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How many wins does it take to earn a wild-card spot?

Jerry Sullivan wrote an interesting column this week in which he argued that nine wins could be enough to get the Bills (5-3) into the playoffs.

"There's a very good chance that 9-7 will be good for at least a tie for the conference's second wild-card spot," he wrote.

The AFC looks tight through Week 9, with 15 of the 16 teams in the conference owning between three and six wins. But could going .500 the rest of the way really do it for the Bills?

In the 15 seasons since the Texans entered the league and division formats changed, going 9-7 could have earned you a wild-card spot in the AFC five times, with four of those instances requiring the team to win a tiebreaker. Here's the breakdown:

The only season that 9-7 was good enough for a wild card with no questions asked was 2013. All four division winners and the first wild-card team dominated with 11 wins or more, and no one finished 10-6 that year. The Chiefs got in at 9-7 while four teams missed at 8-8. It doesn't feel like there are as many dominant teams this year, so making the playoffs at 9-7 would almost certainly come down to tiebreakers.

In 2011, the Bengals beat out the Titans for the final spot due to a head-to-head win. In 2009, both wild-card berths went to 9-7 teams, with the Jets and Ravens getting in on their winning percentage in common games, which is the fourth tiebreaker down the list (NFL tiebreaking procedures here).

In 2006, the Chiefs edged their AFC West-rival Broncos based on their winning percentage within the division. And in 2002, the Browns emerged from four 9-7 teams based on their record against AFC opponents.

Finishing 10-6 would obviously be better for the Bills' wild-card hopes, but it's certainly possible they could get in at 9-7, with tiebreakers (and a lot of luck) being key. Sullivan noted that the Bills already own head-to-head wins over the Raiders (4-5) and Broncos (3-5), which definitely helps. Record against AFC teams is another important tiebreaker, and after the Saints, the Bills only face conference opponents the rest of the way.

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