MIAMI (AP) It has been eight years since the most recent playoff game for the Carolina Hurricanes, 13 years for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and 16 years for the Seattle Mariners.
To which the impatient people of Buffalo say, that’s nothing.
The Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since the 1999 season, the longest active drought in North America’s four major professional sports. The misery could end Sunday, when Buffalo (8-7) closes out the regular season at Miami (6-9) with a shot at an AFC wild-card berth.
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Here’s how bad things have been in Buffalo: This is the first time since 2004 the Bills entered the final week of the season still in contention for the playoffs.
”It’s right in front of our face,” running back LeSean McCoy said. ”If we have any shot to make it, we’ve got to win this game.”
A loss eliminates the Bills, and even if they win, they’ll need help to make the playoffs – either a loss by the Ravens against the Bengals, or losses by the Titans against the Jaguars and by the Chargers against the Raiders.
That’s a tall order, but Buffalo is overdue for a celebration.
”It would be great,” veteran linebacker Preston Brown said. ”The city, I’m sure, will be super excited to have this happen, especially in this manner where a lot of people aren’t sure if you can make it. If you wake up in the morning and you’re in the playoffs, that’s a great feeling. It’s something I’ve never felt before.”
Here are things to know about a game the Bills must win:
SCOREBOARD WATCHING: Buffalo’s game and the others that could determine their playoff fate all start at 4:25 p.m. EST. Several Bills acknowledged their attention will be divided as they root against Joe Flacco and others.
”Sometimes I get caught up in looking at scoreboards during the game,” McCoy said. ”I’ll be watching, seeing what’s going on with Joe and the Ravens.”
There are limits to monitoring the other games, however.
”You can’t really check your phones to see what they’re doing,” Brown said.
THE LAST TIME: Buffalo hasn’t made the playoffs since losing the ”Music City Miracle” 22-16 when Tennessee scored on a kickoff return lateral in the final seconds of an AFC wild-card game on Jan. 8, 2000.
How long has it been?
”I was 8,” Bills safety Micah Hyde said. ”My birthday is Dec. 31, so it’s my birthday on Sunday. I was in Mrs. Green’s class, probably on Christmas break, probably just out there playing in the snow in Ohio.”
”I was 7,” Brown said. ”I was born in ’92, so I was like 7 years old winning Super Bowls in little league. So it has been a long time.”
QB FINALES?: Tyrod Taylor could be playing his final game for the Bills. He has a 21-20 record in three seasons as a starter and was briefly benched in November.
But he has been a Dolphins killer. In five games against Miami, he has passer rating of 115.6 with nine touchdown passes and no interceptions. He threw for a score and ran for another to help beat the Dolphins 24-16 two weeks ago.
”Definitely a team that I like to play against,” Taylor said.
The game might be the career finale for Miami’s 34-year-old Jay Cutler, who ended a brief retirement in August and said he hasn’t decided whether he wants to play in 2018.
DISAPPOINTING DOLPHINS: The Dolphins are staggering to the end of a wildly inconsistent season under second-year coach Adam Gase. They regressed after overachieving last year to win 10 games, and they’ll miss the playoffs for the eighth time in the past nine seasons.
Miami beat both teams that made last season’s Super Bowl, but lost to three teams that are a combined 15-30. The Dolphins rank 26th in points and 28th in points allowed, meaning the offseason will be long and busy.
”One of the worst offenses in the league, and in the back half on defense,” Gase said. ”So we have a lot of work to do.”
REMATCH: Motivation might be elusive for the Dolphins, but the game offers a chance at payback. A dismal defeat at Buffalo in Week 15 pushed Miami to the brink of elimination from the playoff chase.
The Bills are braced for Miami’s best shot.
”I’ve learned – even back in high school, back in middle school – playing a team twice is difficult,” Hyde said. ”Obviously in the NFL it’s very difficult.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, New York, contributed to this report.
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