I picked this topic, because no one else had mentioned or calculated it. It was not likely to happen, and it didn't happen, but it was still a mathematical possibility. I wanted to share that and give hope.
Last week, in I Did the Math - 2011 Edition - Part 2, I again wanted to bring out something that had been overlooked by the major sports media and the BTB community. It was also unlikely, and less positive, though mathematically possible - Cowboys finish 9-7, lose the division, but make the playoffs as a wild card. That option is also no longer available.
This week, the Cowboys' plight is simple. All other games will be over; all other playoff spots decided. Two teams will play; one will win, and one will lose. The winner will host a playoff game, while the loser will watch and ponder what could have been.
If the Giants lose, they will have completed another late-season collapse, going from a mid-season 6-2 record (and two-game lead in the division) to 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
If the Cowboys lose, they will also rue their finish. They have controlled their destiny since the middle of the season, and been in first place (alone or tied) for the past six weeks. After an unbeaten November vaulted the Cowboys to 7-4, how could that momentum come crashing down to a 1-4 finish?
The NFL decided a couple of years ago to have all season-finales be division games. So, every team is playing a division rival - all on Sunday; no Thursday, Saturday, or Monday night games this week.
After the jump, I will look at other scenarios facing each team, including playoffs, and the math that is involved in making each possibility happen.
- Cowboys - beat Giants, clinch #4 seed, host a playoff game, play first-place schedule next year
- Cowboys - lose to Giants, Eagles lose; no playoffs, play second place schedule next year
- Cowboys - lose to Giants, Eagles win; no playoffs, play third place schedule next year
- Giants - same three scenarios as Cowboys (division champ, second or third place, depending on Eagles result)
- Eagles - beat the Redskins, tie the Giants-Cowboys loser at 8-8; claim second place in the division and play the second-place schedule next year (better division record than Giants, head-to-head over Cowboys)
- Redskins - playing for draft positioning only; locked into fourth-place in the division
We know that the Packers have clinched the top seed and home field for the playoffs. We know that Detroit will be a wild card. We know that both the Bears and Vikings are eliminated from playoff consideration. What's at stake?
- Packers - nothing; they have clinched the #1 seed and may treat the Lions game as an exhibition
- Lions - beat the Packers (or Falcons lose to Bucs), clinch #5 seed and travel to Dallas/New York next weekend; lose to the Packers (AND Falcons win), clinch #6 seed and travel to New Orleans/San Francisco next weekend
- Bears - locked into third place and eliminated from playoffs; playing for pride or draft positioning
- Vikings - locked into fourth place and eliminated from playoffs; playing for pride or draft positioning
Both of these games have meaning for someone. Remember when Tampa Bay was 4-2, with wins over both the Saints and Falcons (the two playoff teams from this division) and were looking like a playoff contender themselves? Their wheels came off. Now, after nine straight losses, what is left in their tanks to try to win in Atlanta this Sunday?
- Saints - clinched division title and no worse than #3 seed; can move up to #2 (and a first-round bye) if they beat the Panthers AND the 49ers lose to the Rams; otherwise, they play the #6 at home in the first round (Falcons or Lions)
- Falcons - clinched wild card spot in the playoffs; beat Bucs AND Lions lose to Packers, clinch #5 seed and play at Dallas/New York; lose to Bucs OR Lions beat Packers, clinch #6 seed and play at New Orleans/San Francisco
- Panthers - locked into third-place and eliminated from playoff consideration; playing for pride or draft positioning
- Buccaneers - locked into fourth-place and eliminated from playoff consideration; playing for pride, draft positioning, or keeping their coaching staff around
49ers have still not clinched a first-round bye, and need to try to beat the Rams. Rams may roll over, and try to beat the Colts in the "Suck for Luck" sweepstakes. Or, they may show up at home and try to save their coach. Seahawks and Cardinals are both eliminated from playoff consideration, and are playing to break their current second-place tie.
- 49ers - division champ; beat Rams OR Saints lose to Panthers, clinch #2 seed and first round bye; lose to Rams AND Saints beat Panthers, drop down to #3 seed and host #6 seed (Falcons or Lions) next weekend
- Seahawks/Cardinals - both eliminated from playoff consideration; winner claims second place and plays second-place schedule next year; loser is third place and plays the third-place schedule
- Rams - still alive for "Suck for Luck", depending on how they fare against the 49ers, and how the Colts do against the Jaguars
NFC Tiebreaker Scenarios
The only possible playoff tiebreakers in play are for the 2/3 seeds and the 5/6 seeds. Here are the procedures that apply if there are ties at the top (SF-NO) or bottom (Det-Atl):
- #2 seed (and first-round bye) - 49ers are currently tied with the Saints, and did not play this season; they have a better conference record than the Saints; so, if both win, or both lose, 49ers clinch #2 seed and first round bye; the only way the Saints can grab the #2 seed is with a win AND a 49ers loss
- #5 seed (trip to Dallas-NYG winner) - Lions are currently a game ahead of the Falcons; so, if both win, or both lose, Lions lock in #5 seed and Falcons retain #6 seed; however, if Lions lose to Packers AND Falcons beat the Bucs (a VERY likely scenario), then they would be tied; the Falcons would then be the #5 seed based on their week #7 win over the Lions
Next year, all NFC East teams will play six division games (head-to-head, home-away), four common inter-conference games (AFC North - Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh), and four common intra-conference games (NFC South - Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay). So, as in every year, each will play fourteen common opponents. Their final two games will be based on division record.
The division champion will play the champions from the NFC North and West; the second-place team will play the second place teams; and, the third and fourth place teams will play their counterparts.
As mentioned above, if the Eagles beat the Redskins on Sunday, they will clinch second place in the division at 8-8. If the Giants lose, then the Eagles have a better division record; if the Cowboys lose, then the Eagles have the head-to-head advantage.
- Division champ (Cowboys-Giants winner) - add Green Bay and San Francisco to 2012 schedule
- Second place (Eagles, with a win; Cowboys-Giants loser, if Eagles lose) - add Detroit and Arizona-Seattle winner
- Third place (Eagles, with a loss; Cowboys-Giants loser, if Eagles win) - add Chicago and Arizona-Seattle loser
- Fourth place (Redskins) - add Minnesota and St. Louis
The Patriots have clinched the division and first round bye, but Baltimore and Pittsburgh are only one game back. Both hold tiebreakers over the Patriots. So, if the Patriots slip up, then the Ravens or Steelers could clinch the #1 seed.
- Patriots - beat Bills, clinch #1 seed; if they lose, then either Ravens or Steelers can clinch #1 seed with a win
- Jets - only playoff possibility is #6 seed, and they're fourth in line; must beat Dolphins and get help - Bengals must lose to Ravens, Titans must lose to Texans, AND either Broncos or Raiders must lose their finales; have clinched second place in the division and will play the second-place schedule next year
- Bills - eliminated from playoffs; will claim third place with a win over Patriots or a Dolphins loss to Jets; would drop to fourth and play the fourth-place schedule next year with a loss AND a Dolphins win
- Dolphins - eliminated from playoffs; could claim third place with a win over Jets AND a Bills loss to Patriots; otherwise, will remain in fourth and play the fourth-place schedule
There could be three playoff teams from this division. Ravens and Steelers have the same record, although the Ravens have the tiebreak by virtual of their sweep of the Steelers One will be division champ with a first-round bye, and the other will be a wild card (#5 seed).Bengals have first shot at the final wild card (#6 seed), but the Titans, Raiders, and Jets are still mathematically alive for that same spot.
- Ravens - #1 seed - beat the Bengals AND the Patriots lose to Bills; division champ and first-place schedule next year
- Ravens - #2 seed - beat the Bengals AND Patriots win; division champ and first-place schedule next year
- Ravens - #5 seed - lose to Bengals AND Steelers win (first round playoff game at the West champ); second place in division and second-place schedule next year
- Steelers - #1 seed - beat the Browns AND both Patriots and Ravens lose; division champ and first-place schedule next year
- Steelers - #2 seed - beat the Browns, Ravens lose, but Patriots win; division champ and first-place schedule next year
- Steelers - #5 seed - lose to Browns OR Ravens win (first round playoff game at the West champ); second place in division and second-place schedule next year
- Bengals - #6 seed - easy way, beat the Ravens; hard way, lose and hope that Jets AND Raiders or Broncos all lose; locked into third place in the division and will play third-place schedule next year
- Browns - eliminated from playoffs, locked into fourth place, and will play fourth-place schedule next year; playing for pride or draft positioning
Houston is locked in as division champ and #3 seed. Their last two losses knocked them out of contention for the top seeds and a first-round bye. Tennessee is still alive for the #6 seed, but will need help. Jacksonville and Indianapolis are long-eliminated from playoff consideration.
- Texans - locked into #3 seed, win or lose; possible motivations to win include: not wanting to end the season on a three-game losing streak and avoiding a possible rematch with the Titans next weekend
- Titans - only playoff possibility is #6 seed, and they're third in line; must beat Texans and get help - Bengals must lose to Ravens, AND either Jets, Broncos, or Raiders must lose their finales (but not all three, as they lose the head-to-head to Bengals); have clinched second place in the division and will play the second-place schedule next year
- Jaguars - eliminated from playoffs; locked into third place in the division and will play third-place schedule next year; playing for pride or draft positioning
- Colts - eliminated from playoffs, locked into fourth place, and will play fourth-place schedule next year; playing for pride (close on a three-game winning streak) or draft positioning (first in line in "Suck for Luck")
Denver has the inside track to the division championship. Oakland can win the division with a win AND a Broncos loss, but they are also alive for a wild card (#6 seed). The Chargers are eliminated from the playoffs, even though they could finish in a three-way tie for first place, because the Broncos would win the tiebreaker (best record in common games). Chiefs are also eliminated, and are locked into fourth place.
- Broncos - division champ (#4 seed) with win over Chiefs OR Raiders loss to Chargers, and would host Steelers or Ravens next weekend; cannot be a wild card; if Broncos lose AND Raiders win, then Broncos are eliminated from playoff consideration and would clinch second place in the division and play the second-place schedule next year
- Raiders - can be division champ (#4 seed) with win over Chargers AND Broncos loss to Chiefs; could also qualify for a wild card (#6 seed) with a win, Broncos win (gives Broncos the division title), a Bengals loss, AND either a Titans loss or a Jets win (9-7 Raiders win tiebreakers with Bengals, Bengals-Jets, or Bengals-Jets-Titans; they only lose a tiebreaker with Bengals-Titans); if champ, will play first-place schedule next year; with a win, can be no worse than second place, and play second-place schedule; with a loss, would be third place and play third-place schedule next year (Chargers would win tiebreaker based on conference record)
- Chargers - eliminated from playoffs, even though they could finish in a three-way tie at the top; with a win, clinch second place in the division and play second-place schedule next year; with a loss, lock into third place and play third-place schedule next year
- Chiefs - eliminated from playoffs and locked into fourth place; playing for pride, draft positioning, or as an audition for making Romeo Crennel their next head coach
AFC Tiebreaker Scenarios
There are multiple tiebreaker scenarios in the AFC. Three teams are vying for the top two seeds and first-round byes ("loser" gets the consolation prize - #5 seed). Two teams are alive for the AFC West and #4 seed. And, four teams are alive for the final wild card (#6 seed).
- #1/2 seed - Patriots - a game ahead of Ravens/Steelers, but both hold tiebreakers over Patriots; retain #1 seed with win or Ravens/Steelers BOTH lose; drop to #2 with loss AND either Ravens or Steelers win
- #1/2/5 seed - Ravens - hold tiebreaker over Steelers (head-to-head); claim #1 seed with win AND Patriots loss; claim #2 seed with win AND Patriots win; drop to #5 seed with a loss AND Steelers win, and play first round playoff game at AFC West champ
- #1/2/5 seed - Steelers - lose tiebreaker to Ravens (head-to-head); claim #1 seed with win AND both Patriots/Ravens lose; claim #2 seed with win AND Patriots win AND Ravens lose; maintain #5 seed with a loss or Ravens win, and play first round playoff game at AFC West champ
- #4 seed - Broncos - inside track to division; win over Chiefs OR Raiders loss to Chargers; eliminated with a loss
- #4 seed - Raiders - only win division with win over Chargers AND Broncos loss to Chiefs
- #6 seed - Bengals - inside track; win and in (only wild card that can finish 10-6); lose all 9-7 tiebreakers (except head-to-head with Titans), so can only make playoffs with a loss AND losses by Titans, Jets, and either Raiders or Broncos (or, losses by all three - Jets, Broncos, and Raiders)
- #6 seed - Raiders - must win; Broncos must win (claiming division) AND Bengals must lose AND Titans or Jets must lose
- #6 seed - Titans - must win; Bengals must lose; at least one of these must lose - Broncos, Raiders, or Jets
- #6 seed - Jets - must win, Bengals and Titans must lose, AND Broncos or Raiders must lose
There you go. I found/made time to do the AFC also. This concludes my "I Did the Math" series for this year. Enjoy!