I don’t talk about the NFL too much, but it’s always fun for me to analyze the playoff scenarios since there aren’t one-game playoffs and it’s much easier to tie on multiple levels with 16 games than 82 games.
I couldn’t figure this out last night without visiting a number of sites and wasting a lot of time, so I just wanted to let people know all the different playoff scenarios, not just who’s in and who’s out.
Discussions overlap, but I try to indicate which seed I’m talking about in the sections for the respective conferences.
The Tampa Bay scenario needed its own section, but if they make it they’ll be the sixth seed in the NFC. It’s probably more likely for the Buccaneers to play in snow on Sunday (which is a home game) than make the playoffs, but I thought it was interesting. You can skip it if you just want realistic scenarios.
We know all the AFC playoff teams, but we don’t know the order very well.
1 – The Patriots have the #1 seed at the moment, but the Raiders could still get that if the Dolphins beat the Patriots and the Raiders beat the Broncos. The Raiders would win the tiebreaker based on common games.
2&5 – Even though Oakland still has a chance at the #1 seed, they could fall to the #5 seed with a loss and a Chiefs win (over San Diego).
3&4 – We already know that Pittsburgh will have the #3 seed and Houston will have the #4 seed.
6 – I mentioned how the Chiefs can move up to #2 (which comes with a bye), but they can also fall to #6 with a loss to San Diego and a Miami win over New England.
In the NFC, 8 teams are still alive for six spots.
1 – The Cowboys have clinched the #1 seed, but #2 is still up in the air.
2 – If the Falcons beat the Saints, they clinch the #2 seed. If they do not and the Lions (who currently have the #3 spot) beat the Packers next week, the Lions can take the #2 seed (regardless of whether they win tonight). If there is a tie, the Lions would win based on common games.
This might be common sense to most NFL fans, but just to explain, a team must win its division to be eligible to get higher than the #5 seed. The Giants can finish with a better record than the Falcons; but since the Cowboys have clinched the NFC East and the Falcons have clinched the NFC West, the Falcons are guaranteed a higher seed than the Giants.
So other than the Lions, the only other team who can take the #2 seed is the Seahawks. This is because if Seattle beats San Francisco, the Seahawks would finish 10-5-1, which puts them ahead of Atlanta if the Falcons lose to the Saints.
3 – If the Seahawks win, the only way an NFC North team can finish higher is if the Lions win tonight and next week (which would push Seattle down to #3). If the Seahawks lose, either Lions/Packers winner gets the #3 spot.
The reason the Lions haven’t clinched the division is that the Packers (at worst) both tie them and gain the tiebreaker with a win next week. (This is more applicable to the lower seeds, but…) Neither team has clinched the playoffs because (1) either can finish 9-7 and (2) the Redskins by beating the Giants would finish 9-6-1.
4 – Seattle will finish #4 at worst because the Seahawks HAVE clinched their division.
5 – The Giants have clinched the #5 seed. The worst they can finish is 10-6. The only team who can get to 10-6 and yet not win its division is the Lions, whom the Giants beat.
6 – So that last part is one scenario in which we resolve the #6 seed. (Basically it would mean the Lions win tonight and lose next week.) A Giants win over the Redskins would also guarantee the Lions a playoff spot even if Detroit loses both games.
A Giants win over the Redskins would also guarantee the Packers a playoff spot even if the Packers were to lose.
With a win by the Redskins, however, the Packers would be eliminated with one loss and the Lions would be eliminated with two losses. Either way, eliminating the Green Bay/Detroit loser would put Washington in the playoffs.
(The only way I could make this seem like it might be interesting to an average person was to talk to myself.)
Wait a minute. A win by the Giants makes the NFC North loser safe, and a win by the Redskins potentially puts the Redskins in place of the NFC North loser. How in the world does that leave room for Tampa Bay?
Well, I didn’t say what happens if NO ONE wins the Giants/Redskins game.
So the Bucs must win, and that game must end in a tie? That’s unlikely (the tie alone is about a 300-1 chance), but I guess stranger things have happened. Is that all?
Not even close.
In my opinion, 8-6-2 should beat 9-7 (8/14=57% and 9/16=56%), but ties count as half-wins, so it doesn’t. This means that there could be a three-way tie including Washington. To help Tampa Bay, the tie must include the Packers, which means Green Bay must beat Detroit. Also, the Lions need to lose tonight, but we’ll get to why at the end.
The Redskins would then lose the tiebreaker to Green Bay and Tampa Bay based on having the worst conference record of the 3. In this case, you start over the tie breaking procedure at the beginning with the two remaining teams. Head to head doesn’t work, neither does common opponents. You need to go to strength of victory (which means beating teams with better records… for some reason, they don’t care as much about losing to teams with bad records, which the Buccaneers did more of).
But don’t the Packers have a better strength of victory than the Buccaneers?
Why, yes they do, but if only four more games (other than the ones we covered) go the right way for the Bucs, that will change: San Francisco (whom the Bucs beat) beats Seattle, Indianapolis beats Jacksonville, Dallas beats Philadelphia, and Tennessee beats Houston. The last three games matter because the Packers beat the would-be losers of those games (and also beat the Lions way back in week 3).
This was a race where a horse won despite 999-1 odds, but it only happened because he was the only horse to finish the race. The other horses were doing so badly, the rider of the winner was able to get back on his horse and complete the course. The Bucs are facing about 30,000-1 odds according to ESPN.