While we are only halfway through the NFL season, the AFC playoff race is starting to heat up. Nine teams have records over .500 through 8 games and not one team has established themselves as a juggernaut. The Buffalo Bills (5-3) and Cincinnati Bengals (4-3), two teams once considered among the best in the AFC, will go head to head for the first time since the Bengals took the Bills out of last season’s NFL playoffs. Both teams are looking to ensure their respective franchises can make it back to the postseason again in 2023, but that’s anything other than assured to be the case through nine weeks.
Buffalo and Cincinnati each failed to get off to a field-separating solid start, which gives tonight’s primetime matchup extra significance. Both teams won their division last year and are trailing in the division so far this season, meaning eacch could be battling it out for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. Tie breakers are so important and beating a team like the Bengals now could pay huge dividends two months from now in the standings.
Just how important is tonight’s outcome? The New York Times activated their NFL playoff machine this week and I ran some simulations through this game. I had the machine run through over 100,000 simulations based on each outcome the Bills could have. With a win by Buffalo, their percentage chance to make the playoffs is about 83%. Furthermore, they would have a 9% chance at the top seed, a 27% chance of hosting a game on Wild Card weekend, a 48% chance of being a Wild Card team, and in 18% of simulations the Bills missed the playoffs all together.
With a loss, Buffalo’s odds to make the playoffs drops almost 30 percentage points to about a 54% chance of making it — a huge drop. It takes the Bills almost totally out of the top-seed race, (less than 1%), and gives them a 17% chance of hosting a Wild Card game, 37% chance of being a Wild Card team, and an alarming 45% chance to miss the playoffs in any form.
Obviously there’s lots of football still to be played, but the Buffalo Bills will face a gauntlet of game down the home stretch of the regular season. According to tankathon.com, Buffalo faces the third-hardest remaining schedule of all the teams in the NFL.
The Bills have to stack wins against AFC opponents. Losing a fourth game to an AFC opponent could be what keeps Buffalo out of the playoffs. A win against the Bengals could silence all of this — for at least another week.
Winning tonight will also avenge their early exit from last season’s playoffs. We’ve been sitting with that loss for months now. There are no excuses this year. — no snow, wind, or brutal cold. This could be a statement win for a franchise looking to show they still belong amongst the AFC elite, and not a retooling team still searching for its identity.
What do you think will happen tonight? Is this a must-win game for the Buffalo Bills? Should we be worried about the playoffs already? Let me know in the comments below!