The Bills' playoff chances are extremely low with a 6-7 record, and the embers of hope can be put out for good this weekend.
Here's an exhaustive look at how.
The best the Bills can do this year is 9-7. Two teams, Denver and Miami, could get to nine wins this week. Let's look at Denver first.
AFC division standings after Week 14. pic.twitter.com/A8HXNeF9sf
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 14, 2016
If Denver beats New England, that would get the Broncos to 9-5. Assuming the Bills won out and the Broncos lost out the rest of the way, they’d both finish 9-7. They haven’t played head-to-head, and in the second tiebreaker, conference record, they’d be tied at 6-6.
The third tiebreaker is win percentage in common games, minimum of four. Their common games are the Bengals, Raiders, Jaguars and Patriots. The Bills are 3-2 in those games. With a win against New England, Denver would be 3-1, but this scenario assumes they lose to Oakland in Week 17, tying them at 3-2.
That would get them to the fourth tiebreaker, strength of victory, which compares the combined winning percentages of the teams they’ve beaten.
Finishing 9-7 would give the Bills wins over the Patriots (currently 11 wins), Dolphins (8), Bengals (5.5), Jets (4), Jaguars (2), Browns (0), Cardinals (5.5), Rams (4) and 49ers (1), for a total of 41 wins.
For the Broncos, they would have wins over the Panthers (5), Colts (6), Bengals (5.5), Buccaneers (8), Texans (7), Chargers (5), Saints (5), Jaguars (2) and Patriots (11) for 54.5 wins.
Since wins from opponents they've both played wouldn’t help the Bills close the gap on the Broncos in this tiebreaker, the most wins they could get from opponents is 15 – two from the Dolphins, Jets and Browns and three from the Cardinals, Rams and 49ers. That would put them at 56 defeated-opponent wins.
The Broncos would need only two defeated-opponent wins to pass that, and with the Panthers having a game against the Bucs and Colts still to face the Jaguars, those wins would come.
All of this means a Broncos win officially eliminates the Bills.
Now for the Dolphins. They finish with the Jets, Bills and Patriots.
Tiebreakers for division teams are slightly different. If the Bills won out and the Dolphins won this week and then lost out, they'd be tied at 9-7, tied on head-to-head and they’d both be 3-3 in the division.
The third tiebreaker is win percentage in common games. The AFC East's 16 games this year were made up of six against each other, four against the AFC North, four against the NFC West, and two crossovers against the AFC South and West. So the only non-common opponents they’d have are the two crossover games. Removing the Bills’ games against Jacksonville (win) and Oakland (loss), they’d be 8-6, and removing the Dolphins’ games against the Chargers (win) and Titans (loss), they’d also be 8-6.
The fourth tiebreaker is best win percentage in the conference; they’d both be 6-6.
The fifth tiebreaker is back to strength of victory. The Dolphins would have wins over Browns (0), Steelers (8), Bills (6), Jets (4) x2, Chargers (5), Rams (4), 49ers (2) and Cardinals (5.5) for a total of 38.5. The Bills had 41 in our earlier example; obviously this part gets (even more) complicated with the remaining games, but at least right now it looks like a Dolphins win alone wouldn’t eliminate the Bills, as long as they won.
Here’s another fun thing to consider: Even if the Bills lose to the winless Browns, they still would not be eliminated if the Broncos, Dolphins and Ravens all lost, as well.
If the Bills lose and the Ravens win, that would eliminate the Bills because they can't pass the Ravens at 8-8 since they lost head-to-head.
If the Bills lose Sunday and the Titans win, and then the Bills won out and the Titans lost out, they’d be tied at 8-8 overall, 5-7 in the conference and 3-2 in common games. So it would come down strength of victory again. The Titans are currently ahead with 47 defeated-opponent wins, but that is too narrow a margin to eliminate the Bills for sure (though that could change after Sunday's games).
However, complicating the Titans aspect even further, the Titans are still alive in the AFC South and could pass the Texans for the division lead. The Texans would beat the Bills on conference record if they both finished 8-8. But if both the Texans and Titans won Sunday, that still might not eliminate the Bills because they could get potentially pass the Titans from the scenario above.
Anyway, the Bills are eliminated for sure with:
- A Broncos win vs. the Patriots
- A loss + a Dolphins win vs. the Jets
- A loss + a Ravens win vs. the Eagles