What's interesting about the Bills' playoff situation entering Week 15 is that even though they currently sit in the final wild-card spot, they could win out and still miss the playoffs.
But that helps highlight this fact: The Bills need help to qualify for the postseason.
The most likely scenario requires a Ravens loss. If you're penciling in the Bills to lose to the Patriots next week, then you have to get particular about which game the Ravens lose. But if that doesn't work out, there is another way the Bills can get in by passing the Titans.
Here's the breakdown of the Bills' playoff possibilities, as well as a look at the standings and a link to the list of tiebreakers so you can follow along.
The #Bills are still alive for playoffs – but they need wins and help to qualify.
— Nick Veronica (@NickVeronica) December 13, 2017
Passing the Ravens
The only reason the Bills are ahead of the Ravens in the standings right now is because we're currently skipping the common opponents tiebreaker. That tiebreaker ranks tied teams by their winning percentage in games against teams they have both played, with a minimum of four games needed to apply the tiebreaker. The Bills and Ravens don't meet that threshold yet, but they will by the end of the season – and the Ravens are currently ahead.
The Bills' and Ravens' common opponents are the Dolphins, Colts, Bengals and Raiders. The Bills play the Dolphins twice a year and the Ravens play the Bengals twice. Right now the Bills are 2-1 against those teams with both games against the Dolphins remaining. The Ravens are 3-0 against that group with games against the Colts and Bengals still ahead. So if both the Bills and Ravens win out to finish 10-6, they'll be tied on conference record, but the Ravens will have the edge in common games.
What the Bills really need is a Ravens loss. If the Bills win out, it can come against any team, but if the Bills lose to the Patriots, then they'd need the Ravens to lose one of their games against common opponents, either the Colts (3-10) or the Bengals (5-8).
So say the Bills close by beating the Dolphins twice and losing to the Patriots, and the Ravens beat the Browns and Colts but lose the finale to the Bengals. That would put both teams at 9-7 with the same conference record and same record against common opponents. The next tiebreaker is strength of victory, which totals the winning percentages of teams you've beaten. The Bills are currently ahead of the Ravens on that mark, .407 to .385, and beating the 6-7 Dolphins twice would be better in that metric than beating the teams the Ravens are playing. So that tiebreaker favors the Bills, but it's too soon to say with certainty that they would win it.
If they somehow tie on strength of victory, the next tiebreaker is strength of schedule. The Ravens currently have the edge on that one, but the Bills have a game with the 10-3 Patriots remaining. Again, this one is too early to call.
Passing the Titans
This scenario is slightly more straightforward.
The Titans are a game up on the Bills and Ravens right now, but close against the 49ers (3-10), Rams (9-4) and Jaguars (9-4). If they lose two of those games, including a loss to the Jaguars, and the Bills win two of three, they'll be tied at 9-7 and even on conference record at 7-5.
Their common opponents are the Raiders, Dolphins, Bengals and Colts. The Titans are 3-2 against the group and the Bills are 2-1 with two games remaining against the Dolphins. If the Bills sweep the Dolphins they would pass the Titans in this scenario. If they go 2-1 by beating the Patriots once and Dolphins once but lose the other game to the Dolphins, they'll be tied against common opponents and would have to go to strength of victory, which the Bills currently lead.
But if the Titans don't lose to the Jaguars in Week 17, the Bills won't be able to catch them at 9-7 because they'll be behind on conference record.
Ties of three or more teams
A tie of three or more teams would most likely happen if the Bills, Ravens, Titans and/or an AFC West team all tie at 9-7. If you like rooting for madness, there could even be a four-way tie for both wild-card spots.
The Chiefs and Chargers are both 7-6 right now and face each other this week. The winner of that game will have the upper hand to win the division (the Bills are hoping the Chargers take the division, because the Bills beat the Chiefs head-to-head and lost to the Chargers, plus they own the Chiefs' first-round pick), but it's possible one or both could finish 9-7. Or the 6-7 Raiders could win out to finish 9-7 ... or – and Bills fans will hate this one – the Dolphins could sweep the Bills and win out to finish 9-7 as well.
Splitting apart tied groups would be much more convoluted, but conference record, common games, strength of victory and strength of schedule are the important tiebreakers once again. The Bills appear to be situated favorably for a tied group due to their current edge in strength of victory, but again, it's too soon so say that definitively, and it may not even come down to that tiebreaker.
If all of this seems like it's a longshot to happen, here's one more way the Bills could make the playoffs:
Passing the Patriots
This is extremely unlikely, though it's mathematically possible. The Bills passing the Patriots to win the division would require the Bills winning out – including a head-to-head win against the Patriots in Gillette Stadium – and the Patriots losing out. That would level them at 10-6 and give the Bills the edge on division record.
But that's very unlikely to happen. The Patriots clinch the division with their next win, or with the Bills' next loss. The Patriots close with the Steelers, Bills and Jets.
The Patriots lost last week to the Dolphins, so this scenario would require the Patriots ending the year with four straight losses. The Belichick-Brady dynasty hasn't had a losing streak longer than two games since 2002.