I Did the Math - 2012 Edition - Part 3

Again, there are many other attempts to analyze and chronicle various and sundry playoff possibilities in online media (news and blogs). Ride Together, Die Together has three as well (original, last week, this week), had one earlier, and Dave Halprin has posted a couple on the front page (here and here). Links appear on BTB about Dan Graziano's playoff tracker work for ESPN (he is the NFC-East beat writer for ESPN). His latest tracker is here.

Other sites have playoff generator tools, like Yahoo's, that let us play all the "what-if" games we wish. I confess, that I do use Yahoo's tool as part of "doing the math". That helps calculate complex tiebreakers (such as multiteam going down the line to "strength of victory" or "net points in common games"). It's relatively easy to calculate simple tiebreakers (head-to-head, division record, and two-team common games).

What's different about mine? Two things: I care about the Cowboys. I look for every possibility for them to achieve the maximum possible seed.

I am staying a half-week behind this year on these posts. This was supposed to be published early in the week with a look at playoff options for the Cowboys. Even though the early games for Sunday are done, I will still publish what I can right now and update as I can.

Here's my NFC-East table, updated after today's games.

NFC East Season Results
Dallas Cowboys New York Giants Philadelphia Eagles Washington Redskins
Division Result Week Result Week Result Week Result Week
vs Dallas L 1 L 10 17
at Dallas W 8 L 13 W 12
vs New York L 8 W 4 W 13
at New York W 1 17 L 7
vs Philadelphia W 13 17 W 11
at Philadelphia W 10 L 4 W 16
vs Washington L 12 W 7 L 16
at Washington 17 L 13 L 11
Conference Result Week Result Week Result Week Result Week
Atlanta L 9 L 15 L 8 L 5
Carolina W 7 W 3 L 12 L 9
New Orleans L 16 W 14 L 9 W 1
Tampa Bay W 3 W 2 W 14 W 4
Non-Conference Result Week Result Week Result Week Result Week
Baltimore L 6 L 16 W 2 W 14
Cincinnati W 14 L 10 L 15 L 3
Cleveland W 11 W 5 W 1 W 15
Pittsburgh W 15 L 9 L 5 L 8
Non-Common Result Week Result Week Result Week Result Week
NFC North L-Chi 4 W-GB 12 L-Det 6 W-Min 6
NFC West L-Sea 2 W-SF 6 L-Ari 3 L-StL 2
Records W L W L W L W L
Division 3 2 2 3 1 4 4 1
Conference 5 6 7 4 2 9 7 4
Common 8 5 6 7 4 9 8 5
All Games 8 7 8 7 4 11 9 6

What was available before today:

  • #1 seed - not available (Atlanta has won more games than the Cowboys' best possible)
  • #2 seed - not available (San Francisco's worst - 10-5-1 - is better than Dallas' best - 10-6)
  • #3 seed - not available (Green Bay's worst - 10-6 - beats the Cowboys' 10-6 via conference record)
  • #4 seed - Cowboys clinch by finishing W-W; Redskins clinch by finishing W-W; Giants need help
  • #5 seed - not available (Seattle at 9-7 has tiebreakers over the Cowboys at 9-7)
  • #6 seed - available at 9-7, but would need help (Minnesota, Chicago must both finish L-L; either would have a tiebreaker over the Cowboys; St. Louis could finish 9-6-1 and must lose at least once)

Cowboys options depending on their finish:

Scenario #1 - finish W-W:

  • 10-6 (W-W) - Division champion (tiebreak over 10-6 Giants due to record in common games)

Scenario #2 - finish L-W:

  • Giants finish W-W (10-6); Giants are division champs; Cowboys and Redskins alive for Wild Card (if Chicago and Minnesota finish L-L)
  • Giants lose once (either game); Cowboys win three-way tie and are division champion; Giants/Redskins are in the Wild Card mix with Bears or Vikings, behind Seahawks or 49ers

Scenario #3 - finish W-L:

  • Giants or Redskins are NFC East Champions; Cowboys are fourth in line for a Wild Card, behind Seattle (can't catch), Minnesota (must finish L-L), and Chicago (must finish L-L)

Scenario #4 - finish L-L:

  • no playoff possibility as Seattle, Minnesota, and Chicago would have precedence (better record, better conference record, head-to-head)


Now, I am writing after the early games:

  • Kick out Scenarios #1 and #3
  • Cowboys lost - irrelevant if Giants lose; Cowboys will regain control of destiny; however, if the Giants come back and win, Cowboys will need Giants to lose next week
  • Redskins won - irrelevant to Cowboys; only relevant to Giants for wild card possibilities
  • Vikings won - relevant to Cowboys; no wild card possibility now (Cowboys either win the division at 9-7 or miss the playoffs at 8-8)
  • Bears won - irrelevant to Cowboys after Vikings win
  • Giants are losing - very relevant to Cowboys as a Giants loss puts the Cowboys back in control of destiny
  • Only playoff hope for Cowboys now - beat Redskins and win the division
  • No hope now for #1, #2, #3, #5, or #6 seed; it's division championship or bust (same as last year)

Expect the Cowboys-Redskins to get flexed to Sunday night (NBC-NFL favorite scenario - someone plays win-and-in). Both the Cowboys and Redskins would face the same scenario - win-and-in or lose-and-go-home.

I'll tie in all the options and explain them in more detail after the Giants go final. Go Ravens!


OK, I'm back to finish updating after today's late afternoon games. Here are playoff possibilities for NFC East teams:

  • Cowboys - East champions (beat Washington); miss playoffs (lose or tie to Washington)
  • Redskins - East champions (beat or tie Cowboys); can be a #6 wild card with a loss, Bears loss, and Vikings loss
  • Giants - cannot win East; can be a #6 wild card with win, Cowboys loss, Bears loss, and Vikings loss
  • Eagles - eliminated; playing for pride and are guaranteed a fourth-place finish


Now, the day is finished. Seattle has beaten the 49ers, keeping them alive for as high as a #2 seed. 49ers could have clinched; still control their destiny; but could lose both the division and a first-round bye with a stumble next week.

So, here are the seeding options:

#1 - Atlanta (14-2 or 13-3; best record in NFC)

#2 - Green Bay (12-4), then San Francisco (11-4-1), then Seattle (11-5)

#3 - San Francisco (11-4-1 or 10-5-1), then Seattle (11-5), then Green Bay (11-5)

#4 - Dallas (9-7) or Washington (10-6)

#5 - Seattle (11-5 or 10-6), San Francisco (10-5-1)

#6 - Minnesota (10-6), then Chicago (10-6), then Washington (9-7), then New York Giants (9-7), then Minnesota (9-7)

So, the top seed is set. Atlanta has nothing at stake next weekend. The #4 seed is set - Dallas at Washington next Sunday; winner is champion.

Here's how the #2, #3, and #5 play out among Green Bay, San Francisco, and Seattle:

  • Green Bay is in the driver's seat; if they beat the Vikings, then they will earn the #2 seed and first-round bye with a 12-4 record
  • if the Packers lose (11-5), then San Francisco can take the #2 seed with a win (11-4-1) over Arizona
  • if the Packers lose (11-5), and the 49ers lose (10-5-1), then Seattle can take the West and the #2 seed with a win (11-5) over the Rams; they would have a tiebreak over the Packers because they beat them during the regular season
  • Neither Seattle nor San Francisco can finish worse than #5 wild card. Seattle beat the other two wild card contenders who could finish as high as 10-6, and the 49ers couldn't finish worse than 10-5-1.

Here's how the #6 wild card stacks up among Minnesota, Chicago, Washington, and the Giants:

  • Minnesota is in the driver's seat; if they beat the Packers, then they will guarantee a tiebreaker over the Bears (better division record). no other wild card (except the NFC West loser) could beat 10-6
  • If the Vikings stumble, then the door is open for the Bears to finish 10-6 and claim the final wild card
  • if both lose, then the Redskins could claim the wild card with a loss to the Cowboys (better division record than New York, head-to-head over the Vikings)
  • also, if both Vikings and Bears lose, and the Redskins win the division by beating the Cowboys, then the Giants have their one opportunity to make the playoffs with a win; they would have a better conference record than the Vikings (this is the Giants' only way to the playoffs after losing to the Ravens)

The Vikings (followed by the Bears), with their ninth win today, eliminated both the Rams and Saints (even though both won today). The Rams and Saints hopes lay in season-ending losses by Vikings, Bears, Cowboys, and Giants. Saints would have won a tiebreaker over the other 8-8 teams, while the Rams could have passed them all and finished 8-7-1.

Have I made it a little clearer for you about everyone's path to the playoffs, and who still has hope of improving their playoff position?

I don't care, but those who follow the AFC might appreciate this clarification about their options and scenarios. The top teams all played each other, so the tiebreakers will involve head-to-head.

  • Houston - inside track to the top seed, as they are tied with Denver for the top record, but beat the Broncos earlier in the season; a win guarantees them the top seed; however, a loss could drop them to #2 or even #3 seed (Patriots would win a three-way tie at 12-4 because they beat both Texans and Broncos)
  • Denver - inside track to #2 seed - same record as Texans (but lost to them in the regular season); could finish #1 with a win and a Texans' loss; could drop to #3 with a loss and a Patriots win (Patriots beat the Broncos earlier)
  • New England - inside track to #3 seed - a game behind Houston and Denver (but beat both) and a game ahead of Baltimore (but lost to the Ravens); Patriots could finish #1, #2, #3, or #4, depending on their last game, and the last games of Houston, Denver, and Baltimore
  • Baltimore - Ravens have clinched the AFC North title, but could catch the Patriots; if the Ravens win and finish 11-5, they could claim the #3 seed if the Patriots lose because they beat the Patriots during the regular season
  • Indianapolis - locked into #5 seed; cannot catch Texans for the division and cannot be passed by the Bengals (Colts could lose, be caught by Bengals, but still win a tiebreak - better conference record)
  • Cincinnati - locked into #6 seed; cannot catch Ravens for the division, cannot catch the Colts for the #5 seed
  • all other AFC teams are eliminated, as their best possible records (8-8 by Dolphins and Steelers) were surpassed by Bengals' ninth win today

So, their champions are set (but seedings are not), and their wild cards are set and locked into position.

These teams are playing for making/missing the playoffs on Sunday (five teams, two spots - #4 and #6):

  • Dallas, Washington, New York Giants, Minnesota, Chicago

These teams are playing for positioning (NFC #2, #3, and #5; AFC #1, #2, #3, and #4):

  • Green Bay, San Francisco, Seattle (NFC)
  • Houston, Denver, New England, Baltimore

These teams are safely into the playoffs and have nothing at stake. Their positions are set (NFC #1; AFC #5 and #6):

  • Atlanta (NFC)
  • Indianapolis, Cincinnati

Everyone else is eliminated already and is playing for pride and draft positioning.

As I have been saying for more than a week, if the Cowboys-Redskins game is for the division championship (because both won their Sunday games, or because the Giants lost theirs), then expect NFL-NBC to flex their game to Sunday night. It has happened.

By their kickoff, all other games and playoff positions will have been decided, and each team will know exactly what is at stake:

  • if Minnesota wins earlier next Sunday, then the Bears and Giants are eliminated and the Redskins have no wild card back door to the playoffs; the winner wins the East, and the loser is eliminated
  • if Minnesota loses and Chicago wins earlier next Sunday, then the Vikings and Giants are eliminated and the Redskins have no wild card back door to the playoffs; the winner wins the East, and the loser is eliminated
  • if both Minnesota and Chicago lose earlier, then both will be eliminated; a Cowboys win sends the Redskins to the wild card and eliminates the Giants; a Redskins win sends the Giants to the wild card and ends the Cowboys season

This reminds me of the season finale in 1979 - Cowboys-Redskins at Texas Stadium. The winner won the division. However, the Cowboys had the wild card option in their back pocket. With a loss, the Cowboys would clinch a wild card playoff berth. The Redskins would be eliminated with a loss.

In a topsy-turvy game similar to the 1974 Thanksgiving (Longley) game, Redskins took big leads followed by Cowboys rallies. In the final seconds, Roger Staubach hit Tony Hill for the game winning touchdown to send the Cowboys to Staubach's final playoffs and send the Redskins home for the holidays.

Side notes from that game:

  • it was Staubach's final regular season game with the Cowboys; he retired after the playoffs
  • a funeral wreath was delivered to the Cowboys locker room before the game, allegedly from the Redskins; after the game, Harvey Martin delivered it to the Redskins locker room and threw it into their room
  • it was most famous for the radio interaction between Brad Sham and Charlie Waters (filling in as color analyst); as Sham kept painting the bleak picture for the Cowboys, Waters kept pleading, "You gotta believe", to a skeptical Sham

The last two Super Bowl champions have come from the #6 seed (Green Bay) and #4 (last year's Giants). Let's see a Cowboys win on Sunday, knock out the Redskins (and maybe the Giants), then host either Seattle or San Francisco in the first round of the playoffs.

I personally hope for Seattle, as it would give a chance to wipe two bitter tastes from Cowboys' mouths - the previous playoff loss, and the earlier loss this season.

Go Cowboys! I did the math.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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