The Miami Dolphins’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens and the Buffalo Bills’ victory over the New England Patriots this past Sunday set up an AFC East championship showdown this coming Sunday night in Miami.
The Bills enter at 10-6 while the Dolphins enter at 11-5, but the Bills beat the Dolphins earlier this season, meaning that a victory would secure them their fourth straight AFC East title due to a head-to-head sweep.
However, unlike the Dolphins, the Bills do not enter Week 18 locked into the playoffs. With a loss, they run the risk of falling out of the postseason altogether.
ESPN FPI gives the Bills a 54.52% chance to beat the Dolphins and a 93.35% chance to make the playoffs overall. Even if we assume that the Bills lose, they still have an 85.37% chance to get in.
In fact, of the five teams in the running for the No. 7 seed, the Bills actually have the strongest chance to take it (27.99%), even though their own most likely spot is the No. 2 seed. If we assume the Bills lose to the Dolphins, the No. 7 seed becomes a 61.53% likelihood. Their chance at securing the No. 6 seed is currently 10.84%, and with a loss, it increases to 23.84%.
How would the Bills clinch a playoff spot with a loss?
The Bills’ playoff chances remain high, even with a loss, because of the fact that the only reason they have not already clinched is their lack of tiebreaker ownership.
If the Bills lose and the Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Baltimore Ravens, the Bills and Steelers would be tied at 10-7, and Pittsburgh would own a 7-5 AFC record compared to Buffalo's 6-6 mark.
If the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Tennessee Titans to clinch the AFC South, then the winner of the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans would also be a 10-7 Wild Card team. At 10-7, the Colts would be 8-4 in the AFC, while the Texans at 10-7 would be 7-5, both of which better than the Bills' 6-6.
So to clinch a playoff spot with a loss, the Bills either need the Steelers to lose or tie, the Jaguars to lose or tie, or the Colts and Texans to tie.
All three of these games are scheduled to take place before the Bills vs. Dolphins showdown, and all Buffalo needs is one of the three outcomes to go their way. So the Bills will know exactly what they need to do before their regular season finale.
But the Bills’ best bet is still to beat the Dolphins, clinch the AFC East, and lock up the No. 2 seed, which would secure not only a home Wild Card game but a home Divisional Round game with a Wild Card win.