NFL Picture & Playoff Scenarios

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.



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