'Tis the season for breaking out that decoder ring. With two weeks left in the NFL season, football becomes a series of "if p then q" scenarios to determine which teams will advance into the postseason.
But Buffalo Bills head coach Wade Phillips doesn't care about charting playoff possibilities. He's only focused on one thing.
"New England. That's it. I mean, that's all we're looking at," Phillips said. "We can't do anything about the next game -- the one after New England, whoever that is (division-leading Indianapolis).
"And we can't do anything about what anybody else is doing. We're just looking at this game and this is the most important game for us."
Concentrating on this game could make the difference in the playoff race. If the Bills win at New England this week and either Miami loses or Seattle loses or ties, Buffalo would clinch a playoff spot.
Even if Buffalo, Miami and Seattle all win, the Bills have a chance to clinch a berth with a victory in the season finale, a home game against Indy, which already has wrapped up the AFC East title.
But the Colts (12-2) are in a playoff race of their own with Jacksonville (13-1) for the No. 1 spot in the AFC. If Jacksonville gets the win on the road at Tennessee (11-3), the Jaguars take the top spot and the Colts are locked into No. 2 seed. That scenario could mean Indianapolis takes a more laid-back approach to the final game, resting some of its better players in preparation for the playoffs.
Then, there's the Miami factor. Sporting the same 9-5 record as the Bills, Miami has the more difficult schedule, hosting the New York Jets on Monday night and traveling to Washington for the season finale. With two wins over the Dolphins, Buffalo holds the tiebreaker.
And there still remains an outside possibility of a home playoff game. Should Tennessee tank the rest of the season and lose to Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, and the Bills win their remaining two games, the Bills would get the fourth seed based on a better record against common opponents.
That, however, is a scenario Phillips hasn't considered yet.
He's just concerned with this Sunday's game at New England. And though the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs with a 24-9 loss to Philadelphia, Phillips contends they won't be pushovers.
"I don't worry about that too much either," Phillips said. "It's how good we play. . . . We expect them to play their best. I don't have any control over how they play or how they feel or what they're motivation is. But you gotta expect what their potential best is and then we've got to play our best no matter what. And that's where it is.
"They're trying to keep us from our goal. They're standing in the way of our goal. They're playing at home and we're particularly worried about them when they didn't have a good game. . . . They have so much pride. Not that they're playing for a championship but their guys have so much pride. They're going to show everyone that they can play."