NFL playoff picture: How Patriots may benefit from a Bills win vs. Bengals

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This realistic Bills scenario is Patriots' best hope for playoff spot originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

There's still a semi-realistic path for the New England Patriots making the playoffs, and it involves jumping on the Buffalo Bills' bandwagon.

That may seem counterintuitive, considering the Patriots need to beat the Bills in their Week 18 finale in order to reach the postseason. If they lose, they'll need to rely on the unlikely outcome of the Miami Dolphins losing to the New York Jets, the Tennessee Titans losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers falling to the Cleveland Browns to sneak in.

But consider this: There is one scenario in which the Bills can clinch the No. 1 seed before they host the Patriots next Sunday, meaning they'd have nothing to play for in Week 18 and could opt to rest Josh Allen and some of the starters.

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That scenario is simple, and involves the following two outcomes:

  1. The Bills beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 (Monday, Jan, 2 at 8:15 p.m. ET)

  2. The Kansas City Chiefs lose to the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 18 (Saturday, Jan. 7 at 4:30 p.m. ET)

Those outcomes would lock in Buffalo as the No. 1 seed, regardless of whether it wins or loses against the Patriots. And since the NFL flexed the Chiefs-Raiders game to Saturday, the Bills would know a day in advance whether they have something to play for against New England.

The Bills face a tall task on "Monday Night Football" against a red-hot Bengals team that's won seven in a row, and the Chiefs will be clear favorites against the 6-10 Raiders next weekend. So this is no slam dunk.

But the Bills are capable of beating anyone, and if they take down Cincinnati, it sets up the possibility of Jarrett Stidham -- who just took the 12-4 San Francisco 49ers to overtime in Week 17 -- doing his former team a solid by leading a home upset of Vegas' division rival.

Given the Patriots' inconsistent play this season, there's no guarantee they'd beat the Bills even if Buffalo had nothing to play for. It's nearly impossible to imagine New England beating a Bills team playing for the No. 1 seed, though, so Patriots fans should be pulling for Allen and Co. on Monday night.