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Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia Eagles’

Explaining NFL Playoff Scenarios

In NFL on December 27, 2018 at 12:13 PM

I’ve done this a few different times over the years since there is kind of a lull in college football action, at least among the top teams. Also, I like solving the puzzles presented by tiebreaker scenarios. It’s like sudoku except fun and informative.

SECTION I: TEXT EXPLANATIONS

NFC

I’m going to start with the NFC to get it out of the way. The AFC if you get into some of the tiebreakers is very difficult to follow, but the NFC is pretty simple.

The division winners are the Saints, the Rams, the Bears, and the Cowboys. The Seahawks will be one of the two wild card teams.

The Saints are definitely the top seed (and as a result will have a first round bye, followed by playing the lowest-remaining seed), and the Cowboys are definitely the fourth seed, who will play the better of the two wild card teams in the first round.

Saints QB Drew Brees escapes the Steelers’ pass rush in New Orleans on Sunday. As a result of the Saints’ win, New Orleans clinched the #1 seed and put the Steelers on the brink of elimination from playoff contention.

The Rams have the inside track for the #2 seed, which entails a first-round bye. They clinch if either they win or the Bears lose. If neither of those happens, the Bears will be the #2 seed since Chicago beat Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago.

The Seahawks have the inside track on the #5 seed, the top wild card. They clinch with a win or a Vikings loss. If the Seahawks lose and Vikings win, the Vikings will take the #5 seed.

The Vikings have not clinched the playoffs yet, but they have the inside track against the Eagles. Minnesota would have to lose and Philadelphia would have to win for the Eagles to take the last playoff spot. In that scenario, the Seahawks wrap up the #5 seed regardless of the outcome of their game.

I don’t think any charts are even necessary for the NFC.

AFC

Intro and Making the Playoffs

The AFC, simply put, is a mess. It’s very weird to only have one known division champion of the four divisions. And that one known champion could be the best division winner or the worst division winner, so even that doesn’t clarify things as much as usual.

In the discussion below, except for one clearly marked paragraph, I will basically be pretending ties aren’t possible.

In order to finish as a top-4 seed (which also means your first game will be at home), you must win your division. So I’ll start by covering what needs to be done in order to win each division.

The one team I referred to who completed this process is the Patriots of the AFC East.

Patriots QB Tom Brady throws over the middle of the Bills defense in a lackluster win in Foxborough, Mass., on Sunday. With the win, the Patriots clinched the NFC East for the 10th year in a row.

In the AFC North, the Ravens only have to win in order to clinch. But if the Ravens lose and the Steelers win, the Steelers win the AFC North. If both lose, the Ravens win the AFC North. Without a tie, neither the Ravens nor the Steelers can make the playoffs as a wild card team.

In the AFC South, there are three potential champions. The Texans are one win away. If the Texans lose, the champion will be the winner between the Colts and the Titans (again, I’m excluding ties, but for that one I looked it up).

The AFC West is the only division that is tied going into the final week. Since the Chiefs have lost two games outside of the AFC (to the Rams and Seahawks) and have lost only once (against the Chargers) in the division, they hold the tiebreaker. So the Chargers would need to win and hope the Chiefs lose to the Raiders.

I’m going to reserve discussion of how the divisional champions will be seeded until the end since it’s the most complicated.

Wild Cards

An AFC wild card team would have to finish 10-6. I mentioned that the Texans haven’t clinched the division, but they have clinched at least a wild card spot. Both possibilities in the AFC West have clinched at least a wild card and could not fall below #5, which is the top wild card team.

The winner of the Colts and the Titans will get the last remaining playoff spot. As mentioned earlier, the playoff spot could be a division champion and in the case of the Titans could be as high as #2. Regardless, the loser is out.

For this one paragraph, I did look up what happens in the event of a tie in that game. First of all, the Texans would win the AFC South regardless of the outcome of their game since they start out a full game ahead. If the Titans and Colts tie and the Steelers win, all three will have the same record. If in addition to that the Ravens win, the Steelers will then have to compete for a wild card (if the Steelers win and the Ravens lose, the Steelers win the division and don’t compete for the wild card). The way the tiebreakers work is ties within a division are resolved first. The Colts beat the Titans earlier in the year, so they would eliminate the Titans. Then the Steelers would win the tiebreaker against the Colts with a better record in common games. If the Steelers lose, the Colts would take the spot.

Number One Seed

That wasn’t even the trickier aspect of the AFC. The real headache is how the division winners would be seeded in the event of ties. As many as five teams could finish with 11-5 records, and as many as four teams could finish with 10-6 records.

These are the main scenarios (“AFC West” refers only to Chargers and Chiefs.):

Two AFC West losses + Patriots win = Patriots #1 (Patriots would win tiebreakers against the Chiefs and/or Texans)

Chiefs lose + Chargers win = Chargers #1 (Chargers would finish with the best AFC record outright regardless of other outcomes.)

Two AFC West losses + Patriots lose = Texans #1 (Texans would win tiebreaker over Chiefs.)

Any other scenario = Chiefs #1

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes looks to throw against the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday night. Despite two losses in two weeks, the Chiefs have one more chance to wrap up the #1 seed against the Raiders next Sunday.

Number Three and Number Four Seeds

I’m putting the scenarios for #2 last since that’s the most complicated.

I’ll start with the simplest and most likely situation. If the Patriots and either (or both) the Chiefs or the Chargers win, this will be the Texans’ to lose.

If the Patriots lose, Houston will be in the top two with a win though. In that case, the Ravens would pass up the Patriots for the #3 spot.

If Houston does lose, they would not be in the running for a top four seed. The Ravens and Titans could then rise as high as #2 with wins, and the Colts could rise as high as #3 with a win. It’s likely that the Patriots would keep all of the above an additional spot lower with a win though.

A three-way tie between the Patriots, Colts, and Ravens (meaning the Patriots lose while Colts and Ravens win) would make the Ravens #2 and the Patriots #3.

A three-way tie between the Patriots, Titans, and Ravens would make the Ravens #2 and the Titans #3.

In the event of a loss, Houston would lose the tiebreaker to the Titans/Colts winner for the division, so the Texans would fall to the second wild card (#6 seed).

Number Two Seed

In the discussions above, I mentioned a couple of routes to the #2 seed.

If one of the two relevant AFC West teams win, the simplest route to #2 would be for either the Patriots or Texans to win and finish as the only 11-5 team (which would require the other to lose). If both win to finish 11-5, the Patriots win the head-to-head tiebreaker.

I mentioned in the previous subsection that if both the Patriots and Texans lose to finish 10-6, the Texans become a wild card team and the Patriots would end up tied with the Titans/Colts winner and/or the Ravens.

I covered the three-way ties, but the Patriots would lose a two-way tie for the #2 seed with the Titans but win a two-way tie with the Colts. The two-way tie is what happens if the Ravens and Patriots lose.

If both AFC West teams lose and the Texans win, the Texans don’t necessarily finish ahead of the Chiefs. As mentioned in the “#1” subsection, if the Patriots win in this scenario, they will take the #1 seed since they beat both the Texans and the Chiefs (who have not played each other).

The next step – and this is what I’ve been saving for last – is to resolve the tie between the Chiefs and the Texans. I mentioned they didn’t play each other, so the next step is common opponents. Both lost to the Patriots and beat the Browns. The Texans beat the Jaguars twice and the Chiefs beat the Jaguars once, which gives the Texans a half-game lead. But in return the Chiefs beat the Broncos twice, and the Texans only beat the Broncos once. So both teams are 4-1 in total against the 4 common opponents.

How a Chiefs-Texans tie in the standings would actually be resolved if everything favorable to the Chiefs happens. The italicized teams are involved in the five game the Chiefs would need to go in their favor. The bolded teams are involved in games where it won’t matter either way because the numbers at the bottom wouldn’t change. The numbers at the bottom would be the final strength of victory for the respective teams.

The next tiebreaker is “strength of victory”. If it were strength of schedule, the Chiefs would win regardless of any other outcome, and there would never be a need to talk about any NFC games (the Texans and Chiefs played completely different NFC teams, but since every team of one conference only plays a single division of another conference and every division has two intra-divisional games in the final week, none of the outcomes would matter), but the NFL apparently thinks strength of schedule is a completely useless way to resolve a tie between two teams.

Since the teams that beat the Chiefs were all very good, this takes the better teams away from the Chiefs’ average. As a result, strength of victory (which is an assessment of who beat the best collection of teams) gives the Texans a clear edge.

That edge can be overcome, but only if the Ravens and both of the NFC teams who lost to the Chiefs (the Cardinals and 49ers) win and both of the NFC teams who lost to the Texans (the Cowboys and Redskins) lose. I’ll warn you that ESPN’s “Playoff Machine” contradicts me here, so if I’m missing something, let me know. I checked my numbers thoroughly (I even briefly thought I made a mistake in one of the records. I doubt Excel is wrong in its computation.

Same key as the chart above, but the games below the thick black horizontal line are the games that were (or would be) lost. Even if every relevant game were changed to an unfavorable result for the Chiefs, the Chiefs would still win the tiebreaker. I think it’s a sign of a better team if you only lose once to a team with single-digit wins rather than three times, but the NFL didn’t ask me.

The Cardinals and the 49ers winning would be bizarre results, especially since they’re both playing much better teams with something meaningful to play for, but remember that we don’t even have this conversation unless the Chiefs and the Chargers both lose, so we’re pretty far down the rabbit hole anyway.

Finally I have a historical note to make this a little weirder. The original nickname for the franchise that became the Kansas City Chiefs was the Texans. Those were Dallas Texans though.

Team Possibilities

This is the range of possible outcomes for the various AFC teams, excluding ties:

The Chiefs could get the #1, #2, #3, or #5 seed.

The Patriots could get the #1, #2, #3, or #4 seed.

The Chargers could get the #1 or #5 seed.

The Texans could get the #1, #2, #3, or #6 seed.

The Titans could get the #2, #3, #4, or #6 seed (or nothing).

The Ravens could get the #2, #3, #4, or #6 seed (or nothing).

The Colts could get the #3, #4, or #6 seed (or nothing).

The Steelers could get the #4 seed (or nothing).

SECTION II: AFC SCENARIO LISTS

I already covered a couple of these when I discussed the AFC #1 seed, but this is a more mathematical way of explaining the various scenarios (again, this is ignoring ties; and “AFC West” refers to the two competitive teams, the Chiefs and the Chargers). This is also kind of my proof of the last subsection:

Patriots win + at least one AFC West win = Patriots #2

Chiefs win + Patriots lose + Texans lose + Titans lose + Ravens lose = Chiefs #1, Patriots #2, Colts #3, Texans #6

Chiefs lose + Chargers win + Patriots lose + Texans lose + Titans lose + Ravens lose = Chargers #1, Patriots #2, Colts #3, Texans #6

Chiefs lose + Chargers lose + Patriots lose + Texans lose + Titans lose + Ravens lose = Chiefs #1, Patriots #2, Colts #3, Texans #6

Patriots lose + Texans win + at least one AFC West win = Texans #2

Patriots win + Chiefs win + Texans win = Texans #3

Patriots lose + Texans win + Ravens lose = Patriots #3

Patriots lose + Texans win + Ravens win = Patriots #4

Titans win + Patriots lose + Texans lose + Ravens lose = Titans #2, Patriots #3, Texans #6

Titans win + Patriots lose + Texans lose + Ravens win = Ravens #2, Titans #3, Patriots #4, Texans #6

Patriots win + Texans lose + Ravens win = Ravens #3, Titans/Colts winner #4, Texans #6

Patriots win + Texans win + Ravens win = Ravens #4

Titans win + Patriots win + Texans lose + Ravens lose= Titans #3

Titans win + Patriots win + Texans lose + Ravens win = Titans #4

Titans win + Patriots win + Texans win = Titans #6

Colts win + Texans lose+ Ravens lose = Colts #3

Colts win + Texans lose+ Ravens win = Colts #4

Colts win + Texans win = Colts #6

Steelers win + Ravens lose = Steelers #4, Ravens eliminated

Steelers lose = Ravens at least #4

SECTION III: AFC CHARTS

This is mostly from the New York Times, except I had to add the Eagles/Redskins game to the flow chart of the Chief’s various routes to their playoff seed. Previously, it said “50% chance of div. champ” on the right after “the Ravens win”. In this scenario, the Chiefs would already be the division champs, so that’s not really true (#fakenews); but I guess that was like an error message trying to tell the makers of the chart they didn’t provide enough information. The red box around “#2 BYE” means in that scenario the #1 team is the Texans. The blue box means in that scenario the #1 team is the Patriots. Where it says “#3 DIV. CHAMPS,” that would mean the Patriots are #1 and the Texans are #2. The various scenarios to the right of the red asterisk only apply to breaking the tie between the Texans and the Chiefs.

I’m starting with the most complicated situation since that is what seemed like it may require a chart the most. Also, it covers the Patriots’ and Texans’ potential routes to #1 seeds. Also, if the Chargers win, they would be #1 under the scenario above where it says “#5 wild card”.

As a supplement to that, these are the potential results if the Texans win and the Patriots lose. If the Texans and the Patriots both win, the Texans lose the tiebreaker and stay at the #3 spot.

It’s also pretty simple if the Patriots win. They’re #2 unless the Chiefs and the Chargers both lose, in which case they would be #1. But it gets a little more confusing if they lose, so here is the chart to cover that situation. The Patriots win the tiebreaker against the Colts but not against the Titans. If either the Patriots win or the Texans win, that game doesn’t really matter to anyone except the teams involved though.

The Ravens would win a tiebreaker against either the Titans or the Colts, so that game wouldn’t matter to them even if the Texans lose. They do want the Texans to lose though, because that will move them up a spot, either from fourth to third or from third to second.

Rams, Raiders, and Relocation

In NFL on January 22, 2016 at 7:57 PM

I started this off with a couple of observations after watching the Jeff Fisher interview after a welcoming party for the Rams. I eventually got around to adding some other topics based on my knowledge of the NFL in the 1990s and since, including some of the major figures around both Fisher, the Rams organization, and relocation.

Jeff Fisher is from the Los Angeles area and actually coached the Rams as a defensive coordinator in 1991. After the Rams fell from 11-5 with a conference championship appearance in 1989 to 5-11 in 1990, Fisher’s hiring was directly overseen by the late owner Georgia Frontiere, and he was actually supposed to be the heir to John Robinson. However, rather than turning things around, the Rams got even worse, going just 3-13.

Robinson resigned, and Fisher was not retained by the new head coach Chuck Knox, the last to coach the Rams in Southern California (Knox also coached the Rams from 1973 to 1977 when they were actually in Los Angeles).

This page chronicles Fisher’s experience with the Rams during the 1991 season and in the immediate aftermath:

I couldn't find a picture of Fisher as an assistant coach, but this was just a few years before.

I couldn’t find a picture of Fisher as an assistant coach, but this was just a few years before.

After Knox also failed to turn things around (his best season was 6-10 in 1992), Frontiere would orchestrate the move to St. Louis, the city of her birth.

I had forgotten that Fisher was also the coach of the Oilers when they went through the relocation process (They initially moved to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis as a temporary location, but there was little local fan interest since they knew the Oilers would not be their team). He had taken Jack Pardee’s place as head coach during the 1994 season (he was retained despite a 1-5 record after Pardee had started 1-9) and moved with the team after the 1996 season.

To give some additional perspective to how long ago this was, when Fisher took the defensive coordinator job in Houston, he replaced Buddy Ryan, famous for coaching the great Bears defense 30 years ago (he also happens to be the father of Rex and Rob if you were wondering). Coincidentally, Fisher had played for Ryan in Chicago and worked as his assistant in Philadelphia.

I have another blog planned where I modify my position on realignment given the NFL’s relocation approval for the Rams (effective immediately) and the Chargers (which is undetermined and may not take place at all).

In looking at the map, I thought it was interesting that both the Rams and the Oilers (now Titans) moved to the same basic part of the country. More on that in a moment.

Fisher coached in that area 19 of the past 20 seasons (he did not coach in 2011), so he expressed some mixed feelings about the move. I thought it was decent of him to mention in local press conferences the fans that the team is leaving behind and how they got to enjoy two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl win.

The Rams’ 1999 Super Bowl (January 2000) win was over Jeff Fisher’s Titans.

The Rams made two other Super Bowls in franchise history: Super Bowl XIV in January 1980 when they lost to the Steelers (after what would be their last year in Los Angeles proper) and Super Bowl XXXVI in January 2002 when they lost to the Patriots (in the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win). The Rams last made the playoffs in 2004.

Between the Ohio River and the southern edge of the Florida panhandle and between the eastern border of Texas and the Atlantic Ocean, there was previously only one team, the Atlanta Falcons. So all of a sudden there were two teams between Kansas City and Atlanta in roughly neighboring fan areas.

The area that had no teams before  the 1990s relocation is covered by the black lines on the left.  The gray box that is added on the right adds the area that had only one team.

The area that had no teams before the 1990s relocation is covered by the black lines on the left. The gray box that is added on the right adds the area that had only one team.

I’m curious about how this played into fan support, financing, etc. It also could have had something to do with the NFL allowing the Rams to move back. Maybe the St. Louis market being unexploited doesn’t seem like such a problem with all the relatively close teams.

The two new teams to populate the greater area I mentioned before (but slightly to the east of Atlanta) were 1995 expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville. Jacksonville was a surprise winner over St. Louis, Baltimore, and Memphis. In recent years, there have been rumors about the Jaguars possibly relocating, and St. Louis has been suggested as a possibility. Jacksonville is the fourth-smallest TV market in the NFL, ahead of only Green Bay (which was the only smaller market in 1995), Buffalo, and New Orleans.

St. Louis had given the Rams a very friendly lease before there was so much popular sentiment against public financing and of course before the global financial crisis that took place in 2008, the year of Frontiere’s death. Part of that agreement was for the city to maintain a top-tier stadium, meaning it had to be among the top 8 in the NFL even though St. Louis would have only been the 19th NFL TV market had the other Los Angeles stadium project been approved instead.

So the unwillingness/inability of St. Louis to do that does not, in my opinion, rule out potential relocation there by another franchise. Places like Houston, Baltimore, and Cleveland changed course after their original teams left (the current Browns team was really an expansion team even though we’re supposed to pretend it wasn’t), so the same could happen. Not that it would have to be in the top 8 (which shouldn’t be expected of a city that size anyway). It is concerning, however, that despite being in the middle of the pack in performance and despite the fans knowing relocation might be imminent, St. Louis was dead last in attendance in the NFL last year. More people per game went to see the Vikings, who play at a college stadium outdoors (which, to be fair, seems nice considering), even though there was room for 14,000 fewer people.

The view from the home plate side of Oakland Coliseum.  It is nostalgic to see a baseball diamond when you watch on TV, although it would annoy me as a fan.

The view from the home plate side of Oakland Coliseum. It is nostalgic to see a baseball diamond when you watch on TV, although it would annoy me as a fan.

On a related note, no one seems to care about the Raiders’ ongoing stadium problems. I guess the NFL still regards that franchise as the enemy even though Al Davis (the other owner who abandoned the L.A.) has also passed away. (Among many perceived slights to the league, Davis had moved the team to L.A. despite losing 22-0 when the proposal was submitted to the other owners.) USA Today technically ranked the Oakland Coliseum second to last, but the author wrote last place Soldier Field wasn’t really the worst but was being ranked last because it used to be nice. I’m sure that’s a comfort to the Raiders.

Ryan, Robinson, and Knox are all still alive and over 80 years old. Those guys were emblematic of football to me when I was young, so I’m happy to know they’re still around; and it was fun to refresh my memory of them.

Slightly less memorable was Pardee, who as an aside played for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M before being a Ram as a player. Unfortunately, he passed away a few days shy of his 77th birthday in 2013.

Other blogs related to Los Angeles relocation:
Before Announcement
After Announcement