Clearing up Bills playoff path, as much as possible

NFL
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ORCHARD PARK, NY – DECEMBER 10: LeSean McCoy #25 of the Buffalo Bills scores a touchdown to win the game during overtime against the Indianapolis Colts on December 10, 2017 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

How twisted and confusing is the Bills’ path the playoffs? Let’s sum up. 

If the Bills get in a tie with the Chiefs, Buffalo wins. If the Bills get in a tie with Chargers, Buffalo loses. 

Yet, the Bills will likely prefer a tie with the Chargers over the Chiefs. 

The simple good news is a win over Miami this weekend will guarantee playoff survival until the final week of the season.

For everything that follows, we’ll assume the Bills win their two games with the Dolphins and lose in Foxboro Christmas Eve to finish 9-7.

If Buffalo swept their last three games, they would make the playoffs unless Baltimore and Tennessee both also won their last three. If they lose a game to Miami, then Bills fans can start picking out their favorite college quarterback.

From the Bills’ point of view, the AFC playoffs are down to five teams for three spots. Two of those spots are available for the men of Orchard Park. 

Buffalo can’t threaten the Jags. Likewise, there is no scenario where the Raiders can take a spot from the Bills. That means BillsMafia can root for Jacksonville and Oakland without worry. 

The teams of concern are Baltimore, Tennessee, Kansas City and the Chargers. One AFC West team will win the division. 

The Ravens could easily sweep the softest remaining schedule of the group (@ Cle, v Ind, v Cin), finish 10-6 and make all the 9-7 tiebreaker talk moot. If the Ravens are going to lose one game, the Bills want it to not be Cleveland (shouldn’t be hard). 

Wins over Indy and Cincy would make Baltimore undefeated in common games played with the Bills (Raiders, Colts, Bengals, Dolphins). Buffalo’s loss to Cincinnati does them in. 

On the flip side, the Bills will win a common games tiebreaker with the Titans (Buffalo is 4-1 vs Oak/Ind/Cin/Mia. Tennessee has already lost to the Raiders and Dolphins).

However, the tiebreak only gets to common games IF the Titans lose the season finale in Tennessee against Jacksonville. Finishing 9-7 means the Bills would be 7-5 in conference. A Titans win over the Jags gives them eight conference wins. 

The Titans can also help the Bills beat out Baltimore. If the Titans, Bills and Ravens all finish 9-7 (again, assuming the Tennessee loss to Jacksonville), then all three teams would also be 7-5 in conference. 

A three-way tie can’t be broken by common games. There aren’t enough of them among all three teams. The next tiebreak is strength of victory. 

The easy way to figure this is count the wins among opponents each tied team has beaten and will beat, based on our projections. 

The Bills expected nine victims currently have 47 wins. Baltimore’s nine, assuming a loss to Indy or Cincy, won’t exceed 39. Tennessee’s nine have 42 wins if they beat San Francisco and lose to the Rams. Reverse that, and the Titans strength of victory goes to 48 wins. 

A three-way tie greatly favors the Bills. Five and eight game leads in strength of victory at this point of the season are almost insurmountable. Even the last scenario with Tennessee is winnable. 

This is where we’ll enter the AFC West and sort out the confusion from the top. 

The Chargers will have a hard time making the playoffs as a wild card at 9-7 because their conference record would be 6-6. A three way tie with Buffalo, LA and Tennessee gets the Bills in the playoffs (Buf/Ten would have a 7-5 conference record and the Bills would have the better common games record against Tennessee).

The Chiefs at 9-7 would have a 7-5 conference record, just like the Bills, Titans and Ravens. However, Kansas City would bring to the party a stupendous strength of victory number (currently no worse than 59) thanks to early season wins over New England and Philadelphia. 

As long as they don’t get stuck with the Bills in a two team tie for the final spot, Kansas City is nearly a lock to make the playoffs at 9-7. 

So, how do Bills fans take all this and figure out who to root for over the final three weeks? 

Buffalo is dead if the Ravens win their last two games and Tennessee beats the Jags week 17 or wins any two games. Assume these things won’t happen. 

The Chiefs host the Chargers Saturday night. The winner takes the driver’s seat for the division title. The loser becomes primary competition for the Bills. 

If the Chiefs lose, the Bills don’t want a third team to ruin their head to head advantage. If the Chargers lose, the Bills need a third team in.

The Titans seem like the probable third wheel. 

Tennessee’s final two games are daunting, even if both are at home (Rams, Jags). It seems a reasonable assumption they lose both. 

A Chiefs loss Saturday means Bills fans probably want Tennessee to fall in San Francisco Sunday, hoping the Titans skid out to 8-8. 

A Chargers loss Saturday switches BillsMafia to Titans fans, hoping Tennessee ends up 9-7 in a three way with Buffalo and LA. A tie that Buffalo would win. 

Bills fans can always just root against everybody. Nothing would clear up the Bills’ 9-7 path to the playoffs faster than Tennessee and the AFC West second place team both finishing 8-8. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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