Archive for December, 2015

NFL Picture & Playoff Scenarios

December 31, 2015

Here are the conference standings, followed by playoff scenarios for every team either clinched or at least mathematically alive, starting in the AFC:

  1. New England (12-3)
  2. Denver (11-4) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Cincinnati)
  3. Cincinnati
  4. Houston (8-7)
  5. Kansas City (10-5) (conference record tiebreaker on New York)
  6. New York
  7. Pittsburgh (9-6)
  8. Oakland (7-8) (conference record tiebreaker on Buffalo & Indianapolis)
  9. Buffalo (head-to-head on Indianapolis)
  10. Indianapolis
  11. Jacksonville (5-10) (conference record tiebreaker on Baltimore & Miami)
  12. Miami (head-to-head tiebreaker on Baltimore)
  13. Baltimore
  14. San Diego (4-11)
  15. Cleveland (3-12) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Tennessee)
  16. Tennessee

New England has clinched a bye.  They clinch the #1 seed if they beat Miami in Week 17.  However, if they should lose and Denver wins, Denver would clinch the #1 seed based on their head-to-head win over the Patriots.  Cincinnati also winning would not mess things up for Denver because the Broncos also beat the Bengals, and having a perfect record against all tied teams, having played all tied teams, grants tiebreaking preference.  Cincinnati cannot get the #1 seed, even if Denver loses: them and New England at 12-4 would both be 9-3 in conference games. However, the Patriots would edge out Cincinnati on record vs common opponents 4-1 to 2-3.  Cincinnati is currently the #3 seed but they actually have a scenario where they can move up to the #2 seed without winning.  If Denver loses and Kansas City wins, then the Chiefs would win the division at 11-5, and Cincinnati has the head-to-head tiebreaker on the Chiefs.  Of course, if the Bengals win and the Broncos lose, then the Bengals are cleanly in the 2nd spot at 12-4.

As mentioned above, although the Broncos could still be the #1 seed, and are guaranteed at least the #2 seed if they win, they could still lose the division to the Chiefs if they lose and Kansas City wins.  The Chiefs would win a tie at 11-5 on division record.  Denver as a wildcard would be the #6 seed if New York wins to get to 11-5, as they would lose a conference record tiebreaker to the Jets.  Or they would be the #5 seed if the Jets lost.  Basically, if Denver wins they will be the #1 or #2 seed.  If the Broncos lose they could be #2, #3, #5, or #6.

If Kansas City wins the division they will be the #3 seed.  If they win Sunday over Oakland they will be no worse than the #5 seed, as they have conference record tiebreaker on the Jets.  If they lose and the Jets win, the Chiefs drop to #6.  If both lose they stay #5, as they have the conference record tiebreaker on the Jets and potentially the Steelers.

If the Jets win they will make the playoffs as either the #5 or #6 seed (see above).  If the Jets lose and the Steelers win, the Steelers get the #6 seed and the Jets are out.  They would both be 7-5 in conference games.  Against common opponents the Steelers would be 4-1 vs 3-2 for the Jets (the key being the Jets lost to Oakland).

The winner of the AFC South will be the #4 seed.  It will almost certainly be Houston.  If the Texans lose and the Colts win, both would be 8-8 having split against each other, being 4-2 in division games, .500 against common opponents, and 6-6 in conference games.  The next tiebreaker is strength of victory.  The strength of victory numbers are such that Indianapolis has 5 games that have to all break the right way simply to level this factor.  The next factor is strength of schedule.  There are two games that factor here, the outcome of which would decide whether Houston’s schedule was 1 game harder, they’re the same, or Indianapolis’ schedule was 1 game harder.  If this factor is level, the next tiebreaker is points for/against ranking amongst all AFC teams.  Entering Week 17, Houston’s ratio is 83 points better than Indianapolis’.  So barring a blowout loss of the Texans and a blowout win by the Colts, Houston will hold this tiebreaker.  So the bottom line is the Colts have to win their game and have wins by Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Denver, and Miami, then also have Oakland win or tie and Pittsburgh win or tie (as long as both teams don’t tie).  Or have Oakland or Pittsburgh win (or both tie) and gain 84 points in points for/against ratio on the Texans on Sunday.

Now that you have a headache, let’s ponder the NFC, which already knows its 6 playoff teams:

  1. Carolina (14-1)
  2. Arizona (13-2)
  3. Green Bay (10-5) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Minnesota for division rank)
  4. Washington (8-7)
  5. Minnesota
  6. Seattle (9-6)
  7. Atlanta (8-7)
  8. St Louis (7-8)
  9. Detroit (6-9) ({head-to-head tiebreaker on Chicago for division rank} conference record drops Philadelphia {head-to-head on New York for division rank} from 3 team tie, then record vs opponents common with Tampa {division record tiebreaker on New Orleans for division rank})
  10. Tampa Bay ({division record tiebreaker on New Orleans for division rank} conference record tiebreaker on Philadelphia {head-to-head tiebreaker on New York for division rank} & Chicago)
  11. New Orleans (conference record tiebreaker on Philadelphia {head-to-head tiebreaker on New York for division rank} & Chicago)
  12. Chicago (record vs opponents common with Philadelphia {head-to-head on New York for division rank})
  13. Philadelphia (head-to-head on New York)
  14. New York
  15. San Francisco (strength of victory tiebreaker on Dallas)
  16. Dallas

Carolina and Arizona have clinched the two bye seeds.  Carolina will be the #1 seed unless they lose and Arizona wins, in which case they are both 14-2; the Cardinals would win that tie with an 11-1 vs 10-2 conference record.

The winner of the NFC North will be the #3 seed.  Green Bay and Minnesota play each other on Sunday Night football; the Packers won the first meeting, so a tie is to their benefit.  The Packers if they lose would be the #5 seed even if Seattle wins in Week 17 as they beat the Seahawks.  Minnesota, on the other hand, would fall to the #6 seed if they lose and Seattle wins as they lost to the Seahawks; a tie or a Seattle loss would give the Vikings the #5 seed.  Even if Seattle loses, Atlanta cannot make the playoffs because the Seahawks would have a better record vs opponents common with the Falcons (3-2 vs 2-3 with the key difference being Atlanta lost to San Francisco).  And Washington, as winners of the NFC East, will be the #4 seed.

A couple random observations that might interest only me: I can’t remember a season where so many of the Week 17 matchups are meaningful, so far as playoff positioning is concerned, for exactly 1 team.  Excluding the Indianapolis scenarios, there are 11 games with playoff impact, but Minnesota v Green Bay and Seattle v Arizona are the only games where it matters for both teams (and only slightly for Seattle in the latter example).  The 8 AFC matchups all have meaning, or potential meaning, for exactly 1 of the 2 teams playing in the game.

The NFC will finish the season with a +6 against the AFC.  However, it is the AFC that will potentially have a 10-6 team (Pittsburgh or New York) miss the playoffs whereas the best record that will miss the playoffs in the NFC will at best be 9-7, and there could be a 9-7 wildcard.  Which is to say the AFC has more teams with solid records, whereas the NFC is very top-heavy.



NFL Standings and Playoff Picture

December 16, 2015

Starting with the standings in the AFC:

  1. New England (clinched division) (11-2)
  2. Cincinnati (10-3) (conference record tiebreaker on Denver)
  3. Denver
  4. Indianapolis (6-7) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Houston for division lead)
  5. Kansas City (8-5) (conference record tiebreaker on New York & Pittsburgh)
  6. New York (conference record tiebreaker on Pittsburgh)
  7. Pittsburgh
  8. Oakland (6-7) (conference record tiebreaker on Houston & Buffalo)
  9. Buffalo (head-to-head tiebreaker on Houston)
  10. Houston
  11. Jacksonville (5-8) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Miami)
  12. Miami
  13. Baltimore (4-9)
  14. San Diego (3-10) (conference record tiebreaker on Cleveland & Tennessee)
  15. Cleveland (head-to-head tiebreaker on Tennessee)
  16. Tennessee

Excluding the AFC South we appear to have a clear race of 6 teams for 5 playoff spots, with only New England being completely clinched at this point.  The Chiefs, Jets, and Steelers all winning last week means nothing has changed in the wildcard race.  New York is still currently ranked ahead of Pittsburgh because the Jets have one more conference win.  However, it is the Steelers that still control their destiny at this point because, if both teams win out to 11-5 they will end up at the same conference record, and Pittsburgh would then win a tiebreaker of record vs common opponents.  However, if they end up tied at 10-6 it would become of critical importance who the loss was for each team: if New York is going to lose a game this Saturday night against Dallas would be their best choice as they then would have a better conference record at 10-6 than the Steelers.  If the Steelers win the next two weeks and New York beats Dallas but loses to New England, that record in common games tiebreaker would be clinched by the Steelers.  However, if both win the next two weeks but then stumble in Week 17, which for Pittsburgh would be a loss to Cleveland, the record vs common opponents would be evened, taking the tie to strength of victory.  Sitting even prettier in this is Kansas City who would win any relevant tie for a playoff spot.  3 wins clinches it for them also, and one loss simply means they need the Jets or the Steelers to lose a game without regard to which one.

As far as that goes, the Chiefs still have a chance at winning the AFC West division.  They need Denver to lose twice down the stretch and to win out.  If that happens, Kansas City would win a tie at 11-5 on a better division record, again regardless of where the Denver losses come from.  The Steelers are also alive still to win the AFC North, however their odds are much longer.  If Cincinnati loses to San Francisco and Denver the next two weeks, but then beats Baltimore in Week 17, the Bengals would win the North on division record tiebreaker even if the Steelers win out.  If the Bengals lose twice and its to San Francisco and Baltimore they would edge out the Steelers on conference record.  If the Bengals lose to Denver and Baltimore and the Steelers win out, then the tie would go to strength of victory which the Steelers probably do win.

New England moved back into the driver’s seat for getting the #1 seed in the conference by winning last weekend.  But if they lose once down the stretch their loss to Denver could again haunt them.  Cincinnati plays Denver in Week 16 on Monday Night Football in what could be a pivotal showdown to see who gets the other bye seed and who is playing at home wildcard weekend (or even in peril of not winning their division).

As for the AFC South, Indianapolis plays Houston in what is obviously a critical game.  The winner will move 1 game ahead of the other with two games remaining.  If the Colts win they will also hold tiebreaking advantage by sweeping the Texans.  If Houston wins they would have a better division record, but that could be lost by losing one of their final two games.  Also, don’t forget about Jacksonville.  Their win last weekend got them within 1 game of the front runners.  However, what is really hurting them is they lost one of their games against Tennessee.  They are going to need this Sunday’s winner to lose their last two games because they will lose a tiebreaker on division record.  The Jaguars have to win out and be the only team at 8-8 to win the South.

Also alive but just barely, in this case in the wildcard race, are Buffalo and Oakland.  At 6-7 both would have to win out and both would need considerable help.  Oakland is the one team out there that could potentially win a tiebreaker with Kansas City at 9-7 and they would win a tie with the Jets while Buffalo would win a tie with either New York or Pittsburgh at that record.  Oakland plays the Chiefs and Buffalo plays the Jets down the stretch which does mean they’re hoping for less than a miracle.

And now for the NFC

  1. Carolina (clinched bye) (13-0)
  2. Arizona (clinched playoff spot) (11-2)
  3. Green Bay (9-4)
  4. Washington (6-7) (head-to-head-to-head on Philadelphia & New York for division lead)
  5. Seattle (8-5) (head-to-head on Minnesota)
  6. Minnesota
  7. Tampa Bay (6-7) ([head-to-head on Atlanta for divisional rank] head-to-head on Philadelphia [head-to-head on New York for divisional rank])
  8. Atlanta (head-to-head on Philadelphia)
  9. Philadelphia
  10. New York
  11. St Louis (5-8) (conference record tiebreaker on New Orleans & Chicago)
  12. New Orleans (conference record tiebreaker on Chicago)
  13. Chicago
  14. Detroit (4-9) (conference record tiebreaker on San Francisco & Dallas)
  15. San Francisco (conference record tiebreaker on Dallas)
  16. Dallas

Outside of the East division there isn’t a ton of drama left in the NFC, or so it would seem.  Carolina has clinched no worse than the #2 seed.  Arizona has clinched a playoff spot and will probably get the 2nd bye; even losing all 3 games probably wouldn’t lose the division for them.  The Cardinals do still play Green Bay, so losing to them does put them at some peril of dropping to the #3 seed.  Green Bay is now definitely likely to win the North; even if they lost the next two weeks but beat Minnesota in Week 17 they would win the North on head to head tiebreaking.  Seattle and Minnesota are now two games clear in the wildcard race with only 3 weeks to go, with Atlanta and Tampa both needing to win out just to get to 9-7 and hope someone stumbles badly.  Neither play Seattle and Atlanta lost to Minnesota.  Remember when the Falcons were 5-0?

As for the East race, it now definitely looks like a 3 team race.  Philadelphia and Washington play each other in Week 16 in what looks like a critical game.  Both of them know that 3 wins and they claim the title at 9-7.  New York would likely prefer the Eagles win that game, as the Giants can then take care of Philly in Week 17.  The Giants would lose a tie with Washington at 9-7 on division record.  Remarkably for a 6-7 team still in the playoff race, Philadelphia does *not* need to win this weekend against Arizona.  If they lose to the Cardinals but beat Washington and New York they would for sure win the division at 8-8.  Washington is by no means out of it if they lose to Buffalo this coming weekend; two wins to finish and they win the division at 8-8 if New York loses once down the stretch.  The Giants could also make 8-8 work if the loss is not the Philadelphia game Week 17.  However, if they lose to Carolina this weekend the fact is they would lose a tie with the Eagles based on record vs common opponents and would lose a tie with the Redskins based on conference record.  An upset of the Panthers but then a loss to Minnesota in Week 16 and they could then win a tie at 8-8 with the Eagles on conference record.  And, at 4-9 Dallas is not eliminated completely yet.  If they win out to 7-9 and have the other 3 teams all lose at least 2 of their remaining 3 games (Philly must lose to Arizona or Washington & New York must both lose in Week 15) the Cowboys would win that tie with a 4-2 division record.  And, let’s face it.  Defending two time conference champion Seattle playing at 7-9 Dallas would be poetic justice for the year the Seahawks won the West at 7-9 and got to beat defending champion New Orleans in Seattle lol.

NFL Standings at the 3/4 Pole

December 9, 2015

A few thoughts on the NFL Playoff picture after everyone has played 12 of their 16 games, along with the complete standings in each conference.  With only 4 weeks to go, 31 of the 32 teams maintain at least a theoretical chance at making the postseason (sorry Cleveland) while only 1 team (hooray Carolina!) is guaranteed a spot.  A remarkable 30 of the 32 teams are somewhere in that iffy zone.  Let’s start with the conference standings in the AFC:

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-2) (conference record tiebreaker on New England & Denver)
  2. Denver (head-to-head tiebreaker on New England)
  3. New England
  4. Indianapolis (6-6) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Houston for division lead)
  5. Kansas City (7-5) (conference record tiebreaker on New York & Pittsburgh)
  6. New York (conference record tiebreaker on Pittsburgh)
  7. Pittsburgh
  8. Buffalo (6-6) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Houston)
  9. Houston
  10. Oakland (5-7) (conference record tiebreaker on Miami)
  11. Miami
  12. Jacksonville (4-8) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Baltimore)
  13. Baltimore
  14. San Diego (3-9) (conference record tiebreaker on Tennessee)
  15. Tennessee
  16. Cleveland (2-10)

At the top of the conference the Patriots, Bengals, and Broncos all look safe for winning their divisions (they each have scenarios where they can clinch that this weekend) and 2 of the 3 will get the coveted byes into the Divisional round.  Cincinnati and Denver will play a critical head to head matchup on Monday Night Football in Week 16.  Denver has a win over New England while the Patriots and Bengals don’t play each other.  Both of Denver’s losses so far are in the conference, whereas the Bengals and Patriots both only have one conference loss.  At this point all 3 teams are guaranteed being a bye seed if they don’t lose again.

The AFC South “winner” will be the #4 seed and get a home game Wildcard Weekend.  While Jacksonville and Tennessee maintain mathematical chances at that, its almost certainly going to be either Indianapolis or Houston.  The Colts won the first matchup with the 2nd, possibly decisive one, still to come.  If the Texans win the rematch but lose one more of their other 3 games than the Colts, who the loss is to would be critical.  If either stumbles in a remaining game with the Jags or Titans they could blow the division on division record.

At this juncture the race for the two wildcards is still fluid.  Kansas City is in the best shape because they have a stellar 6-2 conference record, with the 2 losses being understandably to Denver and Cincinnati; losses that wouldn’t hurt them in head to head ties for the wildcard.  New York and Pittsburgh are also at 7-5 and both have 4 losses in conference, with New York having one more win (one non-conference game remaining). If they were to end up the year tied for a spot and with the same conference record, the next tiebreaker is record vs common opponents.  Right now that is a slight edge to Pittsburgh because the Jets lost to Oakland (both have a loss to the Patriots) and because both have one remaining game against a common opponent; for New York its the 2nd New England game while for Pittsburgh its the 2nd Cleveland game.

Not out of it by any stretch is Buffalo at 6-6.  They have a game remaining with New York and would have the tiebreaker on the Jets if they win that game and they end up tied.  Keep in mind that divisional ties are of paramount importance; a team cannot be ranked in the wildcard standings ahead of a team they are behind in their own divisional standings.  They have a head up loss to Kansas City just like the Steelers do, and currently have one more loss than the Steelers.  However, if Pittsburgh loses a game down the stretch it will be in the conference.  The Bills schedule is rather unique in that they still have 3 non-conference games remaining, so their performance down the stretch can impact both the AFC wildcard race and the NFC East division race!  If they did tie the Steelers ultimately at 10-6 that tiebreaker would also go down to common opponents which would  favor the Steelers if they beat the Bengals this coming Sunday; Buffalo went 1-4 against the Chiefs, Patriots, Bengals, and Colts.  However, if Pittsburgh loses Sunday then they are also 1-4 against that grouping.

Houston is also only 1 game out in the wildcard.  However, if they win out to 10-6 they would win their division; there are scenarios to their advantage at 9-7 if they don’t win the South, but with losses to Buffalo and to Kansas City they don’t have great odds.  Oakland and Miami are still alive if they could win out to get to 9-7.  The Raiders are hurt by a loss to Pittsburgh in that scenario, but they would gain a split with the Chiefs and did beat New York.  Miami is killed by the fact they got swept by both New York and Buffalo; they would need both of those teams to finish at 8-8 or worse, or for themselves and one of those two to be the only teams in wildcard position to finish 9-7.  By the math and the schedule its possible, but not likely.  At 4-8 Baltimore needs a miracle; they would have to sweep Pittsburgh so with help they could be 2nd in the North which is a start.  At 4-8 Jacksonville has a chance to get to 8-8 and win their division with considerable help.  Tennessee could win the South at 7-9 with an enormous amount of help.

And now for the NFC:

  1. Carolina {clinched division} (12-0)
  2. Arizona (10-2)
  3. Green Bay (8-4) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Minnesota for division lead)
  4. Washington (5-7) (head-to-head-to-head tiebreaker on Philadelphia & New York for division lead)
  5. Minnesota (8-4)
  6. Seattle (7-5)
  7. Tampa Bay (6-6) (head-to-head on Atlanta for divisional rank)
  8. Atlanta
  9. Philadelphia (5-7) ([head-to-head on New York for divisional rank] conference record tiebreaker on Chicago)
  10. New York (conference record tiebreaker on Chicago)
  11. Chicago
  12. Detroit or St Louis (4-8) ([St Louis has head-to-head tiebreaker on San Francisco for divisional rank] conference record tiebreaker on New Orleans & Dallas) {Detroit & St. Louis have identical conference records.  They are scheduled to play each other this coming Sunday}
  13. St. Louis or Detroit
  14. New Orleans (conference record tiebreaker on Dallas & San Francisco
  15. Dallas (record vs opponents common with San Francisco {games played not yet at minimum of 5 games each to qualify per NFL tiebreaking formulas: my ranking based on current record and projection that 5 common games will have been played by end of season}
  16. San Francisco

As it currently stands there is a very good chance that Carolina will end up the #1 seed (they can clinch a bye seed this coming weekend) and Arizona the #2 seed (assuming they don’t collapse and lose the division to Seattle and/or let the North winner catch them [they play Minnesota this coming Thursday Night]).  The winner of the North should do no worse than the #3 seed, and will likely end up exactly in that spot.

The “winner” of the East will get the #4 seed and the home game on wildcard weekend that goes with.  Philadelphia and Washington both have the most control over their destiny; the Eagles have a game remaining with both the Redskins and Giants: winning both would give a better division record than both Washington and New York and likely tiebreaker advantage over Dallas also.  If Washington wins over Philadelphia on December 26th they would have swept the Eagles.  For the Giants, winning out to 9-7 would put the Eagles behind them and box out the Cowboys but they need someone to hand the Redskins a loss.  Along those lines, the Giants are somewhat less likely to have 8-8 or 7-9 work for them than the other teams in the division being the only team that already has 3 division losses.  Dallas is in much better shape than any other 4-8 team in the NFL.  They can draw inspiration from the fact that Carolina was 3-8-1 at this time last season and the Panthers won out to 7-8-1 and claimed the division title.  The Cowboys finish with Washington and would have a 4-2 division record at 8-8 but they likely cannot afford the Eagles to be 8-8 with their two wins being their remaining division games.  And, of course, given their records to date, it’s a real possibility no one gets to .500 and the division is “won” at 7-9; the scenarios are almost boundless based on who won and lost which games to get to that record.

The wildcard picture in the NFC has the potential to be very clear within a week or two.  2nd place in the North, which is currently Minnesota, and Seattle are the clear front-runners.  For the North division it could come down to Week 17 at Lambeau with the Packers being able to enter 1 game back having won the first matchup.  Seattle’s win last Sunday against the Vikings means the Seahawks are, despite being 1 game back right now, in good shape to end up being the #5 seed.  This is important as the #5 seed gets to play the East division winner.  However, there are no guarantees; Seahawks fans might remember they were a 7-9 division winner a few years ago that knocked out defending champion New Orleans in the wildcard round.  I’m sure Marshawn Lynch and the local Richter Scales remember!

If Seattle or 2nd place in the North stumble down the stretch, there are other teams still alive with a hot finish.  Tampa is in better shape at 6-6 because they swept Atlanta head to head and they have only 3 conference losses.  The Falcons are in free fall mode after a 5-0 start to the season.  Chicago could win out to 9-7 but that doesn’t really seem at all likely in light of their loss at home to the 49ers; even if it did happen they would have a pedestrian 6-6 conference record.  St. Louis could win out to 8-8 and they would have swept Seattle so that gives them a small chance if the Seahawks collapse and a number of other things also goes their way.  New Orleans and San Francisco are not mathematically eliminated, but their chances at this point are even smaller than the Rams’.