Bills making strides but haven't shown they can beat AFC's best

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills have played two games against the AFC's two best teams, resulting in two one-score losses and plenty of what-ifs.

What if the Bills (9-4) didn't allow the New England Patriots (10-3) to score a touchdown off a blocked punt in Week 4? That was the difference in a 16-10 loss. What if Bills quarterback Josh Allen didn't get knocked out of the game in the midst of a promising drive or didn't throw three interceptions before that?

What if Buffalo didn't lose a fumble on its 25-yard line, giving the Baltimore Ravens (11-2) -- the best offense in the NFL -- a short field? The Ravens struggled to move the ball throughout the game, and the touchdown they scored following the turnover looks worse considering the 24-17 final score.

The Bills have pushed the AFC's two best teams to the brink, despite repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot in both games. However, there are no moral victories in the NFL -- not when you're flirting with home-field advantage in the playoffs.

"Where we are as an organization, the way we've built this thing and the progress we've made, our mindset is to go win the football game and to win every game," Bills coach Sean McDermott said. "Maybe the first year, possibly [there were moral victories], but where we are now ... especially we expect to win these games late in the year. But we have to learn from it and continue to grow."

Buffalo's loss to Baltimore on Sunday hurt, but 9-4 is excellent for a team with four winning seasons in the past 20 years. The Bills have established themselves as a playoff-caliber team. The question now is how long can they last if they get to the postseason?

So far, the answer seems to be: Until they run into Baltimore or New England.

So far.

There's time to rectify that. The Bills get their first prime-time game of the season when they travel to face the resilient Steelers (8-5) in Week 15 on Sunday Night Football. Beating Pittsburgh would give the Bills a two-game lead over the other contenders for the AFC's two wild-card berths.

Buffalo follows the game in Pittsburgh with a nationally televised showdown at New England, which could still determine the AFC East champion. The Patriots have looked beatable in three straight weeks against the Cowboys, Texans and Chiefs. But to win in Pittsburgh and New England, Buffalo has to regain its form from Weeks 11 through 13, when its offense averaged 401 yards per game.

Despite an obviously disappointed locker room following Sunday's loss, the Bills are moving forward.

"We lost by seven points to a really good team," Allen said. "We're not gonna let one game define us. We're looking for [win] No. 10, and we got a really good Pittsburgh team we're playing next week."

Buffalo is among the best teams in the AFC, albeit a step behind the conference's elite contenders.

There are three weeks left to bridge that gap.