ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Buffalo Bills care more about clinching the division title than simply clinching a playoff spot, but the AFC East crown can’t be won until next week (so starters will be playing in Week 18).
This weekend, all eyes will be on the scenarios that can lock the Bills into a playoff spot. That would give them their third straight playoff berth, which hasn’t happened since their Super Bowl era in the early 1990s.
The first thing the Bills (9-6) need to do to clinch a playoff spot this weekend is win their game against the Falcons, who are 7-8 overall but just one game back in the NFC Wild Card race. That sets up the following two scenarios:
1. Bills win + Ravens lose
If the Bills beat the Falcons and the Ravens lose to the Rams (11-4), that locks the Bills into a playoff spot.
In this scenario, the Bills (currently 9-6) couldn’t be jumped by enough of the four 8-7 teams that are currently tied for the final wild card position. The Ravens would be two games back with one to play; the Dolphins could only match the Bills on record but would lose on tiebreakers; and the Chargers and Raiders play each other in Week 18, so they can’t both get to 10 wins.
2. Bills win + Chargers and Raiders lose
If the Bills beat the Falcons, the Chargers lose to the Broncos (7-8) and the Raiders lose to the Colts (9-6), that also locks the Bills into a playoff spot.
In this scenario, the Ravens would be the only one of the current 8-6 teams that could pass the Bills. The Chargers and Raiders would both drop too far back, and if the Bills win this week they can’t get passed by the Dolphins.
(Even in an unlikely scenario where the Dolphins win out, the Bills lose to the Jets next week and the Patriots win this week and then lose to the Dolphins next week to make all three teams finish 10-7, the Bills would win the tiebreaker for the division title.)
Scenarios with ties
These are often not worth mentioning because of the low likelihood of a tie … but there are ways the Bills can also clinch this weekend that involve a game ending in a tie.
- BUF win + BAL tie
- BUF win + LAC loss or tie + LV loss or tie
- BUF tie + MIA loss or tie + LAC loss + LV loss
- BUF tie + MIA loss or tie + LAC loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie
- BUF tie + MIA loss or tie + LV loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie
- BUF tie + NE loss or tie + LAC Loss + LV loss
- BUF tie + NE loss or tie + LAC loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie
- BUF tie + NE loss or tie + LV loss or tie + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie
- BUF tie + LAC loss + LV loss + BAL loss + PIT loss or tie
How the Bills can win the division
The most straight-forward route for the Bills to win their second straight AFC East title is to win their two remaining games against the Falcons and Jets. If they take care of business, nothing else matters; they can’t get passed by the Patriots if they win out.
- Bills finish 2-0: Bills win the division.
- Bills finish 1-1: If the Bills win either of their final two games, the Dolphins are out of the picture for the division. Then, it would just be between the Bills and Patriots. If the Bills go 1-1 and the Patriots lose out, the Bills win the division just based on record. If the Bills and Patriots both go 1-1, there is only one scenario where the Patriots can pass the Bills on tiebreakers: That happens if the Bills win this week but lose to the Jets, and the Patriots lose this week to Jacksonville but beat the Dolphins. That would make the Bills and Pats even on head to head and division record, and the Patriots would have the edge in common games. If the Bills beat the Jets or the Patriots lose to the Dolphins while going 1-1, the Bills win the tiebreaker.
- Bills finish 0-2: The only way the Bills can win the division if they lose out is if the Patriots also lose out (vs. JAX, at MIA) and the Dolphins lose this week at Tennessee. All three teams would tie at 9-8 in this scenario and the Bills would win the tiebreaker.
Other teams for Bills fans to watch this week are the Bengals (vs. KC) and Titans (vs. MIA). Those teams are currently ahead of the Bills in the AFC standings.
You can get ready for the Bills-Falcons game by watching Buffalo Kickoff Live at 11 a.m. Sunday on WIVB.com and the CW23. The television show heads to WIVB at 11:30 for the second half hour.
* * *
Nick Veronica is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a Digital Executive Producer in 2021. He previously worked at NBC Sports and The Buffalo News. You can follow Nick on Facebook and Twitter and find more of his work here