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AFC Playoff Picture: Buffalo Bills still have a straightforward path to AFC East

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

Do not give up on the Buffalo Bills winning the AFC East in 2021, just because they are down two games to the New England Patriots. There’s an incredibly clear path for the Bills to get back on top of the division by the end of Christmas weekend.

Patriots need to lose one

It starts this weekend, when the Patriots play the Indianapolis Colts. Indy is the Patriots’ most difficult opponent remaining on their schedule. The 7-6 Colts have a strong run game and offensive line, much like the Patriots.

The Patriots have won seven straight games. It’s not often that a rookie quarterback can lead an offense to that many consecutive wins, but New England has been riding an incredibly strong run of defensive performances, not QB play. A string of multi-turnover games have allowed them to hold opponents to low point totals in the vast majority of their games this year.

The Colts have a stronger offense than New England has dealt with for most of this season. They are 11th in turnovers, and protect the ball better than most. They are the number three scoring offense in the league, with the same number of touchdowns as the team that last beat New England. Indianapolis’s offense can cause New England fits.

Their final two games are against the Miami Dolphins, who already beat them this year and are on a hot streak of their own, and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Patriots are due for a loss and a regression to the mean in terms of turnovers generated.

Bills need to beat a bad team (a few of them actually)

The Carolina Panthers are bad. The Buffalo Bills have been doing a really nice job of putting down inferior opponents this year (outside of the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars) and have rolled up big margins of victory in many of those games. They need another one this week and in January.

I know Buffalo hasn’t won four straight games since late September and early October. They play the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and New York Jets during this stretch and none of them have a record over .500. Beat the teams you’re supposed to beat.

A tiebreaker for Christmas

Merry Christmas. The Bills play the Patriots in ten days on December 26, and if the Colts and Bills win this weekend, that game will be for first place in the AFC East. Buffalo can even the teams’ records at 9-6 and even the head-to-head record at one game apiece. The tiebreaker then turns to record in the AFC East, where Buffalo has just one loss. The Patriots lost in Week 1 to the Miami Dolphins, so the Bills would push ahead on AFC East record and New England two losses. As long as the Bills beat the Jets in Week 17, they’d continue to hold that important tiebreaker over the Patriots.

I think it’s pretty likely Buffalo makes the playoffs based on their remaining four opponents. If they lose to any of the Panthers, Falcons, and Jets in this stretch, they probably don’t deserve the postseason.

That being said, if they can get some help from Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts this weekend, the division crown could be entirely in Buffalo’s hands on the day after Christmas.