For only the second time over the last 17 years, the Buffalo Bills enter the final week of the NFL regular season with a chance to qualify for the playoffs.
It's not familiar territory for a franchise that hasn't advanced to the playoffs since Bill Clinton was president. The Bills had a golden opportunity in 2004 when they entered Week 17 with a 9-6 record against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the top team in the AFC.
The Steelers were 14-1 and didn't have a lot to play for in the final week of the season. They rested their starters — and still won. If the Bills had won that game, they would have advanced to the playoffs. And that's the closest they have come to the AFC playoffs during the drought.
There are two scenarios in which the Bills can advance to the playoffs:
(1) The Bills beat the Miami Dolphins and the Baltimore Ravens lose to the Cincinnati Bengals. This is the easier of the two scenarios because it requires a Bills win and only one team to lose. But the Ravens are a much better team than the Bengals. These two teams faced each other in Week 1. The Ravens won 20-0. The Ravens have won five of six games since their bye week. Their defense has been playing well and they have a good rushing attack.
The Bengals will have something (read: someone) to play for in this game. This will likely be the last game for Marvin Lewis as Bengals head coach. Lewis transformed the Bengals into a perennial contender. A win would be a terrific way to end Lewis's run with the franchise.
The Ravens opened as a 10-point favorite, which shows you what oddmakers think of the Bengals' chances of beating Baltimore this week.
(2) The Bills beat the Dolphins and the Tennessee Titans lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Chargers lose to the Oakland Raiders. OK, so this is a tough one. The Bills need help in either scenario, but this one requires two teams to lose. Both teams, it's worth noting, are playing at home this week. The Jaguars are a better team and head coach Doug Marrone has indicated he won't be resting his starters this week. If that's true, the Jaguars should be able to beat the Titans.
The Chargers-Raiders game is complicated. The Chargers won seven of nine games before a 30-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15. The Chargers followed that up with a 14-7 win over the New York Jets. The Raiders have underachieved this season and will look to avoid a 10-loss season. Keep in mind that this was a team many considered a top AFC contender. The first meeting between these two teams was close. The Chargers won 17-16. The difference in the game was a missed extra point.
If the Bills get in, they will likely be the No. 6 seed. Their opponent in the AFC wild card round would be the Marrone-led Jaguars. Remember: It was Marrone who coached the Bills to their first winning season in a decade when the team finished 9-7 in 2014.
That team nearly advanced to the playoffs. A Week 16 loss to the Oakland Raiders ended their playoff hopes. The Raiders finished 3-13 that season, which made the loss much more tough to swallow.
The Bills could get the No. 5 seed if the Bengals beat the Ravens and the Jaguars beat the Titans. In that scenario, the Bills would play the Kansas City Chiefs in the opening round. The Bills defeated the Chiefs 16-10 in Kansas City earlier this season.