It's clinching season.
The Bills will have to wait until Week 18 for a chance to win their second straight AFC East title – winning their final two games would guarantee that – but a fourth playoff berth in five seasons under coach Sean McDermott could come as soon as this Sunday.
Buffalo has a 97-percent chance to make the playoffs following last week's win over New England, according to The New York Times playoff machine. There are a multitude of playoff-clinching scenarios this week, but the two most likely are:
· Buffalo win + Baltimore loss or tie OR
· Buffalo win + Los Angeles Chargers loss or tie + Las Vegas loss or tie
There are seven other clinching scenarios that involve a Bills tie. You can find those here.
Should the Bills lose to the Falcons, they would still be able to clinch a playoff berth next Sunday with a win over the New York Jets. In other words, they are firmly in the driver's seat.
Still, there is seeding to consider. Here is your rooting guide for Week 17.
To clinch the playoffs
Los Angeles Rams (11-4) at Baltimore (8-7) – 1 p.m. on FOX
The situation: The Ravens – hampered by injuries and COVID-19 cases – have lost three straight games to fall out of a playoff berth. Their playoff odds are down to 28 percent according to The Times, now facing a Rams team looking to stay atop the NFC West.
What to root for: Root for the simplest path to the playoffs in Week 17, a Bills win combined with a Ravens loss. A tie here would be fine, too.
Las Vegas (8-7) at Indianapolis (9-6) – 1 p.m. on FOX
The situation: The Colts are still alive in the AFC South race after earning their sixth win in seven games last Saturday against Arizona, although they're running out of time to make up a one-game deficit. The Raiders, currently the 10th seed, are fighting for their playoff lives.
What to root for: We mentioned above that a Raiders loss could be part of the recipe to clinch a playoff berth. But a Raiders win could be advantageous in the long run as well. Buffalo's path to one of the top two seeds in the AFC – albeit unlikely – would require at least one Colts loss (among a multitude of other things - more on that later). It's more likely to happen now than next week, when the Colts close the season against the Jaguars.
Denver (7-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) – 4:05 p.m. on CBS
The situation: The Chargers hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Raiders and thus are in a better position to salvage their playoff hopes, but it will likely require them winning out.
What to root for: Root for a Broncos win, which – combined with a Colts win – would punch the Bills' ticket to the playoffs.
To win AFC East
Miami (8-7) at Tennessee (10-5) – 1 p.m. on CBS
The situation: Miami revitalized its season in unprecedented fashion with seven straight wins and now holds the seventh and final playoff berth in the AFC. Tennessee can clinch the AFC South with a win.
What to root for: If you're worried about the Bills losing out, root for a Titans win. If you're confident the Bills will win at least one of their last two games, root for the Dolphins to win and help the Bills' chances of leapfrogging the Titans for seeding among division leaders.
Jacksonville (2-13) at New England (9-6) – 1 p.m. on CBS
The situation: The Patriots have lost two straight games but have a chance to correct course against the last-place Jaguars.
What to root for: This one easy. Root for the Jaguars, although the Bills would still need to wait for Week 18 to clinch the AFC East.
For seeding atop the AFC
Kansas City (11-4) at Cincinnati (9-6) – 1 p.m. on CBS
The situation: The Chiefs can clinch the AFC's top seed and a first-round bye with a win and a Titans loss. The Bengals can clinch the AFC North with a win and a loss by the Steelers at Cleveland.
What to root for: How lucky are you feeling? The Bills can still technically clinch the top seed in the AFC, but it would require:
· The Bills winning out (vs. ATL, vs. NYJ)
· The Chiefs losing out (at CIN, at DEN)
· The Titans losing out (vs. MIA, at HOU)
· The Colts losing at least one game (vs. LV, at JAX)
· The Bengals losing at Cleveland in Week 18
That's a lot to happen. More likely, the Chiefs will finish ahead of the Bills with one of the top two seeds. In that event, a Bengals loss would help the Bills finish ahead of the AFC North winner.