NFL Playoff Picture at the Dawn of 2017

Last week did a lot to clarify things, as we went from having only 4 teams having clinched a playoff spot to 10, including all 6 in the AFC.  Let’s take a look at the parts of the picture that will be crystallized the 1st day of 2017, starting with the AFC standings:

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

New England is guaranteed a bye seed and will get the #1 seed if they win (or tie) or Oakland loses (or ties).  However, a Patriots loss coupled with a Raiders win would make Oakland the #1 seed as they would have a 5-0 to 4-1 advantage vs common opponents (Patriots lost to Buffalo while Brady was suspended).  The flip side of the coin for the Raiders is if they lose and Kansas City wins the Chiefs snag the division title and the #2 seed because they swept the Raiders in the head to head matchup.  Kansas City is currently #5 but could slip to #6 if they lose and Miami wins because the Dolphins would have a 4-1 to 3-2 advantage on the Chiefs against common opponents.  Pittsburgh is locked into the #3 seed; even if they lose and Houston wins in Week 17, the Steelers have an apparently insurmountable lead in strength of victory.  By my math it is currently +3 on Houston, and if that can be no better than tied, the Steelers would have an advantage on strength of schedule.

To summarize, possible final seeds are as follows: New England = 1 or 2.  Oakland = 1, 2, or 5. Pittsburgh = 3. Houston = 4. Kansas City = 2, 5, or 6. Miami = 5 or 6.

And now for the NFC:

  1. Dallas (13-2)
  2. Atlanta (10-5)
  3. Seattle (9-5-1)
  4. Green Bay (9-6) (head to head over Detroit)
  5. New York (10-5)
  6. Detroit (9-6)
  7. Washington (8-6-1)
  8. Tampa (8-7)
  9. New Orleans (7-8) (conference record over Minnesota)
  10. Minnesota
  11. Arizona (6-8-1)
  12. Carolina (6-9) (conference record over Philadelphia)
  13. Philadelphia
  14. Los Angeles (4-11)
  15. Chicago (3-12)
  16. San Francisco (2-13)

The most interesting team in this is Detroit.  The Lions currently sit in the #6 spot.  If they beat the Packers at home Sunday night they win the division.  They can move as high as the #2 seed and a first round bye that goes with it if they win and both Seattle and Atlanta lose (a tie suffices vis a vis the Seahawks) as they would have the record vs common opponents tiebreaker over the Falcons 4-1 vs 3-2.  However, if they lose and Washington wins, they miss the playoffs completely.

Green Bay cannot get the #2 seed because they lost head to head to Atlanta, but a win or a tie gives them the division title, and a Seahawks loss or tie would move them up to the #3 seed.  However, they also miss the playoffs completely if they lose and Washington wins.  Where it gets complicated is if Washington ties to finish at 8-6-2, which is considered the same as being 9-7.  The Lions would be fine with a Washington tie as they win that tiebreaker on conference record.  But if it is Green Bay that loses on Sunday night, Washington wins that tie on a head to head victory over the Packers unless Tampa is also 9-7.  This is where we get into the fun scenario.

Green Bay and Tampa would be 7-5 in the conference while Washington would be 6-5-1, so the Redskins would be out.  The tie between the Packers and Bucs then goes to strength of victory.  Currently the Packers hold the advantage but it is not insurmountable.  The Bucs can overtake the advantage if, beyond them winning, Green Bay losing, and Washington exactly tying (the Washington tie is necessary because, while they cannot have the Redskins win to be 9-6-1, a New York win over Washington would make Green Bay’s strength of victory prohibitively strong) the following four things happen.  Tennessee beats Houston (this denies Green Bay a boost to their strength of victory for having beat Houston).  Indianapolis beats Jacksonville (this denies Green Bay a boost to their strength of victory for having beat Jacksonville).  Dallas beats Philadelphia (this denies Green Bay the boost to their strength of victory for having beat Philadelphia).  And San Francisco beats Seattle (this boosts Tampa’s strength of victory as, while both them and Green Bay beat Seattle [so that is a wash], only Tampa played/beat San Francisco).  If all those things happen, Tampa wins the strength of victory.  And they must win this tie, as if this breaker is tied the Packers have clinched having the stronger schedule.

For Washington, things are simple; win and they are in unless the Green Bay v Detroit game ends in a tie, in which case they lose the tiebreaker with Detroit on conference record.

So, to summarize, here are the possible seeds by team.  Dallas = 1.  Atlanta = 2, 3, or 4.  Seattle = 2, 3, or 4.  Green Bay = 3, 4, 6, or out.  New York = 5.  Detroit = 2, 3, 4, 6, or out.  Washington = 6 or out.  Tampa = 6 or out.

Games to watch: basically any game I mentioned above.  Buffalo v New York, Baltimore, v Cincinnati, Cleveland v Pittsburgh, Minnesota v Chicago, and Arizona v Los Angeles can be safely ignored.  The two AFC South games are only a factor for the Tampa scenario.

And finally a fun fact that may interest only me: Dallas is 13-2 with their only losses being getting swept by the Giants while San Francisco is 2-13 with their only wins being sweeping Los Angeles.  Happy New Year everyone!

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