There’s a lot of season left, but the Buffalo Bills’ playoff hopes are on the ropes.
The New York Times, based on 405,000 simulations, computes the Bills enter the weekend with a paltry 38 percent likelihood of making the tournament. What an incredible notion that is for a club that fancies itself a perennial Super Bowl contender. The Bills were at 90 percent five weeks ago.
The New York Times’ algorithms peg Buffalo’s probability of winning the Super Bowl at 2 percent (good for homogenized milk, not Lombardi Trophies), of earning the AFC’s top seed at less than 1 percent and of winning the division at 20 percent.
With this dire situation in mind, I took a look at each of the Bills’ remaining eight games, presenting the best and worst outcomes to consider. Unofficial point spreads from Week 11 and beyond are courtesy BetOnline for the purpose of this story.
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Best-case scenario: After a hot little stretch of three games in which they allowed only 15 points against the Chiefs twice and the Packers, the Broncos remind the football world why their defense yields NFL-worsts at 5.4 yards per carry and 8.1 yards per pass attempt. Josh Allen launches the ball all over the yard, and the Bills laugh their way to victory.
Worst-case scenario: The Broncos, with 14 days off, stay on a heater and confuse Allen just as they have Patrick Mahomes, who managed one touchdown pass, while throwing three interceptions, losing a fumble and getting sacked five times over the two matchups.
The Pick: Bills improve to 6-4.
Best-case scenario: The Bills figure out how to beat Robert Saleh’s defense and … Zach Wilson? The better situation actually would be if Saleh switches to backup quarterback Trevor Siemien. Either way, Buffalo pulverizes whomever’s back there and find ways to score 23 points. That shouldn’t be too hard for Ken Dorsey’s offense, but it sure has been the past couple seasons against this inferior-but-frustrating opponent. The continued emergence of rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid presents the Jets problems.
Worst-case scenario: Saleh’s maddening defense keeps thwarting Dorsey and Allen, who’ve averaged 17.7 points, 4.7 yards per play, 4.3 sacks and two giveaways while losing two of their past three meetings. The bye week can’t come soon enough for Allen’s battered right arm.
The Pick: Somehow, the Bills finally learn how to adjust enough to beat the freaking Jets and improve to 7-4.
Best-case scenario: Sean McDermott, in his first return as Bills head coach, taps into hometown, Thanksgiving energy and springs a few surprises on his old employer. As comprehensively good as the Eagles have been, they can be forgiving against the pass, allowing a mediocre 6.9 yards per pass while gathering only four interceptions. The Eagles do, however, have 30 sacks. But Allen dodges, ducks, dips, dives and dodges enough — and the Bills’ patchwork defense catches Jalen Hurts on a janky afternoon — to record a crucial upset victory.
Worst-case scenario: The defending NFC champions perform as expected. They enter their Week 10 bye with a single loss a month ago to the Jets, but the Bills can’t deploy that kind of aggressive defense with so many notable injuries. Philly can win on the ground (Hurts, D’Andre Swift) or through the air (A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith) and this afternoon makes McDermott’s head spin. Josh Sweat and Haason Reddick harass Allen all day.
The Pick: Bills can’t handle what the Eagles serve and slip to 7-5.
Best-case scenario: Buffalo heads into its December break without any new significant injuries than they have today, rest up and enjoy a few extra days to prepare for Arrowhead Stadium.
Worst-case scenario: Losing another game or two they should have won the past three weeks. More injuries. Increased pressure. Louder calls for McDermott and Dorsey to lose their jobs.
The Pick: Paying closer attention to the seven Sabres games while the Bills recoup.
at Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5)
Best-case scenario: The Bills emerge from their bye refreshed and eager to reassert themselves against the AFC’s premier club. McDermott is 3-3 against his mentor, Andy Reid, and would be 4-1 in Arrowhead Stadium if not for those pesky 13 seconds. Allen’s career stat line against Kansas City is gaudy. He has completed 62.4 percent of his passes for an average of 276.4 yards with 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions and, removing victory-formation kneeldowns, averages 6.8 yards a run. Another game like that and picking up a couple new ideas from Broncos coach Sean Payton about how to negate Mahomes — because what McDermott has been successful with in the past won’t work without guys like Matt Milano and Tre’Davious White — and the Bills deliver a much-needed flex.
Worst-case scenario: With every other camera shot showing Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s mom celebrating up in the suite, Mahomes and Kelce do all the stuff they’re famous for while Kansas City’s opportunistic defense pounces. The Chiefs rank just behind the Jets for the league lead in quarterback pressure percentage and behind the Ravens for the lead in sacks. As we enter Week 10, five Chiefs have at least three QB takedowns. Cornerback Trent McDuffie, already with four forced fumbles, makes a big play. Defensive tackle Chris Jones plays at his usual, monsteriffic level.
The Pick: A second straight loss sends Buffalo to 7-6 and keeps it on the postseason bubble.
Best-case scenario: After touring the Bills’ new stadium site that his Legends Hospitality firm is helping to create, Jerry Jones spends a detestable afternoon across Abbott Road in antiquated Highmark Stadium and can’t wait to get back home to his Dallas opulence. With the 4:25 p.m. kickoff ensuring a frigid day, Buffalo throttles Tony Pollard and Rico Dowdle, tailbacks who’ve struggled to average 4 yards a carry, and knocks Dak Prescott around enough to make them dream about that warm bus.
Worst-case scenario: Jerry leaves Orchard Park feeling like he not only has a piece of the new stadium, but also owns the Bills. Prescott, enjoying the most accurate season of his career, hooks up with receiver CeeDee Lamb and tight end Jake Ferguson to overwork the Bills’ secondary. Edge rusher Micah Parsons gets a little closer to catching DeMarcus Ware’s club record of 20 sacks.
The Pick: Buffalo drops to .500 after losing a heartbreaker.
Best-case scenario: To date, the Chargers have beaten one opponent with a current winning record. Justin Herbert’s season numbers are solid, but he has four games under 230 yards, three outings well under 60 percent accuracy and has been sacked five times two of his past three games. So, the Chargers do Chargers things and keep giving the Bills opportunities to flourish.
Worst-case scenario: Herbert delivers one of his superlative performances. Multi-threat tailback Austin Ekeler, fully recovered from his ankle injury, gets traction and makes Buffalo’s inexperienced linebackers chase him from sideline to sideline. University at Buffalo star Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and Morgan Fox flummox the Bills’ offensive line.
The Pick: Merry Christmas! The Bills avoid a losing record at 8-7.
Best-case scenario: The Evil Empire has banished Bill Belichick from the Death Star and is in a doom orbit. Even if owner Robert Kraft still has him around, it’s with the understanding they’re OK with a total rebuild. The Patriots, in the mix for the first overall draft choice, have benched Mac Jones for Bailey Zappe. A hero from Week 7, receiver Kendrick Bourne has proven irreplaceable. The Patriots can’t wait for locker cleanout day.
Worst-case scenario: The Patriots repeat what they did in Week 7, when they embarrassed the Bills in Gillette Stadium. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson and tight ends Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown romp again. Jones looks like the second coming of Tony Eason.
The Pick: The Bills aren’t losing to this mess twice. They improve to 9-7.
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Best-case scenario: In a must-win situation, the Bills reaffirm their dominance. Yet again, McDermott confuses and harangues Tua Tagovailoa, who drops to 1-6 lifetime against Buffalo, and keeps Tyreek Hill from inflicting serious damage. Allen carves Miami like he always does, and Mike McDaniel is caught on camera, nervously puffing his vape pen.
Worst-case scenario: McDaniel overcomes his Buffalo bugaboo. Buffalo’s worn out defense can’t withstand Miami’s explosive playmakers. Milano’s absence is particularly felt. Allen must be stopped only a couple times. The Bills can’t keep pace and wheeze across the finish line with a demoralizing defeat.
The Pick: The Bills are 9-8 and need help to sneak into the playoffs. In previous years, they wouldn’t hold the tiebreakers, but with the extra wild-card team, they sneak in.
(Top photo: Ian Johnson / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)