NFL Playoff Picture – Heading into Week 17

Things are starting to clear up - how much more will we know after Sunday?

Lots of sites can tell you what the playoff picture looks like. But we also bring the how and the why.

NFL Playoff Situation – Heading Into the Final Week

Link to the tiebreak procedures on the NFL website:

Tenets of the Tiebreakers:

Head-to-head is the first tiebreaker

Division games are more important than non-division games

Conference games are more important that non-conference games

Teams in the Playoffs:

Arizona Cardinals – NFC West

Atlanta Falcons – Playoff Spot

Carolina Panthers – Playoff Spot

Indianapolis Colts – AFC Wild Card

New York Giants – NFC East

Pittsburgh Steelers – AFC North

Tennessee Titans – AFC South

Out of the Playoff Picture:

Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins

Other Playoff Spots Still Up For Grabs:

AFC West

The AFC West will be settled with a winner-takes-the-division game between Denver and San Diego next week. The Broncos missed out on another chance to clinch the division by losing at home to Buffalo and now must win at San Diego to avoid an embarrassing collapse. The winner will be the #4 seed in the AFC and will host Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs

AFC East

The AFC now stacks up like this: If Miami beats New York, the Dolphins win the division. If the Jets win and New England defeats Buffalo, the Patriots are the division champs. Finally, if the Jets win and the Patriots lose, the Jets will take the AFC East crown. The winner of the division will be the #3 seed in the AFC and will host the second wild card qualifier in the first round.

NFC North

Minnesota still just needs one win or one Chicago loss to clinch the division but have yet to clinch after losing to Atlanta and watching the Bears defeat Green Bay in overtime. The winner of the division will be the #3 seed in the playoffs and will host the second wild card qualifier in the first round.

AFC Wild Card

With Indianapolis claiming the first of two spots and the #5 seed (they win ties with Baltimore only and with Baltimore and New England even if they lose this weekend), there is just the #6 seed up for grabs heading into the final weekend. Baltimore has the advantage and will clinch the wild card with a win. The Ravens hold the tiebreak edge over all three teams from the AFC East and have control over their playoff hopes.

The breakdown:

1. Baltimore Ravens

With a win, only New England could tie them for the wild card with an 11-5 record and Baltimore would win the tiebreak because of a superior conference record.

2. New England Patriots

If the Ravens lose, New England would clinch a playoff spot with a win over Buffalo. That playoff spot could come in the form of the wild card or the division championship (see above). A loss to Buffalo would eliminate the Patriots from playoff contention because they lose any tiebreak situation.

Alternate Situation #1: If Baltimore and Miami lose while New England wins the Ravens, Dolphins and Jets would finish in a 3-way tie. The Jets would eliminate the Dolphins via head-to-head because the tie between division teams must be settled first. The Jets would win a tie at 10-6 because of a better conference record than the Ravens.

Alternate Situation #2: If Baltimore, New England, and Miami all lose to finish in a 3-way tie at 10-6, the Ravens would win the tie. Since the tie between the division opponents would be settled first and the Ravens hold the tiebreak edge over both New England (conference record) and Miami (head-to-head), Baltimore wins in that situation as well.

Schedule note: New England plays at 12:00 Sunday while the other three teams play at 3:15, so if New England wins, they will have to sit back and watch the afternoon games, hoping that either Baltimore or Miami loses.

NFC Wild Card

With their win and losses by Tampa Bay and Dallas, Atlanta clinched a playoff spot over the weekend, although their seed is still up in the air – they will either be the #2 seed as the NFC South champ or the #5 or #6 as a wild card. It is interesting (at least to me) that if all three teams would have finished 11-5, Atlanta would have been the odd team out, but if all three finish 10-6, it will be Tampa Bay that misses the playoffs. The reason is that at 11-5, Tampa Bay would have likely won due to the strength of victory tiebreak, but now Atlanta wins the tie because of a better record against common opponents.

The breakdown:

1. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys can still clinch a playoff spot with a win this weekend despite their well-documented recent struggles. Dallas would win a tie with Tampa Bay because of a head-to-head victory and any tie that involves Chicago because of a better conference record. A Cowboy loss opens the door for Tampa Bay or Chicago and eliminates Dallas. Philadelphia would move ahead of the Cowboys at 9-5-1 as the two teams meet in a game rife with playoff implications.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Chicago Bears

Thanks to the wonderful world of NFL tiebreaks, we cannot say which of these two teams has the upper hand if Dallas loses because it would come down to whether Atlanta won their game or not. Stay with me here – if Dallas loses and Tampa Bay and Chicago both win, the Atlanta game would decide the sixth playoff team. An Atlanta win would send Tampa Bay to the playoffs because their head-to-head win over Chicago would decide the tie. However, an Atlanta loss would cause a three-way tie in which Tampa Bay would be bounced first – and thus, eliminated – because of the rule that divisional ties must be settled first. Thus, Chicago would advance in a three-way tie with Atlanta and Tampa Bay even though they lost to both teams. Weird. The Bears are also still alive for the NFC North as documented above. Of course, if either team loses, they are eliminated.

4. Philadelphia Eagles

If Dallas, Tampa Bay, and Chicago all lose, the Eagles will take the final playoff spot at 9-6-1 with the win over the Cowboys.

Schedule Note: Atlanta (vs. St. Louis), Tampa Bay (vs. Oakland), and Chicago (at Houston) play at 12:00 so we will know which team would join the Falcons in the event of a Dallas loss. Dallas and Philadelphia kick off at 3:15 and the outcome of that game will determine the final playoff spot.



1. Tennessee Titans

Win or lose, the Titans will finish with the AFC’s best record.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

Even with a loss, Pittsburgh would win a potential tie with either Miami (conference record) or New England (head-to-head) at 11-5.

3. AFC East Champion

Regardless of who comes out of the division, they will finish with a better record than the AFC West champion.

4. AFC West Champion

5. Indianapolis Colts

6. Second Wild Card


1. New York Giants

New York clinched the #1 seed with the win over Carolina on Sunday night as Carolina could only tie them for the best record in the NFC.

2. NFC South Champion

Carolina would have been the number one seed if they had defeated the Giants on Sunday, but if they lose at New Orleans and Atlanta beat St. Louis, the Falcons will win the division by virtue of a better conference record. Regardless, the NFC South champ will finish with a better record than the NFC North winner.

3. NFC North Champion

Regardless of whether the Vikings or the Bears win the division, they will finish as the #3 seed. Minnesota defeated Arizona head-to-head while the Bears can only win the division at 10-6; Arizona can finish no better than 9-7.

4. Arizona Cardinals

5. First Wild Card

This spot would go to Dallas if they win and Atlanta loses. Any other scenario other than Atlanta winning the NFC South sees the Falcons in this spot. In that case, Carolina would be the #5 seed.

6. Second Wild Card

This spot could be occupied by Atlanta, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Chicago, or Philadelphia.


~ by Bristol on December 20, 2008.

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