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Bucky Gleason: Playoffs remain up for grabs, but Bills have bumpy road ahead

Richie Incognito squawked about Thursday Night Football after the loss to the Jets, but it was hardly the first time and he was hardly alone. NFL players for years have railed against games played after a short week. Many believe their health gets compromised while the league feeds its obsession for money.

Another reason they're not overly fond of Thursday games is that they're forced out of their routine. Football players operate in a regimented fashion with the vast majority of games being played on Sunday. It was strange waking up Sunday knowing the Bills wouldn't be playing, leaving a 10-day gap between games.

In maintaining my newfound (false?) sense of optimism about the Bills, perhaps their game against the Jets came at the right time. The midpoint of the season offered an ideal opportunity to step back and examine where they stood in the AFC playoff race after going 5-3 through their first eight games.

The Bills were 5-3 after a game against the Jets in 2014, too, before finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs. Only seven players remain on the roster from three years ago, eight if you count receiver Deonte Thompson playing the season finale. This is a different team under a different coach in a different league.

For the umpteenth time, the NFL appears tighter than ever. It started with the first game of the season, when the Chiefs took down the Patriots at New England. As the season carried along, so-called good teams faltered. Others destined for a long year, such as the Bills, responded to the challenge.

If you remember, the Bills' victory over the Broncos was a sign Buffalo was better than expected. It looked like a solid win at the time, but it's less impressive when you see Denver stumbling around. The Broncos gave up 51 points to the Eagles on Sunday for their fourth consecutive loss. The Giants' only win this year came against Denver.

Buffalo's 23-17 victory in Atlanta was hailed as the Bills' biggest road win during their 17-year playoff drought. But it was less impressive after the Patriots mopped their turf with the Falcons three weeks later. Atlanta also lost to Miami, easily could have lost to the Jets and fell to the Panthers on Sunday.

It was easy to get caught up in the Bills through the first eight weeks, but let's pump the brakes for a moment. NFL games have amounted to a weekly coin flip. It may not be enough for the Bills to win half of their remaining games. They have a difficult road ahead with the playoffs very much up for grabs.

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Fifteen teams in the AFC have better records or remain within two wins of Buffalo, which means only the lowly Browns do not. Buffalo would likely reach the playoffs with a 10-6 record, which means repeating what it did in the first eight games. The second half could be considerably tougher than the first.

For what it's worth, predictions website gave the Bills a 44 percent chance of making the playoffs after their loss to the Jets. It sounds low, but only the Patriots, Chiefs and Steelers were the only AFC teams listed higher.

And with that comes this …

WARNING: Handicapping games can be hazardous to your health. If you begin suffering from dizziness, loss of vision or abdominal pain while trying to figure out what needs to happen for Buffalo, stop what you're doing and seek assistance.

The Bills' remaining opponents had an aggregate 38-26 record going into the Miami-Oakland game on Sunday night. New England, Pittsburgh and Kansas City remained in control of their respective divisions. The Patriots and Steelers were off Sunday while Kansas City lost in Dallas.

Of the 12 other teams that were within two wins of the Bills, only the Dolphins had a tougher schedule based on the first nine weeks. Jacksonville's opponents had a combined 23-44 record going into Sunday's games. The Jaguars' schedule included games against the Browns and 49ers, both winless going into Sunday.

Buffalo plays New Orleans, which has won six straight while averaging more than 30 points per game, next weekend at New Era Field. The Bills are on the road against the Chargers, have two meetings with the Patriots, play at the Chiefs and have two games against a Dolphins team that beat the Chargers and Falcons on the road. Miami, which split with the Jets, also has two games against the Pats.

Schedules of Baltimore, Tennessee, Houston, Cincinnati and the Chargers were against teams with combined losing records. The good news for the Bills the other teams will continue beating one another. Buffalo also is the only team in the conference that remains undefeated at home (4-0).

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For the Bills to win 10 games this season, they'll likely need to win at least three of their four home games and at least two of their four road games to reach the postseason. It means beating Indianapolis and Miami at home and beating either New Orleans or New England in Buffalo.

It's a tall order.

The way things stand now, the Bills are going to have a difficult time beating both Kansas City and New England on the road. The Bills have not beaten the Patriots on the road in the second half of the season, in a game that mattered, since 2000. The Bills finished 8-8 that season, starting the playoff drought.

Buffalo has a critical road game against the Chargers in two weeks. While traveling to California is a chore, it amounts to a home-field disadvantage for the Chargers. They're playing before apathetic crowds in 27,000-seat StubHub Center while their new stadium is built, contributing to their 1-3 record at home.

You can see where this is headed. If the season stays true to form, the Bills would be 9-6 going into the season finale against the Dolphins in Miami.

It would be so Buffalo, so Billsy, if they lost the final game and missed the playoffs on a conference-record tiebreaker after starting the season at 5-2. By then, the game Thursday will be a distant memory.

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