All In - Can the Bills run the table this year and make the playoffs?
By Joe Levit, Patriots Insider
Speculation is a special part of what an NFL season is all about. Dreaming about the playoffs is what fans do, right up until the time their team is mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. This season, a clear team on the rise is the Buffalo Bills. The team sports a 5-6 record at this moment, not even a .500 ball-club, but this unit is playing very well right now, coming fresh off a 38-9 victory over Seattle, and a 37-17 victory over St. Louis the week before. Those are two blowouts, against decent but flawed teams.
In the next four games (Miami, Cleveland, Cincinnati, San Francisco), the Bills play opponents with larger flaws. After week 16, when I expect Buffalo to have defeated it's fourth straight opponent, they should have a 9-6 record, and be ready to vie for a spot in the AFC playoffs. That might sound crazy, coming in a conference that currently has two 10-1 teams, three 8-3 teams and two 7-4 teams, not to mention Jacksonville at 6-5. The odds are clearly against the Bills, who may have shot themselves in the foot this year simply by failing to give the football to Willis McGahee at an earlier date.
Still, I believe the Bills have more than a fighting chance to make the playoffs, and while I wouldn't call it a likelihood, it is an interesting possibility. To make the mark, the Bills will not only have to win all the rest of their own games, which includes defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 17, but also get tremendous help from other teams.
In my opinion, there is already a claim on four playoff spots in the AFC. The Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Chargers are going to be division winners. That assertion will be more solid should the Chargers defeat the Broncos at home this weekend, a scenario I expect to happen. That leaves five teams to fight for the two remaining playoff spots. The Jets, Broncos, Ravens, Jaguars and Bills will be involved in a desperate last five-week run. The teams have this record now:
Here is how I think these teams will fare in the following five weeks:
|Week 13||Week 14||Week 15||Week 16||Week 17|
|Jets||W vs. Texans||L vs. Steelers||L vs. Seahawks||L vs. Patriots||L. vs. Rams|
|Broncos||L vs. Chargers||W vs. Dolphins||L vs. Chiefs||L vs. Titans||L vs. Colts|
|Ravens||W vs. Bengals||W vs. Giants||L vs. Colts||L vs. Steelers||W vs. Dolphins|
|Jaguars||L vs. Steelers||W vs. Bears||L vs. Packers||W vs. Texans||W vs. Raiders|
|Bills||W vs. Dolphins||W vs. Browns||W vs. Bengals||W vs. 49ers||W vs. Steelers|
If this came to pass exactly as described above, the teams would finish with these records:
Clearly any loss makes the postseason a likely pipe dream for the Bills. They must win out to have a chance to compete. Even under this design, two teams are problematic. My scenario requires four losses in five games for both the Jets and Broncos. This is unlikely to happen, but it could. Let's take a look at those two teams more closely.
This team is getting Chad Pennington back soon, perhaps as early as this week, which would be a lift for the offense, and could have this team cruising to the playoffs. Still, the road there will be plenty bumpy. After what should be a victory over the Texans at home, the Jets must face Pittsburgh on the road. They will most likely lose that game. Next is the Seahawks in the Meadowlands. Seattle is a completely unpredictable team this year, playing very well when their offense is rolling, and very poorly when it isn't. If the Seahawks get Shaun Alexander involved early, they have a good chance to defeat the Jets. After that game the Jets face the Patriots, who will probably beat them, even away from Gillette Stadium. In the last week, the Jets must travel to St. Louis. I think the Rams will not be playing for a chance to be in the playoffs at that point, but would love to play the role of spoiler, with nothing better to do.
Toughest part of scenario: Losing to the Seahawks at home
If the Broncos beat the Chargers this weekend, it will shatter this whole scheme, because I think the Chargers will make the playoffs either way. Let's say the Chargers do defeat the Broncos, since the game will be in San Diego. Then the Broncos will beat the Dolphins and lose to the Chiefs (a division foe) at Arrowhead. I think they will then surprisingly lose to the Titans as well, on the road and against a team that is talented, will have Steve McNair back at full strength and will be upset at a season of promise that has not been fulfilled. Predicting the Broncos to lose to the Colts is not a reach.
Toughest part of scenario: Losing to the Chiefs in a game the Broncos know is important.
If the above scenario is to occur, the Bills will have to defeat the tough Pittsburgh Steelers in week 17. I feel that a few factors will help the Bills do that. First, the Bills will have the home-field advantage, which can actually mean something that late in the year and in a real environment. Second, the Bills would at that point be fighting for a playoff opportunity, whereas the Steelers will only be attempting to secure a first-round bye. The motivation would clearly be in the Bills' favor.
It's been mentioned a lot lately that the Bills would be looking good if they could swap conferences right about now. But since they can't do that, they will have to take their chances in the rough AFC. If the Bills can complete what would be a righteous run, they would be on a big roll, and one of the most feared teams to face in the playoffs - a team with nothing to lose.
Joe Levit, based in Boston, writes fantasy football columns for SI.com, thehuddle.com, and fantasysportsjunkies.com. He has published articles in Grogan's, Fantasy Index, Fantasy Sports and Fantasy Football Pro Forecast magazines. He is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers of America, and a devoted Detroit Lions fan who can be reached in the Insiders forums.
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