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AFC Playoffs: Bills likely to end up with 3 seed if they win division

Math is fun!

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 (9-6) took control of the AFC East with their Week 16 win over the New England Patriots. With two games left in the season, we can’t take anything for granted, but the way the final weeks are shaping up, it looks like Buffalo will end up with the third seed in the AFC if they win the division.

In order to clinch the division, Buffalo likely needs to win out. Luckily, they face the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets, two exceedingly winnable games. If the Bills can’t beat these two teams with what’s at stake, they don’t deserve to be division champs. That would make the Buffalo 11-6 and ahead of the New England Patriots at 11-6 or 10-7.

Above the Bills currently are the Cincinnati Bengals (also 9-6), but with Buffalo likely to finish 7-5 in the AFC and Cincinnati already at 7 AFC wins, the Bills won’t win a tiebreaker with the Bengals so they would have to lose one game for Buffalo to pass them. Cincy faces a grueling road to the playoffs, though. This Sunday, they kick off the new year hosting the first-place Kansas City Chiefs (11-4), who are trying to lock up a first-round bye. The Chiefs have won eight straight games on their season-ending run. Then the Bengals travel to Cleveland, who still has a path to the postseason if they can knock off the Steelers on Monday night. They likely won’t be running for the bus. It feels likely the Bengals lose one of those games and the winner of the AFC North could be the Baltimore Ravens or the Bengals at 10-7, the Steelers at 9-7-1, or even the Browns at 9-8.

The second-place Tennessee Titans (10-5) own a tiebreaker over the Bills and even in a three-way tie with the Chiefs, Bills, and Titans, Tennessee would come out on top. Buffalo would need everything to go their way to be the one seed; the Chiefs and Titans to both lost their final two games and the Bengals to lose in Week 18 after beating the Chiefs in Week 17. To get to the two seed, they would need either the Titans to lose their final two games or the Chiefs to lose their final two games and then the Bengals to lose their final game. The Chiefs play the Bengals and Denver Broncos while the Titans face the red-hot Miami Dolphins but close out the year against the suddenly-hot Houston Texans, who beat Tennessee earlier this year.

With all those scenarios, it seems most likely that the Bills end up with the 3 seed, which is definitely better than the 4 seed.

In the divisional round, the 1 seed will host a game and the highest-remaining seed will host the other game. If the 2 seed loses in the Wild Card round, Buffalo as the 3 seed could host their second playoff game as they did a year ago. If the 1 seed is knocked off, they would then host the AFC Championship Game if everything continued to progress in their favor. None of that is likely to happen as the 4 seed.

To shorten it up, if Buffalo wins their next two games they’re likely to be the 3 seed or the 4 seed, with the 3 seed being more likely. That could be the difference in an extra home game in the playoffs.

Current 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. Miami Dolphins (8-7, 5-5 AFC, 4-1 common games vs LAC)
  8. Baltimore Ravens (8-7, 5-6 AFC, win over LAC)
  9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7, win over LVR, 5-5 AFC, 2-3 common games vs MIA, loss to BAL)
  10. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7, loss to LAC)
  11. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1)
  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