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AFC Playoff Picture: Bills can clinch a playoff spot in Week 17

They can’t do it alone, however

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 are currently a near-lock to make the 2021 NFL postseason. The New York Times has them at 97 percent while FiveThirtyEight has them at 99 percent. Step one in their run to the Super Bowl is to secure a playoff spot and they can do that in Week 17, but they’re going to need some help.

AFC Standings

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)-yx
  2. Tennessee Titans (10-5)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6, 7-3 AFC)
  4. Buffalo Bills (9-6, 6-5 AFC)
  5. Indianapolis Colts (9-6, win over NE)
  6. New England Patriots (9-6, loss to IND)
  7. Baltimore Ravens (8-7, win over LAC)
  8. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7, win over LVR, loss to BAL)
  9. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7, loss to LAC)
  10. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1)
  11. Miami Dolphins (7-7)*
  12. Cleveland Browns (7-8, win over DEN)
  13. Denver Broncos (7-8, loss to CLE)
  14. New York Jets (4-11, win over HOU)zz
  15. Houston Texans (4-11, loss to NYJ)zz
  16. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13)zz

y- Clinched division
x- Clinched playoffs
*- Still to play this week

It’s worth noting that Buffalo can’t clinch the division in Week 17, so they’ll be playing their starters in Week 18 against the New York Jets.

To clinch a playoff spot in Week 17, the Bills will need to win. There are no scenarios where they can clinch a postseason spot with a loss to the Falcons.

Now that the Bills have moved to ten wins, we have eliminated all the teams that have eight losses or seven losses plus a tie. They can’t pass the ten-win Bills, so bye-bye to the previously eliminated Jaguars, Texans, and Jets in addition to the Broncos, Browns, and Steelers.

The Miami Dolphins have seven losses and can’t pass the Bills for a playoff spot because of Buffalo’s 2-0 record vs Miami and 3-1 record vs Miami New England combined, so there’s one more down.

Now to clinch in Week 17, we need two more of the seven-loss teams to get to eight losses (or seven losses plus a tie) to ensure Buffalo will stay ahead of them or we need to ensure that enough seven-loss teams can’t win a tiebreaker scenario with the Bills.

The Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) and the Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) face off in the final week of the season. A tie would eliminate both teams from a Bills scenario. Since one of them will presumably win that game, the team that loses will be behind the Bills.

The last remaining seven-loss team is the Baltimore Ravens, who play the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17. If the Ravens lose, coupled with all the other certainties listed above if Buffalo wins, the Bills have punched their postseason ticket.

Another scenario exists where the Chargers and Raiders both lose in Week 17. The Chargers host the Broncos while the Raiders are at the Colts. That would leave both of those teams with 8 losses so the winner of their Week 18 game wouldn’t matter for the Bills’ wild card chances.

It boils down to this:

How the Bills can clinch a playoff spot in Week 17

  • Bills win


  • Ravens loss OR Chargers + Raiders losses