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The NFC playoff picture is relatively clear heading into Week 17 of the 2021 NFL season. The four division winners and one Wild Card team have all clinched, leaving just two spots available. The AFC, on the other hand, is still completely up in the air. Only the Kansas City Chiefs have clinched a playoff spot, leaving six spots up for grabs. So, the question for the Bills Mafia heading into the penultimate week of the season is, how can the Buffalo Bills clinch a spot in the NFL playoffs in Week 17?

How the Buffalo Bills clinch a playoff berth in Week 17

The 2021 season has been a rollercoaster for the Buffalo Bills.

The team started a preseason Super Bowl favorite but got stunned by the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1. Then, the team wheeled off an impressive four wins in a row, outscoring opponents 156-41 in the process.

Buffalo went 3-5 in its next eight games but righted the ship late, winning its last two to go 9-6 and take first place in the AFC East.

Now, after all the tumult of the season, the Bills are in a prime spot to clinch a playoff berth in Week 17 when they take on the Atlanta Falcons in Orchard Park, NY.

If the Bills and Falcons tie, there are several convoluted scenarios that will see the Buffalo Bills clinch. You can find these complicated machinations on  

The important thing to know is that a Buffalo Bills clinch in Week 17 likely only happens if the Bills win and get a little help. If they lose, there is no scenario where the Bills can lock up a playoff berth this week.

The help Buffalo needs to get in this week if they can get by the Falcons is a loss or tie by the Baltimore Ravens (vs. the Los Angeles Rams) or a loss or tie from both the Los Angeles Chargers (vs. the Denver Broncos) and Las Vegas Raiders (vs. the Indianapolis Colts).

If Week 17 plays out in either of the ways noted above, the Bills are back in the playoffs. Then, the question becomes, can the Buffalo Bills clinch the AFC East in Week 17?

Can the Buffalo Bills clinch the AFC East in Week 17? 

Last season, the Buffalo Bills won their first AFC East crown since 1995. This year, they’re looking to lead the division when the dust settles in back-to-back years for the first time since the 1990-91 seasons. These titles were actually the last two in a four-year run (1988-91) of AFC East dominance from the Bills.

The bad news for the Bills Mafia is that the team cannot clinch the AFC East in Week 17.

However, Buffalo controls its own destiny over the season’s final two weeks. If they win both their games — against the Falcons and New York Jets — they win the AFC East. Even if the New England Patriots win out as well, the Bills 5-1 record vs. the AFC East will surpass the Patriots’ 4-2 record to break the tie.

If the Bills lose to the Falcons but beat the Jets, they can still win the division. But only in New England loses a game too.

If the Bills beat the Falcons but lose to the Jets, that’s where things get dicey. If the Patriots lose to the Miami Dolphins in Week 18 in this scenario, the Bills still win the AFC East. However, if the Patriots lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17 and win in Week 18, the Patriots win the division as their AFC East records would be tied, and the tiebreaker would move to overall record vs. the AFC, and the Pats would get the edge there.

To sum all this up for Bills fans: Win, and you take the division. Lose, and it gets messy.

How Josh Allen and company match up against the Atlanta Falcons 

Stefon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills celebrates his touchdown with teammate Spencer Brown in the second quarter over the Carolina Panthers at Highmark Stadium on December 19, 2021 in Orchard Park, New York. The Buffalo Bills clinch a playoff spot in Week 17 with a win and some help.
Spencer Brown and Stefon Diggs | Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images.

Almost every Buffalo Bills playoff scenario begins with a win in Week 17 vs. the Atlanta Falcons. The game is at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo, where the Bills have a 4-3 record, which is nearly identical to their 5-3 road record.

If Buffalo has been inconsistent this year, often alternating wins and losses, Atlanta is the poster franchise for following good with bad. The team started the season with back-to-back losses and lost two in a row in Weeks 10 and 11, but, outside of that, have alternated W’s and L’s the entire rest of the season.

The Falcons have been better on the road, though, going 5-3 away vs. 2-5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Bills come into this match with the No. 3 scoring offense and defense in the league. The Falcons rank 25th and 28th in these categories, respectively.

All these stats and records are to say that the Bills should make light work of the Falcons on Sunday. That said, it’s clear that on any given Sunday, the Falcons can occasionally step up and play like a playoff team, and the Bills can play down and look like a high draft pick team.

If the Bills truly have regained their 2020 form and are poised to make a playoff run, putting up 30-plus and burying the Falcons early in Week 17 would offer some proof of that.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference


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