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AFC playoff picture, 2015 NFL Week 12: Buffalo Bills rooting interests

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The AFC playoff picture is complicated, and involves a lot of teams entering Week 12. We sort through the mess for you as you root for everything to break the Buffalo Bills' way.

The Buffalo Bills have a golden opportunity in Week 12 to solidify their standing among the AFC playoff teams and take control of the wild wild card race, if only for a week. A game against the sixth-place Kansas City Chiefs gives the Bills a chance to move up all the way to fifth, but a loss will move them into the bottom half of the conference with only five games left.

Seven games have major implications for the 5-5 Bills this weekend, with another handful having lesser consequences. Only three games games have none.

Standings

1. New England Patriots (10-0)
2. Cincinnati Bengals (8-2, 7-1 in AFC)
3. Denver Broncos (8-2, 4-2 in AFC)
4. Indianapolis Colts (5-5, head-to-head win over HOU)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)
6. Kansas City Chiefs (5-5, 4-2 AFC)
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7. Houston Texans (5-5, 4-3 AFC, head-to-head losses to IND & KC, win over NYJ)
8. Buffalo Bills (5-5, 5-4 in AFC, head-to-head win over NYJ)
9. New York Jets (5-5, 4-4 AFC, head-to-head loss to HOU)
10. Oakland Raiders (4-6, 4-3 AFC)
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6, 4-4 AFC, head-to-head win over MIA)
12. Miami Dolphins (4-6, 2-5 AFC, head-to-head loss to JAX)
13. Baltimore Ravens (3-7)
14. Cleveland Browns (2-8, 2-6 AFC)
15. San Diego Chargers (2-8, 1-5 AFC)
16. Tennessee Titans (2-8, 0-6 AFC)

Who to root for

Buffalo (5-5) over Kansas City (5-5)
Sunday, November 29, 1:00 p.m. ET

The biggest game in the second half of the season for the Buffalo Bills occurs on a short week in Arrowhead. Not ideal. The Chiefs have the lowest opponents' winning percentage in the NFL the rest of the way, so Buffalo needs to put down KC while they have the chance. A head-to-head win will mean so much as the rest of the season plays out. It's not a must-win, but if they don't win, the rest of Buffalo's games likely will be.

Seattle (5-5) over Pittsburgh (6-4)
Sunday, November 29, 4:25 p.m. ET

The first of many games where an NFC opponent can do the Bills a ton of favors. A Buffalo win and Pittsburgh loss lets the Bills move past the Steelers. Buffalo needs to some help, and it's high time the Seahawks started playing up to their pedigree. It's in Seattle, which is always a difficult place to play.

New Orleans (4-6) over Houston (5-5)
Sunday, November 29, 1:00 p.m. ET

Houston is tied for the division lead and the final wild card spot and their quarterback is healthy again, but they also have a loss to the Chiefs already on their schedule. The Bills will play Houston next week at home, and then Houston hosts the Patriots, but they have won two straight and might be finding their groove.

Miami (4-6) over New York Jets (5-5)
Sunday, November 29, 1:00 p.m. ET

The Jets have lost their last two games, and are even questioning who their starting quarterback could be. It's pretty simple math here. Buffalo already has a tiebreaker over Miami, and wants the two teams' records to even out, hopefully a full game behind the Bills after Week 12.

Tampa Bay (5-5) over Indianapolis (5-5)
Sunday, November 29, 1:00 p.m. ET

Make no mistake, Indianapolis is in the wild card discussion. A loss to an NFC team helps the Bills if the Colts should stumble and allows Houston or Jacksonville to pass them. Buffalo already has a season-opening win on Indianapolis, but this would help, too.

San Diego (2-8) over Jacksonville (4-6)
Sunday, November 29, 1:00 p.m. ET

The Jaguars have a tiebreaking win over the Bills, as you will likely recall, and won three-out-of-four to enter the fringe of the playoff discussion. San Diego could put them back in their place but it's a 1:00 p.m. ET start time.

Tennessee (2-8) over Oakland (4-6)
Sunday, November 29, 1:00 p.m. ET

A loss here effectively knocks the Raiders out of the playoff race. Remember when they were in fifth place? They've lost three straight.

New England (10-0) over Denver (8-2)
Sunday, November 29, 8:30 p.m. ET

Not that you "want" to root for the Patriots, but it's much more likely Buffalo will be able to pass Denver than New England. Plus, a Patriots win helps Buffalo tiebreakers. There is no statistical reason to root for a Denver win. There might be a physical one, though.

St. Louis (4-6) over Cincinnati (8-2)
Sunday, November 29, 1:00 p.m. ET

We don't expect the Bengals to drop into the wild card race, and even if they do, they have a head-to-head win over Buffalo. Until they have clinched the division or a better record than Buffalo, this is the right call, especially if they are facing a team that doesn't matter.

Cleveland (2-8) over Baltimore (3-7)
Monday, November 30, 8:30 p.m. ET

Baltimore has so many impact players injured, they've probably lost their ability to make a magical postseason run. A loss to Cleveland would all but end their bid with eight losses. It might be nice if Baltimore was playing for something against Kansas City and Pittsburgh in Weeks 15 and 16, but that's improbable.

Philadelphia (4-6) over Detroit (3-6)
Thursday, November 25, 12:30 p.m. ET

Dallas (3-7) over Carolina (10-0)
Thursday, November 25, 4:30 p.m. ET

Washington (4-6) over New York Giants (5-5)
Sunday, November 30, 1:00 p.m. ET

Buffalo lost to the Giants, but hasn't yet played the Redskins, which means it could be a boost in strength of victory later on. Same goes for the Eagles and Cowboys, who Buffalo will face in December. It's the fifth tiebreaker, and will probably have little impact, though.

Green Bay (7-3) vs. Chicago (4-6)
Thursday, November 25, 8:30 p.m.

Minnesota (7-3) vs. Atlanta (6-4)
Sunday, November 30, 1:00 p.m.

Arizona (8-2) vs. San Francisco (3-7)
Sunday, November 30, 4:05 p.m.

Happy Thanksgiving! Both teams beat the Chiefs, so just root for a good game. Pittsburgh beat both Arizona and San Francisco, so it's a wash in strength of victory tiebreaker implications in that game. Without knowing which AFC teams the Bills will be up against, it's difficult to root for one or the other in the Vikings-Falcons game. It would be pretty far down the list, anyway.

Outcomes

A Bills win moves them to 6-5 with a commanding 6-4 record in their AFC tilts, plus head-too-head victories over multiple wild card contenders. With Houston playing an NFC opponent, it would move the Bills into playoff position regardless of any other outcomes. A Steelers loss coupled with a Bills win would move Buffalo into fifth place with strong tiebreakers to lean on.

Buffalo losing would have disastrous effects. They would be 5-6, and could fall all the way to a tie for tenth place. It wouldn't be the end of their season, but they would need massive help against the Steelers and Chiefs in December, at minimum.

If you want to play around, you can go to the New York Times or ESPN playoff simulators. Both fun.