Playoffs? Yes, let’s talk about playoffs

Dan Almasi, Associates Sports Editor

The Bills went into this week’s bye week at 5-3 and if they can keep things going in the right direction, they will have a realistic chance to make a push for the playoffs. The difference between a 10-6 and a 9-7 record is just one game, but in a contested AFC, it could mean all the difference.

Buffalo’s defense had big expectations going into the season, and they’re definitely living up to them. The Bills are the second-best team in the NFL when it comes to putting a quarterback on his back with 28 sacks. They’ve also been able to force a lot of turnovers with a league-high 12 interceptions and six recovered fumbles totaling 18, which is tied for second in the NFL. With a defense doing things like that, all Buffalo needs is a competent offense to be a playoff team.

The loss of CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson was a devastating blow, but the Bills have pushed on without the dynamic duo. The passing game picked up the slack last week against the Jets. Jackson has continued to show that he is a quick healer and may practice this week leading up to the Chiefs game on Sunday, despite initial worries that pegged him as being out for at least a month. That doesn’t mean he will play, but hopefully the Bills can make it through one more game without him, as that seems to be the worst-case scenario at this point. Spiller broke his collarbone and will probably be out until Week 15 or 16, at least.

I hated EJ Manuel from the start, and I was very happy when the coaches decided to give Kyle Orton a shot. Orton has definitely outplayed Manuel thus far, and despite the fact that Orton is by no means an elite NFL quarterback, he is an accurate passer and can do enough to help the Bills win the games that they should.

Upon taking a look at their remaining schedule, I project a 9-7 finish for Buffalo, which may or may not be enough to claim a wildcard spot. They have some tough matchups on the slate and I think anything better than a 10-6 finish is extremely unrealistic.

The next two games are at home against the Chiefs and in Miami against the Dolphins.

I say the Bills beat the Chiefs. That is, as long as they hold Jamaal Charles in check, who is basically their lone offensive weapon. Oh yeah, there’s that Travis Kelce guy, too. He’s just a glorified Scott Chandler. In a matchup between two 5-3 teams with stout defenses, I say the home field advantage is the decider.

The Dolphins dominated the Chargers this past week, 37-0. The Chargers looked very strong up until that game and beat the Bills, 22-10, in week 3. We swept the Dolphins last year, but I don’t think we do it two years in a row. We will probably compete with them for second place in the AFC East and a wildcard spot for the remainder of the season.

The Jets come to town in Week 12. Unfortunately, we’ll probably see Mike Vick for the whole game this time around instead of Geno Smith, whose three early picks helped Buffalo secure a 43-23 win last Sunday at the Meadowlands. The Jets are still bad even with Vick, though, so I see no reason why we can’t sweep the currently 1-7 Jets for the first time since 2007.

The Browns, who the Bills face in Week 13, are a surprising 5-3, but the only plus .500 team they’ve beaten is Pittsburgh, who they have also already lost to. They’ve had some easy matchups against teams like Oakland, Tampa Bay and Tennessee, and they also lost to Jacksonville. The Bills should also have Fred Jackson back from a groin injury by this game, if not the week prior. I’ll take the Bills.

The Bills travel to Denver in week 14. Buffalo just doesn’t have the offense to keep up with the greatest quarterback of all time in Peyton Manning and his offensive weapons. The Bills will fall back to earth after a beat down at Mile High Stadium.

The same story is the case for Week 15 when Aaron Rodgers and the Packers visit the Ralph. I say it’s a closer game than the previous one and the defense keeps Buffalo in it, but I can’t see taking the Bills over the Packers. I expect Rodgers and his beaut of a ‘stache to be in full force. Several discount double checks are on the menu, much to Buffalo’s chagrin.

You should never overlook any team in the NFL, as any team can beat any team in any given week, but the safest bet for a W in the remainder of the Bills schedule comes in Week 16 against the currently winless Raiders in Oakland.  A lone bright spot for the Raiders has been rookie Khalil Mack, University at Buffalo alumnus, who has been putting together a campaign worthy of NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors thus far.

New England looks to be back to dominating form after dismantling the defending AFC Champion Broncos, 43-21, this past Sunday night, and they seemingly have the AFC East in the bag once again, at least for this season. I hate Tom Brady just as much as everyone else in Buffalo, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the fact that he’s one of the best to ever do it. The Bills will close out the regular season with a loss at Gillette Stadium and will, if my predictions are correct, finish 9-7. That record may or may not mean the first Buffalo Bills postseason appearance since 1999.