It vaulted the team to 8-6 on the season and kept them in the sixth and final playoff spot out of the AFC. Their hopes received an added boost from the fact that the Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Chargers both lost in week 15.
Two games remain in the regular season, both of which force the Bills to go on the road. The first takes place in Foxborough this Sunday as they look to avoid a season sweep against the New England Patriots. A week later, they have a chance to break out the broomsticks themselves with a second win in three weeks against the Dolphins.
As they say, nothing’s impossible. So it’s within the realm of possibility that Buffalo can upset the Patriots, upend the Dolphins and all but assure themselves of a wild card spot with a 10-6 record. But considering the Bills sport an 0-13 away record in games where Tom Brady plays more than a half, it’s more than likely they come up short at Gillette Stadium.
Still, there’s no scenario whereby which the Bills are eliminated from playoff contention after week 16. That makes the regular season finale in Miami among the biggest games in the history of the drought. Though they don’t exactly control their own destiny, there are a few factors trending in their favor.
With that in mind, it’s time to break down how the Bills can erase 18 years of frustration and futility by getting just one more regular season win.
How a 9-7 Buffalo Bills Team Can Make the Playoffs
What To Do About the Baltimore Ravens
There are few teams in the league playing better football than the Baltimore Ravens. They’ve prevailed in five of their last seven, with their wins coming by an average of 22.2 points. And if not for a frenzied fourth quarter comeback win by the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 14, that mark is six of seven.
It’s not elite quarterback play from Joe Flacco that has the Ravens in the playoff hunt. Among players at his position who’ve thrown for a minimum of 2,500 yards, his 79.1 passer rating is the lowest. Instead, they’re getting it done with one of the most underrated run games in the NFL. It includes Alex Collins whose five touchdowns have all come since November 19th. They also boast a ball-hawking secondary, with veteran safety Eric Weddle tied for second in the league with six interceptions.
Baltimore currently finds itself on the outside looking in. Although they boast the same 8-6 record as the Bills and Titans, they’re on the wrong end of two key tiebreakers: record in conference games and strength of victory. However, their final two games come against the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals. In terms of opponent record, that gives the Ravens the third easiest slate of remaining games in the NFL.
What it means is that a 10-6 finish is a very real possibility. Obviously that precludes any tiebreakers coming into play if the Bills finish 9-7. But it may not matter if the right things happen. In fact, you don’t have to be the biggest optimist in the world to see a viable playoff path there for the taking in the event Buffalo triumphs in one of their last two.
What About the Other Three Wild Card Aspirants
In week 16, Vegas is installing the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles as home favorites by an average of 9.5 points against the Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders respectively. Assuming they hold serve, it eliminates those two teams from playoff contention. It also clinches the AFC West for the Chiefs. As such, just the two wild card slots remain for four teams, the Bills, Chargers, Ravens and Titans, to fight over.
As emphasized before, the Ravens have the easiest path to win out considering the strength (or lack thereof) of their opponents. Assuming it happens, they likely rocket up to fifth in the AFC at season’s end. Though Buffalo and Tennessee could also conceivably finish 10-6, the following table underscores how much easier it is for Baltimore to do so. It ranks the four wild card candidates by opponent record in their final two games.
What this indicates is that the Chiefs and Niners did Buffalo tons of favors by winning in week 15. That’s especially the case when it comes to San Fran’s upset win over Tennessee. The team that eliminated the Bills controversially in Buffalo’s last playoff appearance have a veritable gauntlet against the Los Angeles Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars. Both those teams are rolling and still have a chance to clinch a bye into the divisional round. That’s important in week 17 as the Jags may opt against resting their starters.
The Chargers are an interesting case, though. They go on the road this week and face a scrappy Jets team who’ve punched above their weight in 2017. Then they finish against an underachieving Raiders side at StubHub Center. The Bills’ playoff chances can get a huge boost if their AFC East rivals can play spoiler. But with the fifth easiest finish to their season, it wouldn’t surprise many to see L.A. finish 9-7.
What Needs To Happen
What’s interesting about the current situation in the AFC is that Buffalo does indeed control their own destiny, to a point. If they somehow shock the Pats this coming Sunday, a win over the Dolphins a week later not only gets them into the playoffs. It also could move them up to the five-seed. They’d have the same 8-4 conference record as the Titans and Ravens but should end up with a better strength of victory percentage than Baltimore at the very least. That’s especially the case given the win over New England they’d own.
Consequently, if the Ravens do indeed finish 10-6, there’s no playoff path for the Bills should they drop their final two games. Even if the Titans and Chargers finish 8-8 as well, the Titans would get the edge due to the conference record tiebreaker. Their 7-5 mark in the AFC would put them ahead of both Buffalo (6-6) and Los Angeles (5-7) in this particular scenario.
That brings us to how the Bills qualify for the postseason with a 9-7 record. And once again, the assumption is that the Ravens take advantage of their easy end of season schedule and finish 10-6.
1 – Titans lose out, Chargers lose out or finish 1-1
This is fairly self-explanatory. It means the Bills would be the lone 9-7 club and not have to rely on any pesky tiebreakers to sneak into the postseason. They’re in as the six-seed and likely face a trip to Jacksonville in the wild card round.
2 – Titans beat Rams and lose to Jaguars, Chargers win out
This sets up a three-way tie from a record standpoint between the Bills, Titans and Chargers. What helps the Bills is that since neither them nor the Chargers played the Titans, head-to-head doesn’t apply. And so Buffalo doesn’t need to worry about their blowout loss to L.A. in week 11. In this scenario, each team’s record in conference games is as follows:
Los Angeles Chargers (6-6)
That eliminates the Chargers. In that case, the first tiebreaker that applies is won-lost-tied percentage in common games assuming there are a minimum of four. Both the Titans and Bills have played the Bengals, Raiders, Colts and Dolphins. As of right now, Buffalo’s .750 win percentage is higher than Tennessee’s .600 mark in those games. That would only improve should the Bills’ ninth win of the year come in week 17 over the Dolphins.
Moral of the Story: Take Care of Business
Not many expected the Bills to still be alive with two games remaining. The pair of frantic preseason moves that shipped Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby out of town for draft picks precipitated talk of tanking wrapped in the more benign term “trust the process.” Add in the trade of Marcell Dareus to the Jags and there was further reinforcement of the notion that this team was building for the future.
But here they are, on the precipice of postseason glory for the first time this millennium. It’s obviously far from a guarantee. But there are possibilities the likes of which have only existed twice through 14 games (2004, 2014) since their last trip to the playoffs. It has fans cautiously optimistic that this is the year the drought ends despite indications to the contrary in the off-season. All it requires is for Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White and others to help this team circle the wagons one last time at the very least while getting some external help in the process.