By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — For just the second time in the 21st century, the Buffalo Bills are heading to the playoffs. Yet while reaching the postseason is an achievement in and of itself out in Western New York, the Bills likely want more. So do their fans.

Coming off an emotional road win Sunday night in Pittsburgh, the Bills now sit at 10-4 on the season. That leaves them one game behind the 11-3 Patriots in the AFC East. And with a head-to-head matchup scheduled for national TV late Saturday afternoon? The opportunity is there for the Bills to do something they haven’t done since 1995, before quarterback Josh Allen had even been born: Win the AFC East.

That’s likely the goal that all of these fans had in mind when they decided to brave the Buffalo cold just to give a welcoming cheer to the team when they arrived home in the middle of the night:

Of course, they’ve got a rather significant hurdle standing in their way, and that would be Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. As a franchise, the Bills have not exactly had the most success at Gillette Stadium, as they have gone 2-15 since the stadium opened in 2002. One of those wins came in Week 17, when Tom Brady and the majority of starters left the game at halftime. The other came against Jacoby Brissett, who was playing with a busted hand.

Yet if there ever was a year that the Bills could pull off a win in Foxboro, it would be this one. They’ll enter Saturday’s game with the NFL’s third-ranked defense in terms of yards and second-best defense in terms of points. While the Patriots boast the first-ranked defense in both categories, it would seem to be wise to expect another defensive struggle, similar to the one the two teams endured back in late September. Since Sean McDermott took over the Bills head coaching job in 2017, Tom Brady has averaged just 216 passing yards while throwing three touchdowns and five interceptions against the Bills.

And if the likes of Allen, Frank Gore, John Brown, Devin Singletary and Cole Beasley can capitalize on their chances and put together two or three scoring drives, it just may be enough to pull off one of the biggest wins in Bills history.

But … will it matter?

In terms of actually winning the AFC East, it might not.

If the Bills do beat the Patriots at home, the two teams will have identical 11-4 records. Provided the Patriots handle the lowly Dolphins in Week 17, and provided the Bills take care of their home date against the Jets to end the regular season, then both teams would end the regular season with 12-4 records.

If that is to be the case, then the determination of the AFC East winner would be made via tiebreakers. It’s worth knowing now what those tiebreakers are.

Here they are, directly from the NFL’s website:

To Break A Tie Within A Division
If, at the end of the regular season, two or more clubs in the same division finish with identical won-lost-tied percentages, the following steps will be taken until a champion is determined.

Two Clubs
1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
5. Strength of victory.
6. Strength of schedule.
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
9. Best net points in common games.
10. Best net points in all games.
11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
21. Coin toss

Fortunately for the sake of humanity, the world will not need to analyze numbers four through 11. Unfortunately, the world won’t get to witness a coin toss to determine the winner of the AFC East, because that would be an incredible, must-see TV event.

No, if the Bills and the Patriots end the year with identical records, then it will be quite easy to determine the winner, as only three of those stipulations will need to come into play.

  1. Head-to-head: In this scenario, the Bills and Patriots would be 1-1 against each other. No determination there.
  2. Best win percentage in games played within the division: Both teams would be 5-1 against AFC East teams (or 4-2, if they both lose in Week 17). No determination.
  3. Best winning percentage in common games: Here the Patriots would win the tiebreaker and thus the AFC East crown.

The Patriots and Bills obviously would each have 4-0 records against the Jets and Dolphins. Outside of the division, their common opponents this year were the Giants, Bengals, Eagles, Redskins, Browns, Cowboys, Ravens and Steelers.

Against those eight teams, the Bills went 5-3. The Patriots went 7-1.

In that sense, the Patriots have a fairly significant cushion in the AFC East, despite the Bills technically being just a game behind them. The Bills can only win the AFC East if they win their final two games and the Patriots — quite disastrously — lose their final two games. That’s quite unlikely.

Still, the Patriots will have plenty to play for in both Weeks 16 and 17.

With the Chiefs dominating the Broncos in the snow on Sunday, Kansas City improved to 10-4 on the season, just a game behind the Patriots in the AFC playoff standings. That’s a significant line, as the Patriots are currently in position to earn a first-round playoff bye as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, while the Chiefs are currently slotted in the No. 3 spot, which would require them to play in the wild-card round, either against the Steelers or Titans.

Nothing in the NFL is ever guaranteed, but the Chiefs should be able to beat the Bears in Chicago and then the Chargers in Kansas City to finish the year with a 12-4 record. So, if the Patriots slip up with a loss to either the Bills or Dolphins, the Chiefs would jump ahead of the Patriots in the AFC playoff picture, due to their head-to-head win over New England.

Any way you look at it, Saturday’s game in Foxboro will be a massive one for both teams, albeit for different reasons. With two weeks left in the season, there’s quite a bit of movement that could still take place in the AFC playoff picture.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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