ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Patriots' dramatic win Sunday over the Pittsburgh Steelers clinched the AFC East for New England and eliminated any chance of the Buffalo Bills' trip next Sunday to Gillette Stadium having an impact in the division race.
Yet as the Bills enter their final two games, discussion about Buffalo's path to ending its 17-year playoff drought continues to intensify.
At 8-6, the Bills are tied with the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens for fifth place in the AFC. How tiebreakers between those three teams shake out at the moment -- and which team is left out of the postseason -- is not significant. What matters is the result of those tiebreakers at the end of the season, when common games and other aspects are finalized.
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, the Bills have a 36 percent chance of making the playoffs after Sunday's games.
With that in mind, here are some key points to consider about the Bills' playoff chances:
Winning out will almost guarantee a playoff spot. If the Bills win at New England in Week 16 and at Miami in Week 17 to finish 10-6, they would have a 96 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, according to FiveThirtyEight. The scenario that would keep them out would be the Titans and Ravens winning their remaining games, and the Jaguars losing their remaining games, leaving all of those teams at 10-6. In that case, the Titans would win the AFC South, the Jaguars and Ravens would be the wild cards and the Bills would be eliminated.
The Titans winning in Week 16 can help the Bills. It is not logical at first glance because the Titans are in the thick of the AFC wild-card race with the Bills, but Tennessee beating the Los Angeles Rams would increase the Bills' odds to 39 percent, while a Titans loss would decrease the Bills' odds to 35 percent. With a Titans win in Week 16, the Bills would need only a win over the Dolphins in Week 17 and a Titans loss to the Jaguars in Week 17 to clinch a playoff berth -- regardless what happens to Buffalo next Sunday in New England. That is because the Titans defeating the Rams would help force a three-way tiebreaker between the Bills, Titans and Ravens at 9-7, which would help put the Bills in the postseason.
The Ravens losing in Week 16 can really help the Bills. If the Ravens trip up at home next Sunday against the Colts, and the Bills take care of business at Miami in Week 17, the Bills would have a 97 percent chance of making the postseason -- regardless of what happens next Sunday between the Bills and Patriots. Given those two results, the Ravens beating the Bengals in Week 17, the Titans losing to the Jaguars in Week 17 or the Chargers losing either of their remaining games would then clinch the playoffs for Buffalo.
A loss to the Patriots will not crush the Bills. Given some of the scenarios outlined above, the Bills have legitimate paths to the playoffs without a win against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium next Sunday. Regardless of all other outcomes, the Bills' playoff chances would only decrease from 36 percent to 29 percent with a loss to New England. Buffalo's Week 17 game is more critical; regardless of what happens in New England, the Bills' chances would increase to 66 percent with a win or decrease to 9 percent with a loss to Miami.
So what can go wrong for the Bills in Week 16? In terms of playoff probabilities, the worst-case scenario for the Bills would be a loss to the Patriots, a Titans loss to the Rams, as well as wins by the Ravens and Chargers. That would decrease the Bills' playoff odds to 17 percent.