NFL Standings After Week 15 & Clinching Scenarios

In the reverse of my normal patterns I will start with the NFC, it being the far simpler one to explain, then give everyone the AFC headache after that:

1. New Orleans (clinched bye seed)
2. Minnesota (clinched division)
3. Philadelphia (clinched playoff spot)
4. Arizona (clinched division)
5. Green Bay
6. Dallas
1 game back of 6th: New York
Planning for 2010: Atlanta, Carolina, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Washington, Tampa, Detroit, St. Louis

To use a baseball term, the Saints have a magic number of 1 to clinch the top seed in the conference with two games left. The Vikings still have the inside track to clinch the other bye seed but another loss would knock them behind Philly if the Eagles got to 12-4, and two losses by both is what Arizona would need. If Dallas wins out they win the East but if either them or the Packers lose a game the Giants would jump into wildcard position by winning out because of superior tiebreaking on both. Atlanta could still theoretically tie for 6th place in the conference but they win ties with precisely no one above them which is why they are eliminated.

And now for the AFC (get your popcorn ready):

1. Indianapolis (clinched #1 seed)
2. San Diego (clinched division)
3/4 New England/Cincinnati
5. Baltimore
6. Denver
1 game back of 6th: Jacksonville, Miami, New York, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Houston
Planning for 2010: Oakland, Buffalo, Cleveland, Kansas City

New England/Cincinnati:
If both go 11-5 they would both have 8-4 conference records and 3-2 records against common opponents. Right now both are 6-4 with two conference games remaining and one critical common opp game remaining, New England with Houston and Cincinnati with the Jets, both in week 17. In that eventuality a tie would go to strength of victory. By my math the Pats vanquished foes currently have a combined 47 wins, the Bengals have 51 so that is too close to call. And lets not even ponder yet the 3 way tie if the Chargers lose their last 2 games, thus giving them an 8-4 conference record also. The Chargers win a tie head up with the Bengals but throw New England in its less certain. As it stands the Chargers are on the cusp of clinching the #2 seed.

Baltimore/Denver:
These two teams are obviously in the advantaged position of being 8-6, as opposed to the half dozen teams still in the hunt at 7-7. Of the two the Ravens are in better shape; even if they lose Sunday at Pittsburgh but win their final game at Oakland they would be ahead of the Steelers in the division standings. One loss would leave them vulnerable to Jacksonville on conference record. A tie with Miami would be fine if the loss were the Oakland game. However if it were the Pittsburgh game it would come down to strength of victory. Factoring in the necessary winning down the stretch Miami vanquished foes currently have 57 wins and Baltimore’s have 51 so that looks like advantage Dolphins. A tie with the Jets (but not the Dolphins, as I will get to later Miami has an advantage on New York in divisional standings) at 9-7 would advantage Jets on common opp record. The Ravens are good at 9-7 vis a vis Tennessee and Houston on conference record.

As for Denver, they are losing a tie for the 5th seed right now with Baltimore on head to head, and would lose a tie straight up with Pittsburgh for the same reason. At 9-7 it matters some what the loss is. Either way they are fine with Tennessee and either way they are not fine with Jacksonville. If they lose to Philadelphia but beat Kansas City, which is the more likely way for them to split the last two, they would have a 7-5 conference record, which is the same as Miami and New York would have and better than Pittsburgh in a multi-way tie. In this scenario them and Miami would go to strength of victory. The Broncos have a slight edge right now, 60 wins to Miami’s 57 but that is close enough that it could change. A tie with the Jets would also come down to strength of victory where the Jets currently would have a slim 62-60 edge. But if they lose to the Chiefs after beating the Eagles then Denver has a worse conference record than Miami and New York and the same as Pittsburgh and Houston. A tie with the Texans would again come down to strength of victory but Houston vanquished foes only have 54 wins right now so Denver would probably be safe.

Jacksonville:

If they win both remaining games (@ New England, @ Cleveland) they would be 9-7 and in good shape if Baltimore or Denver lost a game. They would for sure have 2nd in the South and a better (8-4) conference record than either Baltimore or Denver at that mark. The caveat to that is they would need for the Ravens or Broncos to be precisely 9-7 (not lose twice and be 8-8) or for Houston or Pittsburgh to beat or tie Miami because they cannot survive a head-to-head tie with the Dolphins.

Miami: They are also in decent shape amongst the 7-7 teams as they would win a divisional tie with New York. Their best hope is for Baltimore to lose to the Steelers (see above in the Baltimore paragraph) and have Jacksonville lose, or have either Baltimore or Denver lose both remaining games so they can face a tie with the Jaguars straight up.

NY Jets: They first of all need Miami to lose a game or for Baltimore and Denver to both do enough losing that there is room in the playoffs for both East teams. As detailed above the Jets have decent tiebreaking opportunities with both the Ravens and Broncos, but if the Dolphins are 9-7 they would need Miami to win a tie for the 5th seed so they are in position to win a tie for the 6th seed. And they need Jacksonville to lose a game.

Pittsburgh: This is where it starts to get harder for the remaining 7-7 teams. They don’t win a tie with Baltimore, so they either need the Ravens to lose to Oakland in Week 17 or for Denver to lose a game. In either event they also need the Jaguars and Jets to lose a game absent the Broncos and Ravens both collapsing leaving room for them and the Jets or Jags. They also need either Tennessee to win both remaining games or for Houston to lose a game. Reason is the Titans win a divisional tie with Houston and the Steelers win a tie with the Titans on head-to-head. But they lose a tie with the Texans on common opponent record and Houston in the mix prevents the Steelers from using their head-to-head advantage on Denver. If its Denver, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee at 9-7 for the 6th seed the Steelers are golden having beaten everyone involved in a multi-way tie. But if its Denver, Pittsburgh, and Houston all at 6-6 with Denver’s loss the Kansas City game its probably advantage Broncos on strength of victory. It definitely is on conference record if their loss is the Eagles game.

Tennessee:

All 7 of their losses are conference games, crippling their chances. They need either Baltimore or Denver to lose both remaining games, they need Jacksonville to lose a game (unless the Ravens and Broncos both lose both and their is room for both) and they need Pittsburgh to lose a game. They also need New York to lose a game unless Miami also wins both games. They do win a tie with the Dolphins on head-to-head if they are the only clubs at 9-7.

Houston:

They are behind both Jacksonville and Tennessee in the division standings, so they need both of them to lose a game (or at least one if there is room for both in the playoffs). They would definitely need Baltimore to lose both remaining games. Denver losing only the Kansas City game might be enough, but probably not. Given that winning out involved beating Miami they also need the Jets to lose a game. Pittsburgh is the one team that is not a worry to them as they would win that tie on common ops record.

My apologies if I mis-calculated or forgot something along the way, especially with all of those scenarios that could come down to record against common opponents and strength of victory. For the record, if a tie goes to strength of victory and that is tied, strength of schedule is the next consideration. Week 16 should simplify things a bit, with Houston playing Miami, Pittsburgh playing Baltimore, and the Broncos, Jaguars, Jets, and Titans playing games they are likely the underdog in. Finally, below is the official clinching scenarios for this coming weekend:

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
San Diego clinches first-round bye with:
1) SD win or tie OR
2) NE loss or tie

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
New England clinches AFC East division title with:
1) NE win or tie OR
2) MIA loss or tie

CINCINNATI BENGALS
Cincinnati clinches AFC North division title with:
1) CIN win OR
2) CIN tie + BAL loss or tie OR
3) BAL loss

Cincinnati clinches a playoff spot with:
1) CIN tie OR
2) JAC loss or tie + NYJ loss or tie + HOU/MIA game ends in a tie

BALTIMORE RAVENS
Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:
1) BAL win + JAC loss or tie + NYJ loss or tie OR
2) BAL win + JAC loss or tie + DEN loss OR
3) BAL win + MIA loss or tie + NYJ loss or tie + DEN loss OR
4) BAL tie + NYJ loss + JAC loss + TEN loss or tie + HOU/MIA game ends in a tie

DENVER BRONCOS
Denver clinches a playoff spot with:
1) DEN win + JAC loss or tie + MIA loss or tie + NYJ loss or tie + PIT loss or tie

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
New Orleans clinches home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs with:
1) NO win or tie OR
2) MIN loss or tie

MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Minnesota clinches first-round bye with:
1) MIN win + PHI loss or tie OR
2) MIN tie + PHI loss

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Philadelphia clinches NFC East division title with:
1) PHI win + DAL loss or tie OR
2) PHI tie + DAL loss
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Green Bay clinches a playoff spot with:
1) GB win + NYG loss or tie OR
2) GB win + DAL loss OR
3) GB tie + NYG loss

DALLAS COWBOYS
Dallas clinches a playoff spot with:
1) DAL win + NYG loss or tie OR
2) DAL tie + NYG loss

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