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BILLS' FOCUS SHIFTS FROM FOXBORO TO PLAYOFFS

The Buffalo Bills were trying to convince themselves Monday to forget about their "Patriotgate" loss in New England.

They were talking about how they played well enough to win, despite their 25-21 loss in Foxboro, Mass. They were talking about how they need to play better. Most of all, they were talking about the fact they still are in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

"We'll get over it," cornerback Thomas Smith said of the team's defeat and the controversial calls by officials at the end of the game. "Eleven and five gets us into the playoffs. That's what matters. We can't do anything about what happened yesterday. I just want to forget about it."

Indeed, the Bills still have their destiny in their own hands in terms of making the playoffs.

They can do that by winning their last four games and finishing 11-5. They probably can make the playoffs at 10-6, as long as they defeat the New York Jets in the second-last game of the season.

And while they trail both the Jets and Miami (at 8-4) and are tied with the Patriots (7-5), the Bills have the easiest remaining schedule of the AFC East contenders.

"Miami and New England still play each other," said quarterback Doug Flutie. "The Jets play both of them. Someone's got to lose somewhere, unless they all tie, which after looking at yesterday could happen.

"Let's take care of our business," Flutie said. "We have to win this week and put ourselves in position to still win this division. We still have a great opportunity here."

That was the optimistic viewpoint, of course. The pessimistic view Monday was the Bills diminished their margin for error by letting a fourth-quarter lead slip through their hands against the Patriots.

The AFC East race remains wide open and still could end in a three-way tie. (A four-way tie is possible but less likely.)

Even the tiebreakers in the AFC East are looking incredibly close.

The first tiebreaker is head-to-head results. The Bills have split with Miami and New England and are hoping for a split with the Jets.

The second tiebreaker is division record. The Jets are 4-1 and the other three teams are 4-3. But the Jets' remaining schedule reads: Seattle, at Miami, at Buffalo, New England.

The third tiebreaker is conference record. The Jets are 6-2, New England 6-4 and Miami and the Bills are 5-4.

The fourth tiebreaker is best winning percentage in common games. That one's up in the air pending the results of the next four weeks.

The fifth tiebreaker is best net points in division games. In the past 25 years, there have been 77 playoff positions decided by tiebreaker. Only three of those times has point differential been used to break the tie. For the record, the Jets are way ahead in this department, at plus-80. (New England is plus-19, Miami plus-11, Buffalo plus-7).

The Bills, of course, have to worry about some teams outside the AFC East, as well, in the fight for a wild-card playoff spot.

As of this week, there are five teams in prime contention for three wild-card spots. Those include three AFC East teams (one of the four East contenders will win the division), plus Pittsburgh and Oakland, both 7-5.

New England is at Pittsburgh this week, while Miami visits Oakland. So those results will be good for Buffalo, one way or the other.

Not that the Bills are counting on help.

"We can't take anything for granted, thinking that we might get in if this or that happens," said fullback Sam Gash.

"We could have won the game yesterday ourselves without worrying about officials' calls," Gash said. "We have to go out and play a more complete game and win."

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