It's Week 16 of the NFL season and your Buffalo Bills are alive and kicking in the hunt for the playoffs. Read that sentence again, and let it sink in.
While the playoff picture is cloudy, one thing is certain: Buffalo needs to handle its own business against the Raiders and Patriots to close out the season. That alone opens up the door for everything else.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Among a host of complicated what-if scenarios for the rest of this year, here's an easy one to keep in your back pocket:
-The Bills get to 10 total wins
-If only TWO of the following five teams get to 10 wins overall, Buffalo makes the playoffs via Wild Card: Bengals (9-4-1), Steelers (9-5), Ravens (9-5), Chiefs (8-6), Chargers (8-6).
With three of six AFC playoff spots already spoken for – Patriots in the East, Colts in the South, and Broncos in the West – three more spots are up for grabs overall: the AFC North, and a pair of Wild Cards. What's laid out below grants Pittsburgh the AFC North title and puts Buffalo in position to grab a Wild Card berth with a win at New England in Week 17.
Let's examine the Week 16 AFC games that have an impact on the Bills playoff hopes:
SATURDAY 8:25 P.M.
Matchup: San Diego Chargers (8-6) at San Francisco 49ers (7-7)
Who to root for: The Chargers earned a head-to-head tiebreaker over Buffalo with their Week 3 win against the Bills, so Buffalo needs help to pass San Diego in the standings. A 49ers victory guarantees that the Chargers cannot get to 10 wins. Root for San Francisco to play spoiler and beat the Chargers at home.
SUNDAY 1 P.M.
Matchup: Baltimore Ravens (9-5) at Houston Texans (7-7)
Who to root for: Baltimore is another team ahead of Buffalo in Wild Card tiebreaker scenarios, so a Houston win here weakens the Ravens' bid and by extension benefits the Bills. Go with the Texans.
Matchup: Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)
Who to root for: Have you ever actively cheered for a tie? That's the ideal scenario for Buffalo in this game (see the whole 10-win thing above). Barring the improbable, though, a Steelers win locks up a playoff berth for the Black and Yellow while providing a small boost for the Bills. Root for Pittsburgh.
MONDAY 8:30 P.M.
Matchup: Denver Broncos (11-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1)
Who to root for: Lots on the line in this game – Denver can clinch a first-round bye; Cincinnati can clinch a playoff berth. The best outcome for the Bills is for the Broncos to beat the Bengals and keep Cincinnati on the outside looking in for another week. Go Broncos!
This is what remains on the schedule for each of the teams in the thick of the AFC postseason race:
Bengals (9-4-1): vs. Denver, at Pittsburgh
Ravens (9-5): at Houston, vs. Cleveland
Steelers (9-5): vs. Kansas City, vs. Cincinnati
Chargers (8-6): at San Francisco, at Kansas City
Chiefs (8-6): at Pittsburgh, vs. San Diego Bills (8-6): at Oakland, at New England