Bills playoff hopes hurt

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

Yes, the New England Patriots throttled their AFC East rivals both at home and away this season but neither result was a real stunner.

Instead, it has been an unlikely villain that has caused the Buffalo Bills the most anguish and could ultimately spoil a memorable surge to the playoffs.

The Jacksonville Jaguars twisted the knife a little deeper into the still breathing Bills with Sunday's upset of the Packers right in Green Bay. The win helped the Jags (8-6) join the New York Jets (10-4) as the frontrunners in the wild, wild, AFC wildcard race.

The Bills, Broncos and Ravens are all at 8-6 in a five-way battle for two spots that has left Buffalo with the most to do.

The streaking Bills, winners of five in a row, got some help on Sunday with Denver losing to Kansas City in daylight and Baltimore falling to Indianapolis at night.

But if they take care of business by winning out against San Francisco and Pittsburgh -- a virtual must -- the Bills need most of those in the race to finish with worse records.

It was Week 1 when the Jaguars first Buffaloed the Bills with a hard-to-believe desperation drive in the final minute. The Jags only meaningful drive all game was capped with a seven-yard Byron Leftwich touchdown toss to Ernest Wilford for a 13-10 heist as the clock expired.

BAD FEELING

If it was a bad feeling then, how sick do you suppose it will be if the Bills finish 10-6 and lose out on a tiebreak?

"Let's not get twisted," Bills defensive back Troy Vincent said following Sunday's 33-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. "We are an 8-6 team just giving ourselves a chance to line up in the post-season."

In any event, assuming the Bills win next week at San Francisco (they are favoured by a huge 101/2 points), at least the Jan. 2 game at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers will have some meaning.

Here's a look at the Bills' opposition and what must happen if they are to make the playoffs:

- New York Jets -- At 10-4, Gang Green is the closest thing to a frontrunner in this compelling race. Should they lose both to New England (probable) and St. Louis (unlikely given the AFC dominance over NFC teams) a window opens for the Bills. Buffalo would win a tiebreak at 10-6 based on a superior record against the AFC.

- Denver Broncos -- The way they have played recently -- losing three of their past four -- the Broncos seem the least likely to succeed. The Bills need them to drop one of two against either Tennessee or Indianapolis. But be forewarned, it's possible the Colts could rest their guns, including quarterback Peyton Manning in the finale. Remember, the Bills lose tiebreakers with each of Jacksonville, Denver and Baltimore.

- Jacksonville -- The dreaded Jags have the easiest route in terms of who they face. Though they are far from a powerhouse and tend to leave things till the last minute, they finish at home to the Houston Texans and on the road to the Oakland Raiders. Jacksonville, which will be favoured in both of those contests, holds the tiebreaker advantage against both the Bills and Broncos.

- Baltimore -- Losing to the Colts on Sunday night in a game they found themselves in position to win must sting, especially since they have to go into Pittsburgh next week. The upside of that task is that the Ravens are the only team to defeat the 12-1 Roethlisbergers. Crushed them, in fact, 30-13 back when Tommy Maddox was still the QB. Like the Jags, the Ravens hold the tiebreaker over the Bills because of their home win on Oct. 24.

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SNAP JUDGMENTS

Rob Longley looks at the winners and losers of Week 15

JAGUARS : Winning in frigid Green Bay confirms their toughness.

BILLS: Playing some of their best ball since the Marv Levy era.

SEAHAWKS: Sure there were some bad calls but that was a weak effort against Jets.

JETS: Granted it was against a week Seattle defence, but Jets finally opened things up.

RAMS: Do they even want to make the playoffs with a QB like Chris Chandler?

EAGLES: Yes they are 13-1 but one of the big reasons for that is out, possibly for good. No T.O, no Super Bowl.


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