The men in Buffalo’s locker room are well aware that little was expected of them coming off a 4-12 season in 2010. Coming up on the midway point of the 2011 campaign the Bills have already exceeded their win total of a season ago, and their 5-2 mark has positioned them well to earn their first playoff berth in 12 seasons. But how do Buffalo's remaining schedule and their playoff history impact their chances?
Buffalo’s 5-2 record is identical to that of New England (5-2) following the Patriots’ loss Sunday at Pittsburgh. Right now the Bills hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over their division rival having beat them back in Week 3 (34-31). So sitting atop the AFC East entering Week 9, Buffalo holds the number two playoff spot in the AFC behind only Pittsburgh at 6-2.
Eight other AFC clubs however, are within a game of the Bills at 4-3 or hold the same record at 5-2. The good news is Buffalo already has head-to-head wins over two of them in Kansas City (4-3) and Oakland (4-3).
This Sunday Buffalo has a chance to gain a head-to-head edge on another one of those clubs as they host the New York Jets (4-3), while also handing their AFC East rival a loss in the division.
“This week is huge,” said
To gain a better sense of Buffalo’s true playoff odds as the halfway point of the season approaches Buffalobills.com took a look at the Bills’ chances with the help of CoolStandings.com, a site that simulates the rest of the season millions of times, based on each team's performance to date and their remaining schedules. They also factor in a team’s playoff history, points for and against along with a variation of famed sabremetrics pioneer Bills James’ Pythagorean Theorem to predict results.
After the NFL’s Week 8 outcomes, the site predicts that the Bills have an expected win total of almost 10 (9.8) giving them a slightly better than 50-50 chance of reaching the postseason (50.1%). That’s the seventh best odds in the AFC conference for reaching the postseason, and only six clubs make the playoffs from each conference.
The teams ahead of them in CoolStandings simulations are Houston (90.7%), New England (84.1%), Pittsburgh (83.6%), Baltimore (80.7%) and Cincinnati (51.7%).
Buffalo’s playoff history is likely affecting their odds to some degree. Cincinnati, which has an identical record to that of Buffalo after seven games, also has the head-to-head win over the Bills, and thus has playoff berth odds that are slightly better.
Where the Bills have a leg up on the Bengals is in the chances to win their division, though it’s not all that promising. CoolStandings’ simulations have the Bills winning the AFC East just under a quarter of the time (24.7%). The Bengals, with Pittsburgh and Baltimore in their division have just a 17 percent chance of taking the AFC North.
Not surprisingly, the site has the Patriots with a 63.7 percent chance of taking the East. The Jets meanwhile have a 30 percent chance of reaching the postseason (30.2%) and less than a 12 percent chance to take the division (11.6%).
Part of the strong odds for New England is undoubtedly due to their recent playoff history, and the fact the Patriots’ nine remaining games only four are against teams with winning records, one of which is the Bills in the season finale. Five of New England’s last nine games are also at home where they never lose. Only four of Buffalo’s last nine games are at home, and the Bills play five teams with winning records.
That’s why the Bills, though encouraged by their promising first half, refuse to get too excited about what they’ve accomplished thus far. Credit for that goes to their head coach Chan Gailey.
“He keeps us very grounded and humble,” said Wilson. “We’ve taken on his demeanor where we just take it one game at a time. Each game is its own individual story and regardless of what happens we’re going to deal with it, learn from it and whether we win or lose move on to the next one. Coach always talks about not getting complacent and not getting satisfied. He doesn’t want us just playing well, but playing better week in and week out.”
Coming off their 23-0 shutout victory over Washington the Bills made it a point not to puff out their collective chest.
“That was a team that was in the way,” said Stevie Johnson of the Redskins. “We’ve got to get those wins if we’re going to get one of these spots in the playoffs. We’ve just got to do that every week. It’s not going to be a shutout every week, but we feel like we can make a run for this playoff spot.”
The Bills are in a bit of unfamiliar territory. It’s been three years since they’ve been three games over .500 at this point in the season. The players realize the importance of each game grows with each passing week. They’re just hopeful they can earn a postseason berth without needing help from any other AFC club.
“As we continue to win we know each game is going to get bigger and bigger,” said Wilson. “We know where we’re going and we know how we’re talking about getting there. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing our part so as we get later and later in the season we don’t have to depend on another team to win or lose to get our ticket punched to the playoffs.”