, 8:30 p.m. Eastern

We have almost reached the bottom rung of caring, people. These games involved the fifth or sixth tiebreakers which are unlikely to come into play. Buffalo beat both of these teams so either way their strength of victory and strength of schedule stays the same. Baltimore and the AFC South teams face the Colts but not the Broncos this year, so a Denver win won’t help them.

New York Jets (5-8) over New Orleans Saints
Sunday, December 17, 1:00 p.m. Eastern

Oakland Raiders (6-7) over Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, December 17, 8:30 p.m. Eastern

Buffalo has a win over the Jets on their resume, so it will help their strength of victory tiebreaker. Same with the Raiders, plus with the head-to-head tiebreaker in hand over Oakland and a better conference record if the two teams are tied at 9-7, Buffalo is ahead of the Raiders across the board in tiebreakers.

Carolina Panthers over Green Bay Packers
Sunday, December 17, 1:00 p.m. Eastern

Cincinnati Bengals (5-8) over Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, December 17, 1:00 p.m. Eastern

The Bills played the Panthers and Bengals, so a win helps strength of schedule tiebreaker. With eight losses already, Buffalo won’t have to worry about Cincinnati because if the Bills fall to 8-8, they are done anyway.

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Arizona Cardinals at Washington Redskins
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The only teams on this list Buffalo has faced are the Falcons and Bucs. Since the Bills won both those games, the winner here is irrelevant. Unless we know it’s going to come down to strength of victory and with which AFC team that is, rooting for these NFC-NFC match-ups it an even more fruitless endeavor than the ones listed in the previous section.

If everything goes Buffalo’s way, they will still only have a 43% chance of making the playoffs when the week is over, according to the New York Times. That’s still probably just as good or better than what the Ravens and Titans and whoever loses in the AFC West would be after their losses, though. In a four-way race for two spots, anything over 25% puts you in the lead.

If these results came to be, Buffalo would be tied for the fifth wild card spot at 8-6 but lose to the Titans on AFC record, pushing them down to sixth. At 8-6, they would be a game ahead of the Ravens and Chargers for sixth.