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NFL Playoff Picture at the Dawn of 2017

December 28, 2016

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!

NFL Playoff Picture at Christmastime

December 21, 2016

With two weeks to go we still only know for sure four of the 12 playoff participants; New England and Seattle have clinched division titles while Dallas and Oakland have clinched at least a playoff spot.  We are at the point now where some things are fairly clear, but there are still a number of scenarios, so let’s dive in, starting as usual in the AFC.

  1. New England (12-2)
  2. Oakland (11-3)
  3. Pittsburgh (9-5)
  4. Houston (8-6) (head to head on Tennessee for division lead)
  5. Kansas City (10-4)
  6. Miami (9-5)
  7. Baltimore (8-6) (conference record on Tennessee & Denver)
  8. Tennessee (head to head on Denver)
  9. Denver
  10. Indianapolis (record vs opponents common with Buffalo)
  11. Buffalo
  12. Cincinnati (5-8-1)
  13. San Diego (5-9)
  14. New York (4-10)
  15. Jacksonville (2-12)
  16. Cleveland (0-14)

It continues to be the case that two teams control their destiny for winning both the North & South divisions.  In the North the Steelers would clinch the division by beating Baltimore Christmas evening.  However, the Ravens if they win would have a sweep of the head to head and so would definitely clinch by winning Sunday and their final game against Cincinnati.  That is also to say that, while currently listed as best team out, the Ravens really aren’t a serious factor in the wildcard race because at 10-6 they would win the division.  If the Steelers do lose to Baltimore but beat Cleveland and are failing to win the North at 10-6 however they would then be in the thick of the wildcard race.  Their main problem is they would need Miami to lose at least once and couldn’t be in a two way tie with the Dolphins because of head to head.  However, if Denver wins twice to make a 3-way tie (remember, 2nd place in the South cannot be 10-6 because Houston plays Tennessee in Week 17), conference record would drop Miami from the tie, then the Steelers edge Denver on record vs common opponents.  Alternately, if Kansas City loses twice they would stay ahead of Denver in the division standings; in a 3-way tie conference record again dismisses Miami and the Steelers get the #5 seed because of a head to head win over the Chiefs.  Or, even if Miami wins out to 11-5 if the Chiefs lose twice the Steelers win a head to head tie for the #6 seed.  If Baltimore loses once and is in the wildcard mix at 9-7 they would have a chance at the #6 seed if Miami loses twice and Denver at least once since they would have the superior conference record, or if Denver loses twice the Ravens have head to head over Miami.  The only complication here is if Houston is in the wildcard mix at 9-7 as they would also have a 7-5 conference record.  If applicable we’ll explore this scenario next week.

In the South division Houston can clinch this week if they win and Tennessee loses; the Texans would have tiebreakers on the Titans and/or the Colts.  Otherwise their Week 17 matchup can be for the division title.  For the Colts to win the division they need to win both remaining games, have both Houston & Tennessee lose in Week 16, then have the Titans beat the Texans.  This way, Houston is dropped to 8-8 and the Colts win a tie with the Titans on having swept them.  The Colts may have a shot at a wildcard if the Dolphins lose twice, neither Pittsburgh nor Baltimore is 2nd in the North at 9-7, Denver is no better than 9-7, and the Colts clinch strength of victory over Miami (and Denver if at 9-7).

In the East New England has clinched a bye seed and can clinch the #1 this weekend with a win and an Oakland loss.  Miami is in control of getting a wildcard; they would not be displeased if the Patriots do clinch the #1 this weekend and so are less worried about winning the Week 17 matchup.  If Miami ends up 10-6 because they lost to Buffalo but beat New England they should be fine if Pittsburgh is not involved in the tie because of record vs opponents common with Denver.  But if they’re 10-6 because they lose to the Patriots, their potential tie with the Broncos comes down to strength of victory.  Buffalo is still mathematically alive for the 2nd wildcard; they need two wins plus considerable help.

In the West Oakland is now back in the driver’s seat for winning the division and a bye seed; two wins and they have it.  However, if they lose to either Indianapolis or Denver it would let the Chiefs get back to the top given that Kansas City swept them in the head to head.  Short of winning the division, the Chiefs can clinch a playoff spot this weekend by winning or if Baltimore does not win (clinches that Pittsburgh would not be in the wildcard mix at 10-6).  Denver is still alive; it’s not as hopeless as it may look right now being listed 9th in the conference because at 10-6 they would jump 2nd place in the South and potentially 2nd place in the North.  But since they cannot end up ahead of Kansas City (division record tiebreaker at 10-6) they can only get the #6 seed and only if Miami loses the New England game and the Broncos have strength of victory tiebreaker (and Pittsburgh is not 2nd in the North at 10-6) or if Miami loses twice (and Pittsburgh is not 2nd in the North at 10-6).  This could be a year that a team, perhaps even two, in the AFC go 10-6 but miss the playoffs; a +3 over the NFC in cross-conference games plus teams padding records with wins over Cleveland and Jacksonville being among the culprits.

And now for the NFC:

  1. Dallas (12-2)
  2. Seattle (9-4-1)
  3. Atlanta (9-5) (strength of victory on Detroit)
  4. Detroit
  5. New York (10-4)
  6. Green Bay (8-6) (strength of victory on Tampa)
  7. Tampa
  8. Washington (7-6-1)
  9. Minnesota (7-7)
  10. New Orleans (6-8) (record vs opponents common with Carolina)
  11. Carolina
  12. Arizona (5-8-1)
  13. Philadelphia (5-9)
  14. Los Angeles (4-10)
  15. Chicago (3-11)
  16. San Francisco (1-13)

Green Bay is currently listed in a wildcard spot, but they will almost certainly not end up as a wildcard.  If they win their two remaining games they would win the North division title.  So Tampa with two wins is still likely to end up in the playoffs; the only thing that could block them is if Detroit beats Dallas but loses to Green Bay (after the Packers beat Minnesota) as Detroit would have a superior record vs opponents common with Tampa.  This is why the scenarios that have Tampa clinch a playoff spot this weekend all involve both the Lions and Packers losing this weekend so that 2nd in the North would then be 9-7.  It can also be noted that Tampa could survive Detroit being 2nd in the North at 10-6 if New York loses both remaining games.  Washington still has a chance at the wildcard if they win out to 9-6-1; they need Tampa to lose once (or Atlanta twice) and for Detroit to not be 2nd in the North at 10-6.

Dallas will clinch the East division and the #1 seed once they win once more or New York loses once more.  New York clinches a playoff spot with one more win or if someone of Detroit, Green Bay, Atlanta, or Tampa loses this weekend to ensure at least one of those divisions won’t have its 2nd place team be 10-6.

Atlanta, to use a baseball term, has a Magic Number of 2 to win the South division.  However, if they lose once more than Tampa down the stretch the Buccaneers would win a tie on division record.  If you watched Monday Night Football the infinitesimal scenario for Carolina to make the playoff was outlined.  If they’re still alive in a week we’ll explore it then.

Minnesota can still make the playoffs, but they need two wins plus Tampa losing twice and Washington losing once.  New Orleans needs two wins plus what Minnesota needs plus the Vikings losing to the Bears after beating the Packers and the Packers losing to the Lions.

Seattle should be able to lock up the #2 seed with games with Arizona and San Francisco remaining.  However, if they do lose it could open the door for Atlanta or Detroit.  Two losses could even open the door for Green Bay or Tampa Bay to jump all the way up to the #2 seed.

And now for Games to Watch in the coming dozen days:

Thursday December 22nd: Giants @ Eagles.  New York can clinch a playoff spot.  A loss clinches the #1 seed for Dallas, which could be great news for Detroit and bad news for anyone hoping Detroit loses to Dallas.

Saturday December 24th: Miami @ Buffalo.  Minnesota @ Green Bay. Tampa @ New Orleans. Indianapolis @ Oakland.

Sunday December 25th: Baltimore @ Pittsburgh.  Either the Steelers clinch the North or Baltimore retains control of its destiny (and teams that don’t want Pittsburgh 2nd in the North at 10-6 get nervous).  Denver @ Kansas City.  Either the Chiefs clinch a wildcard and keep hope alive to win the West and Denver is eliminated or the Broncos keep hopes alive while perhaps handing the West to the Raiders.

Monday December 26th: Detroit @ Dallas.  Cowboys perhaps trying to lock down the #1 seed.  Lions can clinch the North if Green Bay lost, or can be trying to preserve their 10-6 wildcard scenarios.

Sunday January 1st: Green Bay @ Detroit. New England @ Miami. Houston @ Tennessee. Perhaps other games as well, but the Green Bay and the Houston games seem at this time to be the two candidates for being flexed into Sunday Night Football.

And finally the official clinching scenarios for Week 16 copy/pasted from nfl.com:

NFC

DALLAS COWBOYS
Dallas clinches division title and home field advantage throughout playoffs:
1) DAL win or tie
2) NYG loss or tie

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Seattle clinches a first-round bye:
1) SEA win + DET loss + ATL loss or tie

NEW YORK GIANTS
NY Giants clinch a playoff berth:
1) NYG win or tie
2) DET loss or tie
3) GB loss or tie
4) TB loss or tie
5) ATL loss

DETROIT LIONS
Detroit clinches division title:
1) DET win + GB loss or tie
2) DET tie + GB loss

Detroit clinches a playoff berth:
1) DET win + TB loss or tie
2) DET tie + TB loss
3) DET tie + TB tie + ATL win
4) WAS loss or tie + TB loss + ATL win or tie

ATLANTA FALCONS
Atlanta clinches division title:
1) ATL win + TB loss or tie
2) ATL tie + TB loss

Atlanta clinches a playoff berth:
1) ATL win + ATL clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over DET
2) ATL win or tie + GB loss or tie
3) ATL win + DET loss or tie
4) ATL tie + DET tie
5) WAS loss or tie + GB loss
6) WAS loss or tie + GB tie + DET loss

GREEN BAY PACKERS
Green Bay clinches a playoff berth:
1) GB win + WAS loss or tie + TB loss + ATL win or tie + GB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over TB

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Tampa Bay clinches playoff berth:
1) TB win + GB loss + DET loss + WAS loss
2) TB win + GB loss + DET loss + WAS tie + TB clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over DET

AFC

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
New England clinches home field advantage throughout AFC playoffs:
1) NE win + OAK loss or tie
2) NE tie + OAK loss

OAKLAND RAIDERS
Oakland clinches division title and a first-round bye:
1) OAK win + KC loss or tie
2) OAK tie + KC loss

PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Pittsburgh clinches division title:
1) PIT win

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Kansas City clinches a playoff berth:
1) KC win or tie
2) BAL loss or tie

HOUSTON TEXANS
Houston clinches a division title:
1) HOU win + TEN loss

MIAMI DOLPHINS
Miami clinches a playoff berth:
1) MIA win + DEN loss or tie
2) MIA tie + BAL loss + DEN loss + HOU loss or tie
3) MIA tie + BAL loss + DEN loss + TEN loss or tie

NFL Playoff Picture

December 13, 2016

The standings and playoff picture with three weeks to go, starting in the AFC:

  1. New England (11-2)
  2. Kansas City (10-3) (head to head tiebreaker on Oakland for division lead)
  3. Pittsburgh (8-5)
  4. Houston (7-6) (head to head on Tennessee for division lead)
  5. Oakland (10-3)
  6. Denver (8-5) (record vs opponents common with Miami)
  7. Miami
  8. Baltimore (conference record over Tennessee)
  9. Tennessee
  10. Indianapolis (6-7) (conference record over Buffalo)
  11. Buffalo
  12. Cincinnati (5-7-1)
  13. San Diego (5-8)
  14. New York (4-9)
  15. Jacksonville (2-11)
  16. Cleveland (0-13)

Remarkably with only 3 weeks to go no one in the conference has clinched a playoff spot, although New England can clinch the division, even a bye seed, this week while Oakland and Kansas City can both clinch playoff spots.  Barring something unforeseen we can bank on the Patriots getting a bye seed eventually along with the winner of the West with 2nd in the West being the #5 seed.

Pittsburgh can win the North division by beating Baltimore Christmas evening and winning either against Cincinnati this Sunday or against Cleveland the last day of the season.  Baltimore’s other games are against Philadelphia this Sunday and finishing with the Bengals, and the Ravens do still control their destiny for winning the North because a win at Heinz Field would complete a season sweep of the Steelers.  The Cincinnati 8-7-1 scenario survived thanks to the Ravens losing to the Patriots last night.  The Bengals need exactly the following to happen: win all 3 remaining games, the Ravens lose to Philadelphia but beat the Steelers, and the Steelers lose Week 17 to the Browns.

In the South Houston has the inside track because of a 4-0 division record.  Tennessee also now controls their destiny because winning out would include Week 17 against Houston (they needed the Colts to lose a game and got it last week).  However, if the Titans lose one more game in the next two than does Houston, the Texans would still have tiebreaker on division record.  The Colts are still alive but need a considerable amount of help seeing as how they are one game back and were swept by the Texans.

A race that could prove fascinating down the stretch in the AFC will be the one for the 2nd wildcard.  Right now Denver holds it by virtue of a better record vs opponents common with Miami.  However, the Broncos finishing schedule is brutal (New England, Kansas City, and Oakland).  Miami also has a game remaining with the Patriots, but also against the Jets and Bills which is seemingly easier.  However, the Dolphins will have to play with their backup quarterback for at least the next couple games.  If both lose once it could open the door for Pittsburgh if they are 10-6 but not winning the division.  The Steelers lost to Miami but if Denver is also in the tie Pittsburgh could win it on conference record.  Baltimore won’t be in the wildcard pool at 10-6, and 2nd place in the South can’t be as good as 10-6.  So while it seemed inconceivable really all season, given Denver’s schedule and Miami’s health, the 2nd wildcard slipping to a 9-7 team looks more plausible now.  If true a team that could favor is a Baltimore team that loses once down the stretch and has an 8-4 or 7-5 conference record.

And now for the NFC, which also remarkably only has one playoff spot clinched (Dallas) with three weeks to go:

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

Despite being swept by the Giants, Dallas seems likely to win the East division and the #1 seed.  Seattle can clinch the West division this weekend.  The Giants can clinch a playoff spot this weekend, and seem likely to sooner or later.

The race for the 2nd bye seed is wide open.  Detroit currently holds the advantage, but they have a tough finishing schedule with the Giants, Cowboys, and Packers.  One Lions loss puts the ball back in Seattle’s court.  Losses by both the Lions and Seahawks could put the ball in the court of the winner of the South.  Any tie with the Lions and either the Falcons or Bucs would come down to common games (or beyond).

In the North the Lions continue to hold a definite advantage and could clinch their first division title since I was in high school as soon as this weekend.  However, as I have written in previous weeks, one slip up and suddenly their Week 17 game against the Packers could be for the division title.  Minnesota, because of their poor division record, needs more considerable help.

The South division is pretty straightforward.  Atlanta has the tiebreaker and that won’t change if them and Tampa both win out.  If both lose once but the Falcons lose a division game while Tampa wins their remaining division games but loses to Dallas this Sunday night, that swings tiebreaking in the Bucs favor.

Assuming 2nd place in the East (New York) is a wildcard, that leaves a race for the 2nd wildcard spot.  Right now Tampa is guaranteed a playoff spot if they win out.  But losing once by them or Atlanta could let Washington back in; their finishing schedule of Carolina, Chicago, and then New York Week 17 when they could be locked into the #5 seed and coasting gives them a solid chance to end up 10-5-1.  One loss by both Tampa/Atlanta and Washington could also let 2nd place in the North back in the picture; Green Bay at 10-6 would have an 8-4 conference record.  Minnesota would need a couple losses by Atlanta or Tampa most likely because of a weaker conference record.

In conclusion, at the suggestion of a loyal reader, here is a list of “games to watch” the final 3 weeks of the season:

Week 15:

Tampa @ Dallas (Sunday Night)

Tennessee @ Kansas City (Titans push derailed or Raiders back in driver’s seat for #2 seed)

Indianapolis @ Minnesota (someone’s weak playoff chances end)

Detroit @ Giants

New England @ Denver

Week 16:

Minnesota @ Green Bay

Baltimore @ Pittsburgh (NFL Network Christmas 4:30pm. Likely decides the North)

Denver @ Kansas City (Christmas night)

Detroit @ Dallas (Monday Night)

Week 17:

Green Bay @ Detroit

New England @ Miami

Houston @ Tennessee (could decide South)

Oakland @ Denver

NFL Playoff Picture

December 6, 2016

The NFL is now at the 3/4 pole with every team having 4 games remaining.  Dallas has clinched a playoff spot and remarkably can clinch the #1 seed with 3 weeks to go.  In the AFC, New England and Oakland have scenarios where they can clinch playoff spots this week.  Still, there is much that is as of yet still be determined.  Lets take a look at the picture, starting in the AFC:

  1. Oakland (10-2) (record vs opponents common with New England)
  2. New England
  3. Baltimore (7-5) (head to head with Pittsburgh for division lead)
  4. Houston (6-6) (head to head to head with Indianapolis & Tennessee for division lead)
  5. Kansas City (9-3)
  6. Denver (8-4)
  7. Miami (7-5) (head to head with Pittsburgh)
  8. Pittsburgh
  9. Indianapolis (6-6) ([head to head with Tennessee for divisional rank] conference record over Buffalo
  10. Tennessee (record vs opponents common with Buffalo)
  11. Buffalo
  12. San Diego (5-7)
  13. Cincinnati (4-7-1)
  14. New York (3-9)
  15. Jacksonville (2-10)
  16. Cleveland (0-16)

Oakland plays a pivotal game this Thursday against Kansas City in Arrowhead.  If the Raiders win they will have a two game lead in their division with 3 games remaining; once they clinch the division they should also at least clinch a bye seed.  The tiebreaker with New England for the #1 seed could come down to the wire.  However, a Kansas City win would move the Chiefs into first place in the West with a sweep of the Raiders giving them the tiebreaker advantage and the inside track on a bye seed.

New England can clinch the division this weekend; doing so sooner or later seems to be a given at this point.

In the North both Pittsburgh and Baltimore control their destiny for winning the division given that they play each other Christmas evening.  The Ravens can afford to lose one game if they beat the Steelers since they would have the head to head sweep; this fact could come in handy considering they play the Patriots this coming Monday Night.  If both teams win out other than the matchup, the loser would have a theoretical shot at a wildcard at 10-6; again Baltimore is in better shape since they beat Miami this past Sunday whereas the Steelers lost to the Dolphins earlier in the season.  This scenario also requires Denver to go no better than 2-2 down the stretch, or for Kansas City or Oakland to really fall flat to end the season.  The Bengals do still have a chance at the division by winning out to 8-7-1, but they would need the winner of the Steelers/Ravens game to lose both of their remaining non-Bengals games (Pittsburgh finishes with Cleveland) and even the loser to lose at least one other game.

The South division is a legit 3 way race with Houston, Indianapolis, and Tennessee all sitting at 6-6.  The Texans control their destiny as they have a game remaining with both of the other clubs.  The Colts also control their destiny as they have a game left with Houston and already swept the Titans.  Tennessee needs the Colts to lose at least once more than they do down the stretch to win the division.  The Titans theoretically could get a wildcard at 10-6 with a 7-5 conference record but that is asking for a lot.

Right now both wildcards come out of the West division.  Miami is one game behind Denver and would probably have a similar conference record than the Broncos.  Buffalo is at 6-6 and could factor if they win out and get some help.

And now for the NFC:

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

Dallas can clinch the division by beating New York Sunday night.  Furthermore, they can clinch a bye seed if they win and either Detroit or Seattle lose (both losing clinches the #1 seed).  Seattle can clinch their division also this weekend if they win and Arizona loses.  Detroit has a two game lead in their division and they swept Minnesota.  However, they did lose their first game with Green Bay, so a stumble down the stretch could leave them vulnerable to the Packers.  In the South Atlanta and Tampa are tied and they split the head to head; both are currently undefeated in other division games.  If both win their last 4, Atlanta would have the edge via a one game lead in record vs common opponents.

Despite losing last Sunday New York is currently in good shape to get a wildcard spot; they have a 1.5 game lead on the outside.  Washington losing to Arizona did tighten the race for the 2nd wildcard.  As I wrote last week, the Cardinals have a viable scenario now that they beat Washington.  However, they do need either Atlanta or Tampa to go at best 2-2 down the stretch, along with having Washington and 2nd/3rd in the North lose at least once more.  2nd place in the North is also very much in the mix.  Especially Green Bay could be a real factor here; if they would get to 10-6 but fail to catch the Lions they would have an 8-4 conference record.  If the Lions are 10-6 but not winning the North they also would be 8-4 in conference games.  Detroit could be catching a break in the timing of the schedule; they have to play Dallas but the game is not until the Monday Night of Week 16 at which point the Cowboys will quite probably have the #1 seed clinched and be coasting.

There are several key games this coming weekend; enjoy the action!

NFL Playoff Picture

November 29, 2016

The current conference standings and a few quick thoughts, starting in the AFC:

  1. New England (9-2) (conference record tiebreaker on Oakland)
  2. Oakland
  3. Baltimore (6-5) ([head-to-head tiebreaker on Pittsburgh for division rank] conference record tiebreaker on Houston)
  4. Houston
  5. Kansas City (8-3)
  6. Miami (7-4) (conference record tiebreaker on Denver)
  7. Denver
  8. Pittsburgh (6-5) (conference record tiebreaker on Buffalo)
  9. Buffalo
  10. Tennessee (6-6)
  11. Indianapolis (5-6) (head-to-head tiebreaker on San Diego)
  12. San Diego
  13. Cincinnati (3-7-1)
  14. New York (3-8)
  15. Jacksonville (2-9)
  16. Cleveland (0-12)

Not much is settled at this point.  New England has a two game lead in their division, but they have one game remaining with Miami, so a loss in that game could tighten things.  Assuming the Patriots do win the East they should be good for a bye seed.  The winner of the West will almost certainly get the other bye.  Oakland and New England both have one conference loss, so at the end of the year a tie could very well come down to record vs common opponents or even strength of victory.  But of course the Raiders are in a fight for the division with Kansas City and Denver and have games remaining with both.  Both wildcards ultimately could come out of the West but right now the Dolphins are in wildcard position.  Them and Denver both have 3 conference losses, so this is not a commanding tiebreak lead.  Buffalo is also in the wildcard mix.

The South and North divisions figure to only send their winners to the playoffs, and in turn most likely as the 3 and 4 seeds that play at home wildcard weekend.  Houston is in decent shape in the South with only 5 losses to 6 for the Titans and Colts.  Also being 3-0 so far in division games means the Texans can lose a head to head game and still have tiebreaking advantage.  In the North both the Ravens and Steelers control their fate being tied with a Christmas evening contest in Pittsburgh looming.  If Pittsburgh wins the rematch but loses a different game the Ravens would likely hold the tiebreaker.  Both have tough games the next couple weeks; Baltimore hosts Miami then goes to New England while Pittsburgh hosts the Giants then goes to Buffalo.  With 7 losses and a tie the Bengals are probably done.  If they won out to 8-7-1 that would involve beating the Ravens and the Steelers along the way.  But they would need the Ravens v Steelers winner to lose at least two of their other three games (and even the loser at least one other game) to have a chance.

And now the NFC:

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

The closest competition for Dallas in getting the #1 seed is actually in merely winning their division, as New York has the 2nd best record in the conference at 8-3.  But of course non-division winners cannot be seeded in the top 4.  While the NFL has not published official clinching scenarios as of yet, the Cowboys would clinch a playoff spot this weekend if they beat Minnesota and either Washington or Tampa Bay lose.  Seattle is also in comfortable shape for making the playoffs given the fact they have a 3 game lead in their own division.  They presently hold the other bye seed.  However, a mediocre final month and the North and/or South winner could overtake them.

The North division is a legitimate three team race.  The Lions are obviously in the best shape having the best record.  And they completed a season sweep of the Vikings on Thanksgiving.  However, they did lose to the Packers, so if Green Bay can be in position entering the last two weeks of the season when they play Minnesota and Detroit they can yet win the division.  They have two fewer division losses than Minnesota, so winning the rematch would give them tiebreaker advantage, and sweeping the Lions would also give them that breaker.

The South is also still up for grabs.  Atlanta, like Detroit, is in the best position having a clear lead at the moment and a 3-1 record in division games.  They split with Tampa and currently have a 2 game lead in the loss column in opponents common to them and the Buccaneers, and that is the primary tiebreaker after division record.  The Saints are two games back with a game remaining with Atlanta and both games still remaining with Tampa.  The defending conference champions Carolina are 3 games back and even winning out to 9-7 their division record would only be 3-3 so they would need a lot of things to break their way.

The wildcards are currently both held by East division teams.  New York looks very good to make the playoffs.  Washington has a 1/2 game lead on Tampa and Minnesota for the 2nd wildcard.  In the Redskins favor is the fact that anyone in the North or South doing well enough to catch them could very well end up winning the division.  So long as they stay ahead of Philadelphia and ahead of 2nd place in the other divisions they are fine.  2nd place in the West is not likely to factor in the wildcard picture since Arizona can at best finish 9-6-1, Los Angeles 9-7.  That having been said, Arizona plays Washington this weekend.  If the Cardinals win that game, Washington loses at least one of their last 4, and 2nd place in both the North & South finish no better than 9-7, Arizona would sneak in.  It sounds like a lot, but with 5 weeks to go it wouldn’t take as much losing as it seems.

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’.

NFL Playoff Picture

November 19, 2013

With 6 weeks to go (where did the time go?) it seems overdue for me to revive this blog to start offering the NFL standings and a few thoughts on the playoff picture, including a nerdy prediction of not only the playoff matchups as currently constituted, but of the actual schedule.  I will start with the current standings in the very muddled and mediocre AFC.  Please keep in mind of course that division leaders are automatically the top 4 seeds, and also that breaking ties within a division are paramount; a team that is 3rd in its division cannot be ranked within the conference for wild card consideration ahead of the team that is 2nd in the same division for example.

1. Denver (9-1) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Kansas City for division lead)

2. Indianapolis (7-3) (conference record on New England)

3. New England

4. Cincinnati (7-4)

5. Kansas City (9-1)

6. New York (5-5) (division record tiebreaker on Miami)

In the Hunt

7. Miami

8. Oakland (4-6) ([head-to-head on San Diego for division rank] conference record on Tennessee and Pittsburgh [record against opponents common/will be common with Cleveland & Baltimore for division rank])

9. Tennessee (conference record drops San Diego from 3-way tie, then reevaluation head-to-head tiebreaker on Pittsburgh)

10. Pittsburgh (conference record on San Diego)

11. Cleveland ([record against opponents common/will be common with Baltimore to break division tie] conference record tiebreaker on San Diego)

12. Baltimore (conference record tiebreaker on San Diego)

13. San Diego

14. Buffalo (4-7)

Alive Only Mathematically

15. Houston (2-8)

16. Jacksonville (1-9)

While nothing is mathematically clinched and nothing can be clinched this weekend, it seems reasonable to surmise that the Patriots, Bengals, and Colts are in good to great shape to win their divisions, and that both Denver and Kansas City will be playoff teams.  Which then leaves a battle for seeding.  Denver will play New England this coming Sunday night in a game that will help sort this picture.  The Bengals are currently in 4th and have one more loss than both the Patriots and Colts, but they could draw even while on bye this weekend, and they beat the Patriots head-to-head earlier in the season.  The race for the 6th and final playoff spot currently looks like chaos theory with literally half the conference somewhere between 5-5 & 4-7.  Someone could get hot and change the equation, but it seems likely that the eventual playoff spot grabber will be 9-7, perhaps alone or in a clean two way tie, perhaps a messy multi-way tie that can, as evidenced above in the sorting of the gaggle of teams at 4-6, can be very difficult to sort.  The Jets are currently in playoff position, but they have literally been on a win/lose/win/lose pattern all season.  They have both games remaining with the Dolphins, who are also 5-5.  The Steelers have both games remaining with the Browns and beat the Ravens in their first encounter.  They beat the Jets and have the Dolphins left on their schedule.  On the negative, they have lost to both Tennessee and Oakland.  Cleveland probably wishes they hadn’t played any games with Brandon Weeden at quarterback, as their record gets better if you excise those contests.  The Ravens are scuffling but still capable of regaining their form.  The Titans seem to be faltering with Jake Locker lost for the season.  The Raiders are the only team in this tie with a winning record in conference games, a key factor in tiebreaking.  They are winless against the mediocre NFC East but only have the game with Dallas remaining.  Even amongst this mediocre group the Chargers are a hard team to figure, and with 5 of their losses being in conference they probably need to win their remaining conference games to have a realistic chance.  Back to the Jets; all 5 of their losses are conference games which doesn’t bode well for them in the long run either.  The Steelers and Browns, however, at 9-7 would be either a solid 7-5, or an excellent 8-4, in conference games so they are perhaps better positioned.  The next couple weeks could help thin the pack a bit and make it easier to see what we are looking at.  Or not.

Projected AFC Playoff Schedule

6. New York @ 3. New England Saturday January 4th at 8pm on NBC

5. Kansas City @ 4. Cincinnati Sunday January 5th at 1pm on CBS

Lowest wildcard winning seed @ 1. Denver Saturday January 11th at 8pm on CBS

Highest wilcard winning seed @ 2. Indianapolis Sunday January 12th at 1pm on CBS

Lower surviving seed @ Higher surviving seed Sunday January 19th at 3pm on CBS

And now for the NFC

1. Seattle (10-1)

2. New Orleans (8-2)

3. Detroit (6-4) (head-to-head tiebreaker on Chicago for division rank)

4. Philadelphia (6-5)

5. Carolina (7-3)

6. San Francisco (6-4) ([head-to-head on Arizona for division rank] conference record tiebreaker on Chicago)

In the Hunt

7. Arizona (head-to-head tiebreaker on Chicago)

8. Chicago

9. Dallas (5-5) (conference record tiebreaker on Green Bay)

10. Green Bay

11. New York (4-6) (conference record tiebreaker on St. Louis)

12. St. Louis

Alive Only Mathematically

13. Washington (3-7)

14. Tampa Bay (2-8) ([record against opponents common/will be common with Atlanta for division rank] conference record tiebreaker on Minnesota)

15. Atlanta (conference record on Minnesota

16. Minnesota

The division races are less settled in the NFC to be sure with the exception of Seattle’s safe 3.5 game lead in the West.  Philadelphia is tied in the loss column with Dallas, and the Cowboys can reclaim the top spot from the idle Eagles by beating New York this coming Sunday.  On the other hand, a Giants victory Sunday would have those 3 teams within a game of each other.  Philadelphia plays Dallas Week 17, an early guess as to who the Sunday Night game will be to close the regular season.  In the North the Lions have already swept the Bears, so they are in decent shape.  The Packers beat the Lions once, but seem to be stumbling with a 3rd string quarterback leading the way.  In the South the Saints are strong for a playoff spot at least, but with both games against Carolina still remaining, the division is up for grabs.  Carolina has a 1 game lead in the wildcard race, but that could disappear in a couple bad weeks.  The 49ers are hanging on for dear life right now with the Cardinals right here.  But Arizona has an 0-3 record in division games, and its very hard to make the playoffs with a losing division record.  The Bears are also in the mix but a head-to-head loss to Arizona could sandbag them.  Green Bay could easily factor if Aaron Rodgers can discount double check his way back onto the field by December.  It seems currently unlikely that 2nd place in the East will wind up in wildcard position, especially if someone in the 6/7/8 tie takes the 2nd wildcard out to a 10-6 mark as I currently suspect happens.

Projected NFC Playoff Schedule

6. San Francisco @ 3. Detroit Saturday January 4th at 4:30pm on NBC

5. Carolina @ 4. Philadelphia Sunday January 5th at 4:30pm on Fox

Lowest wildcard seed @ 1. Seattle Saturday January 11th at 4:30pm on Fox

Highest wildcard seed @ 2. New Orleans Sunday January 12th at 4:30pm on Fox

Lower surviving seed @ Higher surviving seed Sunday January 19th at 6:30pm on Fox

As always, it figures to be a fun final 6 weeks!

 

Final NFL Conference Standings & Playoff Schedule

December 31, 2012

Here are the final conference standings, starting in the AFC:

1. Denver (13-3)

2. New England (12-4) (head-to-head on Houston)

3. Houston

4. Baltimore (10-6) (division record on Cincinnati for division title)

5. Indianapolis (11-5)

6. Cincinnati (10-6)

7. Pittsburgh (8-8)

8. San Diego (7-9) (conference record on Miami)

9. Miami

10. Tennessee (6-10) (head-to-head on New York [record vs opponents common with Buffalo for division rank])

11. New York

12. Buffalo

13. Cleveland (5-11)

14. Oakland (4-12)

15. Jacksonville (2-14) (conference record on Kansas City)

16. Kansas City

Only six teams were above .500 in the conference (all with at least 10 wins) and those are the six teams that made the playoffs.  If Houston had won either of its last two games it would have gotten the #1 seed.  Instead, they lost both and dropped to the #3 seed where they will have to play a Bengals team that is essentially more rested because they treated today’s game with Baltimore as their bye week (and won anyway).  Denver started the year 2-3 before winning their final 11 games.  San Diego went 7-9 despite going 7-5 in conference games.

NFC:

1. Atlanta (13-3)

2. San Francisco (11-4-1)

3. Green Bay (11-5)

4. Washington (10-6)

5. Seattle (11-5)

6. Minnesota (10-6) (division record tiebreaker on Chicago)

7. Chicago

8. New York (9-7)

9. Dallas (8-8)

10. St. Louis (7-8-1)

11. Carolina (7-9) (record vs opponents common within the division drops Tampa from tie, then head-to-head on New Orleans)

12 New Orleans (head-to-head on Tampa)

13. Tampa

14. Arizona (5-11)

15. Detroit (4-12) (head-to-head on Philadelphia)

16. Philadelphia

Two teams miss the playoffs, including Chicago having the rare misfortune of missing despite winning 10 games.  Carolina was 2-8 (and 3-9) before rallying to end up 7-9 and end up 2nd in the division by winning the 3 way tie.  Atlanta went 13-3 by splitting their division games 3-3 and winning all 10 non-division games.  That could bode well since they won’t see any division foes in the playoffs.  St. Louis ends up 3rd in the West despite having the best division record for West teams (4-1-1); they went a mere 2-4 in non-division conference games and 1-3 against the AFC in a year that the NFC as a whole was +14 against the AFC.  Detroit was 4-4 before losing their last eight games, and Arizona was 4-0 before losing 11 of their last 12 games.  If the entire season had been played with regular refs (and assuming no other outcomes change), the 6 NFC playoff teams would have been the same, and Seattle would still have been seeded 5th on tiebreaking with Minnesota (but entered today with a chance to miss the playoffs with a loss), Green Bay would have been the #2 seed (and entered today with a chance at the #1 seed) and San Francisco would have had the division clinched before today but been locked into the #3 seed.

And the schedule for the playoffs:

Saturday January 5th at 4:30pm on NBC: Cincinnati @ Houston

Saturday January 5th at 8pm on NBC: Minnesota @ Green Bay

Sunday January 6th at 1pm on CBS: Indianapolis @ Baltimore

Sunday January 6th at 4:30pm on Fox: Seattle @ Washington

Saturday January 12th at 4:30pm on CBS: Lowest AFC seed @ Denver

Saturday January 12th at 8pm on Fox: Higher NFC seed @ San Francisco

Sunday January 13th at 1pm on Fox: Lower NFC seed @ Atlanta

Sunday January 13th at 4:30pm on CBS: Higher AFC seed @ New England

Sunday January 20th at 3pm on Fox: NFC Championship Game

Sunday January 20th at 6:30pm on CBS: AFC Championship Game

Sunday February 3rd at 6:25pm on CBS: @ New Orleans Super Bowl XLVII