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AFC playoff picture, NFL Week 14: Bengals-Steelers a big one for Buffalo

If the Buffalo Bills are going to sneak into the playoffs this month, they must have a win from the Bengals (over the Steelers) on Sunday. Who Dey!

Who Dey! This weekend, die-hard Buffalo Bills fans are also die-hard Cincinnati Bengals fans. Let us explain.

Heading into Week 14, you may think that the biggest game for the Buffalo Bills' playoff chances this weekend is their own, on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's completely fair to focus solely on that outcome, and worry about the rest from there. But there is a very real argument that the Pittsburgh Steelers' road game against the Cincinnati Bengals is even more important for the Bills' small playoff chances.

On the list of wild card tie-breakers, no matter which way you slice it, the Bills desperately need the Bengals to beat the Steelers on Sunday. If Pittsburgh wins that game, it will supply them with a tie-break win over the Bills based on common opponents, and it would also go a long way toward helping them secure a better conference record by the time Week 17 has finished, as well. Both Pittsburgh and Buffalo have played Cincinnati, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and New England; Buffalo will end the season 1-4 in those games, while the Steelers are currently 1-3. A win over Cincinnati gives them a permanent advantage in that specific tie-breaker; a loss keeps the door open for the Bills.

Due to their six-game winning streak and a four-game stretch against teams with a combined 14-36 record, the 7-5 Kansas City Chiefs will likely cruise into the postseason despite their 1-5 start. Kansas City also has head-to-head tiebreaker wins over both Pittsburgh and Buffalo, so it's very safe to pencil them into the field. That leaves the 7-5 Steelers, the 7-5 New York Jets, and the 6-6 Bills fighting for the last spot (along with 6-6 outfits in Indianapolis and Houston, but the Bills have beaten both of those teams, so let's forget about them for the purposes of this post).

Each scenario - whether we're talking about a two-way tie between the Bills and one of those two teams, or a three-way tie altogether - presents a situation where the Bills have surpassed the Jets. Buffalo already beat New York once this season, and any successful (or near-successful) playoff run will include a second win over the Jets at home in Week 17. That would put the Bills up in a three-way tiebreaker, where divisional tiebreaker is used, so the Bills need more help from teams playing the Steelers. (Go Tennessee, though. Or, New England in two weeks.)

Yet after a two-week stretch in which they play Cincinnati and Denver (the latter being at home), Pittsburgh draws Baltimore and Cleveland, who both stink. The Bills therefore need their Steelers-loss help sooner rather than later. A loss to Denver would be helpful, but a loss to Cincinnati is basically mandatory. Assuming a win over the Jets, the Bills will end the season at 7-5 in the conference, a record the Steelers can match by going 3-1 down the stretch, or exceed with 4-0. A 2-2 finish is feasible, but not likely if they beat Cincinnati. That makes a Bengals win this weekend a must-have for the Bills. Who Dey!