By CHUCK POLLOCK, Sun Senior Sports Columnist
You think things don’t change quickly in the National Football League?
Ponder the last month.
When the Bills lost that devastating 37-34 overtime decision at Philadelphia the Sunday after Thanksgiving, their playoff hopes seemed all but dashed.
Their record had fallen to 6-6, they were facing road games against Super Bowl champion Kansas City, the dangerous Chargers and division-leading Miami plus a home matchup with Dallas, one of the NFC’s elite teams. Computer analysis estimated Buffalo’s postseason odds at 21%.
But, four weeks later, oh how those numbers have changed.
SATURDAY night, the Bills went to Los Angeles and nudged the Chargers, 24-22, on a field goal with 28 seconds to play, their third straight victory after edging the Chiefs in Kansas City and demolishing the Cowboys at Highmark Stadium.
That triumph over LA, combined with the other results in Week 16, ballooned Buffalo’s odds of making the playoffs to 87%, but clinched nothing.
Still, losses by Kansas City, Denver, Cincinnati, Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville helped the cause of the 9-6 Bills, the same record as the Chiefs over whom Buffalo holds the head-to-head edge. Four of the other teams are 8-7 and the Broncos are now 7-8 and eliminated. However, both Jacksonville and Cincinnati did beat the Bills this season.
Indeed, the Buffalo first has to beat the Patriots Sunday afternoon at Orchard Park. And, yeah, New England is 4-11 and last in the AFC East, but it also went to Denver Saturday evening and, with a last-second 56-yard field goal from its erratic kicker, handed the Broncos a playoff-hopes-ending defeat.
Then, too, the Pats, whose quarterback Mac Jones had done nothing all day, conjured a two-minute drill, length-of-the-field drive, in late October, that beat the Bills, 29-25, at Foxborough.
In short, this game is not a gimme.
Two years ago, in a horrid December wind storm, coach Bill Belichick fashioned a ground game that stole the Patriots a 14-10 victory from Buffalo in Orchard Park.
But, assuming the Bills take care of business Sunday, they still need help to clinch a playoff berth in Week 17, as in two of these three 8-7 teams — Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Jacksonville — have to lose.
The Steelers are at Seattle, the Bengals at Kansas City and the Jaguars host Carolina.
And, even if those two required losses aren’t forthcoming, Buffalo is still alive, by beating the Pats, for both a playoff spot AND the division title. But, for the latter to occur, the Dolphins, 11-4, must lose at conference leader Baltimore, 12-3.
The Bills would still trail by a game, but with a victory at Miami in the season finale, they would claim the division by virtue of having beaten the Dolphins twice.
(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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