Playoff Picture in the National Football League

Is this child's play for you? How about tackling the NFL playoff picture?

Is this child's play for you? How about tackling the NFL playoff picture?

NFL Playoff Situation – Week 14

Much as been made and said about the Big XII South tiebreak situation, but this is also the time of year to examine the NFL playoff races and the myriad tiebreakers that may come into play. As mentioned before, I am a stat and numbers person so I love looking at standings and figuring out which teams are in, which teams are out, and everything in between. Today’s post details the NFL playoff situation with three weeks remaining, with an emphasis on the divisional races. At the risk of offending multitudes of readers, Texas will not win any of these tiebreaks either.

A link to the tiebreaking procedures used by the NFL is listed below. (Note: Yes, I call it the NFL even though it seems to be a law in many places that a person must say National Football League at every opportunity. I caught a few minutes of a radio pregame for Sunday night’s Washington at Baltimore game and former head coach Jim Fassel said “National Football League” 9 times in 4 minutes, never once shortening it to NFL. It sounds ridiculous and awkward and I refuse to do it. I assume I will be fined by Commissioner Goodell as a result. But I digress….)

Tenets of the Tiebreakers:

Head-to-head is the first tiebreaker (but a 3-way tie in which all teams went 1-1 against each other is NOT settled because one team beat another on a neutral field)

Division games are more important than non-division games

Conference games are more important that non-conference games

If everything fails, flip a coin.

Division Winners:

Arizona Cardinals – NFC West

Arizona and San Francisco could tie for the division title at 8-8, but Arizona wins the tiebreaker by virtue of beating the 49ers in both meetings this year (tiebreak #1).

New York Giants – NFC East

New York and Dallas could tie for the division title at 11-5, but New York would win the tiebreaker. If the tie happens, the two teams would have split their head-to-head matchups and both finished 4-2 in the division (tiebreak #2). The third tiebreak is best winning percentage against common opponents. For the Cowboys and Giants common opponents include Philadelphia, Washington, the AFC North, and the NFC West. The Giants would win the common opponent tiebreaker with a 10-2 record against those teams while the Cowboys would have finished 8-4. Pretty simple, huh?

Tennessee Titans – AFC South

Tennessee and Indianapolis could tie for the division title at 12-4, but Tennessee would win the tiebreaker. Similar to the New York/Dallas situation, a tie here would involve a 1-1 head-to-head split and identical 4-2 records. Again it comes down to common opponents – 10-2 for Tennessee and 9-3 for Indianapolis.

Out of the Playoff Picture:

Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks

Teams all but Mathematically Eliminated:

Buffalo Bills

The Bills’ situation is quite interesting. They are 2 games back in the AFC East with 3 games to play but cannot win the division unless the NFL sees a second tie in a season for the first time since 1997. The reason is that the Jets and Dolphins play in the final week meaning one of those teams, barring a tie, will finish with 9 wins. Miami swept Buffalo this year, and the Jets would win a tie with the Bills based on division record (3-3 to 2-4). If Miami and New York DID tie, Buffalo could win the division only if New England lost all of their games because New England also wins the division record tiebreak(3-3 to 2-4). The Bills also lose out on every conceivable 3 and 4-way tie because of their would-be 2-4 division record. Thus, the only way the Bills can win the division is this: they win all 3 games while New England loses all 3, Miami and the Jets lose the next 2, and then New York and Miami tie in week 17. There is a better chance that I will slick my hair with motor oil and campaign for president of the Steve Alford Fan Club than of the Bills winning the AFC East. If you still care about the Bills’ Wild Card chances by now, bless you. They would lose a tie with Indianapolis due to conference record (8-4 to 7-5) and a tie with Baltimore due to record against common opponents (4-0 to 1-3). Naturally, they would also lose out on a tie between all 3 teams. Thus, they have been eliminated from a Wild Card spot already. A win by New York, Miami, or New England next week or a Buffalo loss would prevent me from having to include this paragraph next week.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers are eliminated from the Wild Card as Tampa Bay and Dallas/Philadelphia will finish with records better than the Packers’ ceiling of 8-8. Their division hopes remain alive, albeit slim. However, if they tie the Vikings at 8-8, they will win the division with a 5-1 division records vs. the Vikings’ 4-2. If the Packers, Vikings, and Bears all finish 8-8, the Packers again prevail because they will have swept the Bears to finish with a 3-1 record in the 3-way head-to-head, vs. Minnesota’s 2-2 and Chicago’s 1-3. All this fun ends, however, with one Packer loss or one Viking win.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers are out of the Wild Card chase as Baltimore and Indianapolis have 9 wins apiece. If Denver loses all 3 remaining games and San Diego wins all 3 (they play each other in the final week), San Diego would win the division via tiebreaker #2 – 5-1 division record vs. Denver’s 4-2. Similar to the Green Bay situation, one Denver win or one San Diego loss clinches the division for the Broncos.

Relatively Clear-Cut Divisions:

AFC North:

Pittsburgh leads Baltimore by one game (10-3 to 9-4) and beat Baltimore in their first meeting. The two teams play next Sunday – if Pittsburgh wins, they win the division because they will be 2 up with 2 to play and hold the tiebreaker advantage via the head-to-head sweep. If Baltimore wins, a tiebreaker would  move to division games. Baltimore would finish 5-1 in the division, while Pittsburgh would be 4-1 with a game remaining against Cleveland. A win by Pittsburgh in that game would send a potential tiebreak to games against common opponents, which stands like this: Baltimore is 7-3 with games remaining against Dallas and Jacksonville, while Pittsburgh is 7-3 with games remaining against Tennessee and Cleveland. If they are still tied it moves to conference record – Pittsburgh is 8-1 right now, Baltimore is 7-3. Basically it goes like this: Pittsburgh wins Sunday = race over, Baltimore wins Sunday = likely not over until the final week.

NFC North:

We discussed the Green Bay scenarios earlier, but any tie in this division will most likely involve Minnesota and Chicago. The two teams split this season, so it moves to division record. Minnesota finished 4-2 in the division while Chicago is 3-2 with a game left against Green Bay December 22nd. If Chicago loses that game, they would lose the tiebreaker to Minnesota. If they win, it moves to the ever popular record against common opponents. Against common opponents Minnesota is currently 7-4 with a game remaining against Atlanta. Chicago is 4-5 with games against New Orleans, Green Bay, and Houston. At best, Chicago can only tie Minnesota for the common opponent tiebreaker. Thus, Chicago’s best bet is to win the division outright as they are at a disadvantage tiebreaker-wise and currently 6th in the pecking order for the wild card.

Not Enough Precincts Reporting:

AFC East:

We are going out on a limb and assuming the Jets and Miami do not tie in Week 17, thus removing the Bills from the discussion. Currently, Miami, New York, and New England are all 8-5. If the Jets win out, they win the division because they could only tie with New England and would win the division based on superior division record (5-1 to 4-2). If Miami wins out, they win the division because they could only tie with New England and would win the division based on superior conference record (8-4 to 7-5). Thus, New England is the only team of the three that needs help to win the division. With three teams involved that are already tied, it is too early to even attempt to get into all of the possibilities. This division likely will not be settled until Week 17 and may not get any clearer until then.

NFC South:

 The NFC South makes the AFC East look straightforward. Just about the only thing not possible is that New Orleans cannot win the division outright. At best, they can tie Carolina at 10-6. Such a case would come down to the common opponent tiebreaker. However, even with just 3 weeks left there are too many possibilities to consider discussing them all. There could be a 4-way tie, any combination for 3 and 2-way ties, or any team other than New Orleans winning the division outright. By the end of next week this division could either be very clear or much more muddled. Carolina is in the driver’s seat but all of the remaining games may play into how the NFC South is settled. Stay tuned to this one.

Wild Cards:

With 3 games remaining for all teams, the possibilities and permutations for the Wild Cards are nearly endless. We will go into more detail about the Wild Card standings and possibilities after this coming weekend’s games. As of this week, the Wild Card standings stack up like this:


1. Tampa Bay

2. Dallas

3. Atlanta

4. Philadelphia

5. Washington

6. Chicago

7. New Orleans


1. Indianapolis

2. Baltimore

3. Miami

4. New England


~ by Bristol on December 8, 2008.

3 Responses to “Playoff Picture in the National Football League”

  1. I want to be there sometime when you are calculating this crap. I can only assume you do it all in your head b/c you are the closest thing to an idiot savant with numbers that I know. But, how would this blog look if you wrote it while consuming mass quantities of Night Train? Now that would be an interesting statistical analysis. Drunk Blog V. Sober Blog. GO BEARS!!!!


  2. Or some of Jimmy’s Home Brew….


  3. […] more: Playoff Picture in the National Football League « isnotawasteland baltimore, california, division, england, green, isnotawasteland, jets, kansas, national-football, […]


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