Given the Bills remaining schedule, I am of the opinion that a 3-3 finish to the season is the best-case scenario for this team. With that said, I also believe it is one of the likeliest outcomes. Yes, I do realize the Bills could pull an upset and beat one or more of the Cowboys, Ravens, or Patriots. For the sake of the scenarios outlined below, I have them losing to all three.
1st Down: 9-7, Narrowly Miss Playoffs
As you’ll hear many times in the coming days (and hopefully, weeks), the Bills are “in control of their own destiny” when it comes to earning a wild card berth in the playoffs. In this scenario, the Bills collect two wins out of their three games against the Broncos, Steelers, and Jets.
The Broncos are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Vikings, where they held a 20-0 lead at the half. For the Bills sake, hopefully, the Broncos come into New Era Field feeling more dejected than motivated. The Bills should beat the Broncos and then either one of the Steelers or Jets. While the Steelers offense looked anemic against the Browns this past Thursday, they were missing a number of key offensive weapons for most of the game. The Jets offense also showed signs of life this past weekend against the Redskins.
Outside of the Browns game, the Bills have beaten every team on their schedule that has had a losing record entering the matchup. Yes, the Bills are 7-3, but they will be severely tested down the stretch of the regular season. They have yet to prove they can beat an above average opponent but have shown they are not overly prone to slip up against inferior competition.
With a 9-7 record, the Bills could still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs, but it’s far from a lock. Given the congestion we are starting to see in the AFC (four teams with six wins each, and two teams with five wins each), it may take double-digit wins to secure a playoff berth.
2nd Down: 10-6, Clinch Wild Card Berth
In this scenario, the Bills split the remaining six games, winning three and losing three. The Bills lose to the Cowboys, Ravens, and Patriots, but collect wins against the Broncos, Steelers, and Jets. Going 3-3 over the final six games and finishing the season with a 10-6 record should all but assure the Bills will be in the playoffs this year. It will also continue the trend the Bills have shown through 10 games…wins against average/inferior opponents and losses to three of the highest caliber teams in the NFL.
On their quest to 10 wins, the Bills will first win a necessary home matchup against the Broncos to push their record to 8-3. A few short weeks ago I wrote about how the Steelers were a real threat to the Bills wild card chances, and I still believe that to be true. The Bills have a good chance to win a tight low scoring battle in a game that could decide the playoff fates for each team. I truly believe that the Bills hopes of making the playoffs will rest on the outcome of this game.
The Steelers offense as looked fairly inept all season with Mason Rudolph at the helm, and many of their key skill position players are battling through or have suffered more than minor injuries of late. Time will tell if the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Dionte Johnson, and James Conner will be available in a few weeks. The Bills will then finish the season with a convincing home win against the Jets, pushing their record to 10-6, and clinching the top wildcard position in the AFC.
3rd Down: 8-8, Tough Losses down the Home Stretch
The Bills would have to lose 5 of their 6 remaining games for this scenario to take shape, but it’s not entirely unrealistic. The Broncos have been playing well as of late…assuming they roll into Orchard Park motivated after a heartbreaking loss to the Vikings, they will give the Bills a real test this upcoming weekend. If the Bills are unable to take care of business in a home game against a losing team, it could derail any momentum they’d need heading into the home stretch of the regular season.
The fear here is that the Bills spiral downward with a loss to the Broncos. Tough matchups at Dallas on Thanksgiving, followed by a home date against a legit Ravens team, look especially daunting. The home matchup against the Ravens is followed by two tough road games in a row at Pittsburgh, and at New England. By the time week 17 rolls around, the Bills may be on the wrong end of a .500 record, needing a home win against the Jets to even their win/loss total.
If the Bills finish 8-8 it will obviously be a huge disappointment given how they’ve navigated the season thus far. There is no doubt that the four games starting in week 12 with Dallas will be their toughest stretch of the year, and the Bills cannot afford to look past Denver (and I don’t think they will). I consider this scenario to be less realistic than finishing 9-7 or 10-6, but we shouldn’t be discounting it as a real possibility when the dust settles in 2019.
4th Down: 7-9, Disbelief after a Late Season Collapse
Sound the panic alarms at One Bills Drive if the Bills don’t win another game in 2019. A 7-9 record is obviously the worst-case scenario for the Bills in 2019. They could conceivably end the season on a six-game losing streak to fall completely out of the playoff picture, and spiraling into the offseason.
I have been trying very hard to avoid pessimistic thoughts about the future of this team, but this scenario feels more likely than the inverse and watching the Bills rattle off 5 or 6 wins to close the year. Do I think that the Bills will lose six games in a row? I don’t, but I also realize that there are some tough games ahead…none of which are truly “locks” for wins.
The Bills have consistently beaten subpar teams throughout the year, so they would have to stumble multiple times down the stretch for this scenario to play out. Home losses to the Broncos and the Jets seem unlikely, but both teams have been playing better in recent weeks as compared to earlier in the season.
The Bills haven’t exactly played well on primetime in recent years, so the Thanksgiving matchup in Dallas feels a bit foreboding. Lamar Jackson (as of Monday afternoon) is now the frontrunner to win the MVP, and the Ravens very well could be the toughest game remaining on the schedule.
The Bills track record in New England speaks for itself. Since 2001, the Bills have only beaten the Patriots twice in New England, and in both contests, the Patriots played without Tom Brady. Given that the Patriots will likely still be playing for either the #1 or #2 seed in the AFC, I would fully expect the Patriots to roll out their starters against the Bills in week 16.