With five wins through their first eight games, the 2014 Bills have set themselves up nicely to contend for the playoffs down the back half of the schedule. The team will certainly have to take care of its own games to push for the postseason, but taking stock of the Week 9 lineup reveals a few opportunities that may help the cause as well.
Keep in mind that winning the AFC East outright is still very much a possibility and would make everything below irrelevant, except for seeding. It goes without saying that Bills wins help the cause more than anything, but having the stars align around the conference won't hurt either.
SUNDAY 1 P.M. GAMES
Matchup: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-3)
Who to root for:The Browns are in the thick of the AFC North race in a division where all four teams are over .500. While the Bucs are out of conference, a Browns loss may help to eliminate a Wild Card contender and clear Buffalo's path. Root for Tampa Bay.
Matchup: Philadelphia Eagles (6-2) at Houston Texans (4-4)
Who to root for:If it comes down to it, the Texans would own a Wild Card tiebreaker due their Week 4 win over Buffalo, so any Houston loss moves them further down the list of potential contenders. A win by the Eagles helps the Bills indirectly. Fly Eagles Fly!
Matchup: New York Jets (1-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)
Who to root for:Cross your fingers and pull for the Jets. The Chiefs are currently stuck behind both the Broncos (6-1) and Chargers (5-4) in the AFC West, putting them smack in the middle of AFC teams that may be looking for a Wild Card come season's end. A Jets win, coupled with a Bills victory over Kansas City in Week 10, would do wonders for Buffalo's playoff chances. J-E-T-S! JETS! JETS! JETS!
Matchup: Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-2-1)
Who to root for:The Bengals are currently atop the AFC North, but by the slimmest of margins. A Bengals loss to the Jaguars and a win by the Steelers against Baltimore (see below) is good for the Bills playoff chances if it comes down to the Wild Card. Root for the upset – go Jaguars!
Matchup: San Diego Chargers (5-3) at Miami Dolphins (4-3)
Who to root for:Buffalo has a win in hand and another game remaining vs. the Dolphins, but lost to San Diego in Week 3. Cheer for the Dolphins to beat the Chargers. That helps minimize the Chargers' win over the Bills.
BONUS: After rooting for the Dolphins on Sunday, resume cheering for your Bills to finish the sweep of Miami on Thursday Night Football on Nov. 13 (Week 11), just a few days after the Bills (hopefully) hang a loss on the Chiefs in Week 10.
SUNDAY 4:25 P.M. GAMES
Matchup: Denver Broncos (6-1) at New England Patriots (6-2)
Who to root for:The Bills have one game against each left on the schedule, at Denver in Week 14, and at New England in Week 17, so Buffalo will have its own shot to take care of business. But in this matchup, root hard for the Broncos. A Patriots loss opens the door for Buffalo to lay claim to the AFC East crown for the first time since 1995, and gain an automatic berth into the postseason.
Matchup: Oakland Raiders (0-7) at Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
Who to root for:The Raiders aren't likely to make a postseason appearance this season, but a Seattle win makes it even less so. Root for the Seahawks to win and keep another team out of what's shaping up to be a crowded AFC playoff picture.
SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Matchup: Baltimore Ravens (5-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
Who to root for:There's no love lost between these two AFC North teams, and major playoff implications are on the line. A Steelers win and Bengals loss (to the Jaguars as listed above) is the best-case scenario for the Bills. Cheer for the Steelers.
Why? It's complicated, and the playoff race with eight weeks left in the season is guaranteed to change somewhat, especially among the Wild-Card pack. Since neither the Steelers nor the Ravens are on the Bills schedule, the head-to-head Wild Card tiebreaker is off the table. In the laid out above (Jaguars and Steelers win), the Steelers would move to 6-3 overall and regain first place in the AFC North, removing them from Wild Card consideration as a division-leader. That said, a legitimate case can be made that a Ravens win helps Buffalo too – Pittsburgh's AFC record is stronger than that of Buffalo (2-3) so a non-division winner with strong credentials is more competition for Buffalo's bid if it comes to Wild Card tiebreaks.
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Matchup: Indianapolis Colts (5-3) at New York Giants (3-4)
Who to root for:Outside of the AFC East, it's generally better for the Bills if current division-leaders stay put and the rest of the division falls back as far as possible. When paired with the Eagles-Texans game above (Fly Eagles Fly, remember?) a Colts victory here is good for the Bills. Good Luck!