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AFC Playoff Picture: Why Bills can’t clinch division in Week 17

They can’t defeat all the tiebreaker scenarios

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

Earlier this week I told you how the Bills could clinch a playoff spot in Week 17, but I also told you that Buffalo couldn’t clinch the division this weekend. Now I’ve had folks asking why that is, so I thought I’d lay it out.

Current AFC East Standings

  1. Buffalo Bills (9-6, 4-1 AFC East)
  2. New England Patriots (9-6, 3-2 AFC East)
  3. Miami Dolphins (8-7)
  4. New York Jets (4-11)

If the Bills (9-6) win this week and the New England Patriots (9-6) lose this week, Buffalo takes a one-game lead into the final week of the season. Buffalo can’t clinch the tiebreakers needed to secure the division based on potential Week 18 outcomes.

If the Bills beat the Atlanta Falcons and lose to the Jets while the Patriots lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars and beat the Dolphins, here is the order of operations:

1) Head-to-head tiebreaker

The Bills and Patriots are 1-1 against each other, so it moves on.

2) AFC East divisional games

Buffalo is currently 4-1 with their final game in Week 18. The Patriots are currently 3-2 with their final game in Week 18. A loss by the Bills to the Jets and a win by the Patriots over the Dolphins would even out these records, so it would move to the next tiebreaker. Still haven’t clinched.

3) Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games

This is where it gets fun. The common games between the Bills and Patriots are Miami (twice), New York Jets (twice), New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, and Jacksonville. In the scenario where the Bills win in Week 17 and loss Week 18 and the Patriots lose in Week 17 and win in Week 18, the teams would once again be tied at 7-5. Buffalo has wins over Miami (twice), New York Jets (one), New Orleans, Carolina, Atlanta, and Houston with losses to the Jets (once), Buccaneers, Titans, Colts, and Jaguars. New England has wins over Miami (once), New York Jets (twice), Carolina, Atlanta, Houston, and Tennessee, with losses to the Dolphins (once), Saints, Buccaneers, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville.

4) Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference

The fourth tiebreaker would actually break the tie; AFC record. Buffalo has five AFC losses and losing to the Jets would give them a 6-6 record in the conference. The Patriots going 1-1 over their last two contests would have them finish 8-4. They would win the tiebreaker and the AFC East.

If Buffalo wins their final two games, they’ll clinch the division. They can’t clinch the division in Week 17. Look for the Bills to play on Sunday afternoon and the Patriots and Dolphins to move to Saturday in Week 18 since both teams will have playoff spots on the line including pressure on the AFC East title.