Who To Root For

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What Bills fans need to know about the 2021 AFC playoff race | Week 12

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If the season ended today, the Buffalo Bills would enter the playoffs as the AFC East champion and welcome the Cincinnati Bengals for a Wild Card matchup at Orchard Park.

But the season does not end today, nor will it for another seven Sundays. In the meantime, there are enough potential playoff outcomes on the table to fill even the most insatiable Thanksgiving appetite.

Remember the New England Patriots? The coach with the hoodie? They are back and right on the Bills' tail with two head-to-head matchups looming.

The usual suspects from Tennessee, Kansas City, and Baltimore are all jostling along with Buffalo and New England for positioning at the top of the conference. Behind them sits a pack that includes Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Cleveland, and Denver, all of which have 5 to 6 wins.

According to the New York Times playoff machine, the Bills hold an 82-percent chance to make the playoffs following their win over the Saints. They have a 56-percent chance to win the AFC East and an eight-percent chance to claim the No. 1 seed in the conference.

Scoreboard watching season is upon us. Here are your rooting interests for the rest of Week 12.

Tennessee (8-2) at New England (7-4) – 1 p.m. on CBS

The situation: This is the game that will surely draw the most attention from Bills fans on Sunday. The Titans are clinging to a one-game lead atop the AFC as they adjust to life without running back Derrick Henry. The Patriots have won five straight contests and would move a half-game ahead of the Bills in the AFC East with a victory.

Who to root for: Well, it's a matter of philosophy. As mentioned above, the Bills do hold a slim chance at claiming the No. 1 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it. A Patriots win would up those chances slightly, to about 10 percent.

What makes that outcome tricky is the Bills' head-to-head loss to the Titans in Week 6, which gives the edge to the Titans in a tiebreaker scenario, and a light remaining schedule for Tennessee that includes matchups with Jacksonville, Houston, and Tennessee.

A Titans win, meanwhile, would give the Bills a half-game lead in the AFC East and increase their chances at winning the division to about 68 percent (although those odds will swing mightily depending on the outcome of their head-to-head game next Monday.)

So, choose your own path. Think the Bills can run the table and get a first-round bye? Hold your nose and cheer for the Patriots. If a second straight AFC East title is your focus, root for the Titans.

Pittsburgh (5-4-1) at Cincinnati (6-4) – 1 p.m. on CBS

The situation: This matchup between rivals could have major implications in the AFC North and in the wild card picture, but it has little bearing on the Bills.

Who to root for: With a win by either team, the Bills' chances to make the playoffs increase slightly. The Times playoff machine gives a slight edge to cheering on the Steelers, which would up the Bills' odds from 82 percent to 85.

Tampa Bay (7-3) at Indianapolis (6-5)1 p.m. on FOX

The situation: The Colts vaulted back into the playoff picture with a convincing win over the Bills in Week 11. They remain on the outside looking in entering their matchup with the reigning Super Bowl champions.

Who to root for: Always root for the NFC in this scenario, although the outcome has less effect on the Bills than one might think. According to The Times, a Buccaneers win ups the Bills' playoff odds one point, to 83. A Colts victory decreases those odds just two points, to 80 percent.

Los Angeles Chargers (6-4) at Denver (5-5) – 4:05 on CBS

The situation: Los Angeles holds the seventh and final playoff berth in the AFC after a rollercoaster victory over Pittsburgh last Sunday night. Denver comes off the bye looking to remain in the hunt with a win over their AFC West rival.

Who to root for: Once again, this is a game that has little bearing on the Bills according to The Times. The play here is to root for the Broncos, but don't sweat too much. A Chargers win drops the Bills' playoff chances by just one percentage point, to 81.

Cleveland (6-5) at Baltimore (7-3) – 8:20 p.m. on NBC

The situation: Cleveland has seen plenty of adversity this season, from wear and tear to quarterback Baker Mayfield to the abrupt departure of receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In spite of all that, a win over Baltimore would give them better than 50-50 odds at making the playoffs.

Who to root for: Baltimore is on the short list of contenders for the top seed in the AFC. A win for Cleveland – combined with a win for New England – increases Buffalo's odds at a first-round bye to about 11 percent. Depending on the afternoon results, a win for Baltimore could increase Buffalo's playoffs odds to about 86 percent. Once again, take your pick.

Best-case scenarios:

·      Wins for Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, New England, Denver, and Cleveland would give the Bills a roughly 15-percent chance to win the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

·      Wins for Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Los Angeles, and Baltimore – regardless of the outcome between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati – would give the Bills a roughly 86-percent chance to make the playoffs.

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