NFL Standings After Week 16 & Playoff Qualification Scenarios

Well, we are down to it now, only 1 game remaining as all teams will play this coming Sunday January 3rd. Below I will put the standings; please note that in the case of the AFC wildcard standings I will list them in the “if everyone wins this week” order, as the Jets are playing an opponent common to them and Denver and winning flips the final standings as opposed to how they currently are. Some standings I have seen currently have Denver 5th in the conference but I am not considering that “reality” for purposes of this posting. I will present the standings, then scenarios team-by-team with commentary below each scenario as I deem prudent. We shall start with the NFC:

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

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

ARIZONA CARDINALS
Arizona clinches a first-round bye:
1) ARI win + MIN loss + PHI loss

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Philadelphia clinches East division:
1) PHI win or tie

Philadelphia clinches a first-round bye:
1) PHI win
2) PHI tie + MIN loss or tie

DALLAS COWBOYS
Dallas clinches East division:
1) DAL win

Dallas clinches a first-round bye:
1) DAL win + MIN loss + ARI loss or tie

The NFC is the simple conference this season. We know the 6 playoff teams, but the only seed we know is New Orleans at #1. The winner of the Dallas v Philadelphia game will win the East. If the Eagles win they will have the #2 seed. If they lose the Vikings get it. If the Vikings also lose the Cardinals get it. If everyone loses Dallas gets it. If Green Bay wins their game, or if Dallas loses, they will be the #5 seed. If Green Bay loses and Dallas wins, then Philadelphia will be the #5 seed.

Now for the AFC (get your popcorn ready)

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

A quick note on New England and Cincinnati before we dive into the wildcard situation. A tie between those two for the 3rd and 4th seeds, either at 11-5 or 10-6, would come down to strength of victory. Coming into this Sunday the Patriots vanquished foes have 4 more wins than Cincy’s, which is a definite, though I don’t believe, insurmountable, advantage. If the Bengals opponents do stage a rally and tie that number the next tiebreaker is strength of schedule. I didn’t do the math but my guess is that is advantage Pats also.

Baltimore, the Jets, Denver, Pittsburgh and Houston can also make the playoffs if they tie this week with various other things happening. Jacksonville and Miami cannot make the playoffs with a tie.

BALTIMORE RAVENS
Baltimore clinches a playoff spot:
1) BAL win

NEW YORK JETS
NY Jets clinch a playoff spot:
1) NYJ win

In the case of one of the five 8-7 teams tying their contest that can basically work for them so long as at least 3 of the 4 other teams lose, as 8-7-1 is obviously better than 8-8. If 2 or more of the 5 teams both tie their contest . . . Heaven help us.

For New York and Baltimore its simple. Win and in, lose and out. Losing for the Jets means they don’t claim their tiebreaking advantage on Denver and they would be behind the Pittsburgh/Miami winner. Losing for Baltimore also puts them behind the Pittsburgh/Miami winner and Denver in the multi-way tie that would ensue.

DENVER BRONCOS
Denver clinches a playoff spot:
1) DEN win + NYJ loss or tie + BAL loss or tie
2) DEN win + NYJ loss or tie + PIT loss or tie
3) DEN win + NYJ loss or tie + HOU win
4) DEN win + BAL loss or tie + PIT loss or tie
5) DEN win + BAL loss or tie + HOU win
6) PIT loss + BAL loss + HOU loss + JAC loss
7) PIT loss + BAL loss + HOU loss + NYJ loss
8.) PIT loss + BAL loss + JAC loss + NYJ loss
9) PIT loss + HOU loss + JAC loss + NYJ loss
10) MIA loss or tie + NYJ loss + BAL loss + HOU loss + JAC loss or tie

Yes that is 10 different scenarios you see there. The major complications are that at 9-7 they, the Jets, and Ravens would have 7-5 conference records. They lose a tie to New York on common games record and lose a head-to-head tie with Baltimore and they don’t win the multi-way tie. Also, if they are tied with either Baltimore or Pittsburgh straight-up for the 6th seed they lose those ties on head-to-head. They need to be one of 2 (or fewer) teams at 9-7 or be in a 3 way tie with Houston and Pittsburgh, as they win that multi-way tie for 5th seed on conference record. Failing that, they can win a tie at 8-8 for the 6th seed in any combination of teams that would arise from 3 of the 4 other 8-7 teams losing provided Jacksonville is not involved, or if the tie at 8-8 is for both 5th and 6th, as in that case the Jaguars would be 5th then them 6th.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Pittsburgh clinches a playoff spot:
1) PIT win + HOU loss or tie + NYJ loss or tie
2) PIT win + HOU loss or tie + BAL loss or tie
3) PIT win + NYJ loss or tie + BAL loss or tie + DEN loss or tie

Relieved to see the official NFL scenarios agree with what I posted 24 hours ago! The Steelers get in in any scenario where they are one of two (or fewer) teams at 9-7 or where it can break that they are tied head-up with Denver for 6th. In scenario 1 Baltimore wins a tie with Denver for 5th then the Steelers do the same for 6th. In scenario 2 New York wins the 3-way tie for 5th and then the Steelers edge Denver for 6th. Substitute Houston for Denver in scenario 3 and the Steelers are the 5th seed.

HOUSTON TEXANS
Houston clinches a playoff spot:
1) HOU win + NYJ loss or tie + BAL loss or tie
2) HOU win + NYJ loss or tie + DEN loss or tie
3) HOU win + BAL loss or tie + DEN loss or tie

Houston gets in if they are one of 2 (or fewer) teams at 9-7 or if they are tied for the 6th seed with Pittsburgh, a tie they win on common games record. In scenario 1 Denver wins the multi-way tie for 5th then Houston edges Pittsburgh for 6th. In scenario 2 Baltimore is the 5th seed on conference record then Houston edges Pittsburgh for 6th. In scenario 3 New York is the 5th seed on conference record and then Houston edges Pittsburgh for 6th.   If all 3 other teams lose Houston is the 5th seed (see Pittsburgh scenario 3).

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Jacksonville clinches a playoff spot:
1) JAC win + PIT loss + BAL loss + DEN loss + HOU loss
2) JAC win + PIT loss + BAL loss + DEN loss + NYJ loss
3) JAC win + PIT loss + BAL loss + HOU loss + NYJ loss
4) JAC win + PIT loss + DEN loss + HOU loss + NYJ loss
5) JAC win + NYJ loss + DEN loss + HOU loss + BAL loss

This is simpler than it looks. If Jacksonville wins and 4 of the 5 teams currently 8-7 lose, the Jaguars are the 6th seed. They win all ties at 8-8 as they would have a 7-5 conference record after being ahead of Houston (and Tennessee) on divisional tiebreaking, whereas anyone else involved would be 6-6 or worse in conference games. Their head-to-head loss to Miami is not a worry as they cannot be in a head-up tie with the Dolphins. If all five 8-7 teams lose the Jags are the 5th seed and Denver would be the #6 (see Denver scenario 10 above).

MIAMI DOLPHINS
Miami clinches a playoff spot:
1) MIA win + NYJ loss + BAL loss + HOU loss + JAC loss or tie

They need what Jacksonville needs (winning obviously involves Pittsburgh losing as they play them) plus they need Jacksonville to lose. Denver losing doesn’t help them, but nor does it hurt them. The Broncos would be seeded 5th either way, but on strength of victory they win the multi-way tie for 6th.

Hope that makes things clearer for you! Enjoy the games!

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