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Today's winner faces long odds

Long-winded titles for bowl games are the norm these days, so you might call today's Buffalo Bills game the Hoping for a Tiebreaker Miracle Bowl. Or maybe the Cursing Themselves for September Mistakes Bowl.

The Bills and the Miami Dolphins meet today at Ralph Wilson Stadium, each trying to keep its slender chances of making the NFL playoffs alive.

Both teams stand 6-7, and today's winner still will be a long shot to earn a wild-card berth. However, as Bills coach Dick Jauron said, "Until they tell us we're out, we're not out."

"It's definitely loser go home in terms of the playoffs," said Bills receiver Lee Evans. "To give ourselves a chance we definitely have to win out starting with this game. It will be a high-intensity game."

The Bills have won four of their last six, and the Dolphins have won five of their last six.

But in the race for the AFC's two wild-card berths, both teams still are staring up at the New York Jets (7-6) in the AFC East and four other teams elsewhere in the AFC -- Cincinnati (8-5), Jacksonville (8-5), Kansas City (7-6) and Denver (7-6).

"I'm not smart enough to try to figure out the tiebreaker system," joked Bills linebacker London Fletcher. "Let's win and see what happens."

If the Bills were to win their last three games -- today, next week against Tennessee and the regular-season finale at Baltimore -- here's the likeliest series of events they would need to make the playoffs:

*A Jets loss to Miami next week.

*Two losses by Jacksonville, which closes with Tennessee, New England and Kansas City. (The Bills beat the Jaguars and have a tie-breaker edge over them).

*Two losses by Denver, which closes with Arizona, Cincinnati and San Francisco. (The Broncos have a better record against common opponents than the Bills.)

*One loss each by Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

The Bills probably can't beat out Cincinnati through tie-breakers, even if the Bengals stumble and lose two out of three games.

Miami is even a longer shot to make it than the Bills. While the Bills have the tiebreaker edge over one of the two eight-win teams (Jacksonville), Miami does not. The Dolphins lost to the Jaguars. The Dolphins might not even be alive with a win today, if both Cincinnati and Jacksonville win this weekend.

Nevertheless, the Dolphins currently are playing as well or better than any of the wild-card contenders.

Miami ranks second in the NFL on defense and is 18th on offense. Buffalo is 30th on offense and 19th on defense.

Both the Bills and the Dolphins can look back with regret on early season slip-ups.

The Bills lost by two at New England in the season-opener, by three at lowly Detroit and by one score at home to the Jets in a game they dominated statistically. The Dolphins lost to Houston on a failed two-point conversion attempt and lost by a field goal to the Jets.

"If we had pulled out two of the five games [the first half of the season] we'd be talking about a totally different story," said Bills quarterback J.P. Losman. "We know we've been very close all year. We weren't able to pull out the close ones early in the year but we're fighting and scratching to get in there right now."

"The little things you don't cash in on early can come back to hurt you late," said receiver Lee Evans. "You can't really regret it but you certainly can learn from it."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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