I Did the Math - 2012 Edition - Part 1

For the third year in a row, I am bringing out my I Did the Math series of FanPosts. Each year, I have tried to look at the playoff possibilities from a different perspective and see what others have overlooked.

In 2010, the Cowboys were finishing off the dismal season that began 1-7. After week #13 (same time as now), the Cowboys had rebounded under Interim Coach Jason Garrett to 4-8. Most "fans" had abandoned the season and were ready to look ahead to 2011 - play the scrubs, get the best draft pick possible, and let's talk draft.

I explored the mathematical possibilities that would have the 8-8 Cowboys clinch a playoff berth. As we learned the past two years, it doesn't matter if you clinch early, or if you back in on the last day. If you're in, then you can win the Super Bowl. If you're out, then you can't.

In 2010, Green Bay backed in due to several lucky breaks. As the #6 seed, they went on to the championship at Cowboys Stadium. In 2011, the Giants were dead until a couple of lucky breaks against the Cowboys saved their season. The last team in ended up with the trophy.

In 2011, I focused first on the maximum (mathematical) possibility for the Cowboys. When everyone else was focusing on winning the division, I explored every possibility from #2 seed and a first-round bye to making the playoffs as either the #5 or #6 seeded wild card.

Before I move on to the Cowboys, let me entertain (scare) you for a moment with a story about our friends, the Eagles. Just as the 2010 Cowboys needed everything to fall correctly in order to make the playoffs, and just as the Eagles had a shot last year (and technically, finished second in the division - ahead of the Cowboys), the Eagles are not dead - yet.

I did the math, and it is possible for the Eagles to make the playoffs. How?

  • Eagles must win all four remaining games (at TB, vs. Cin, vs. Was, and at NYG); record - 7-9
  • Giants must lose all four remaining games (vs NO, at Atl, at Bal, and vs. Phi); record - 7-9
  • Cowboys must lose next three games (at Cin, vs. Pit, and vs. NO) and tie at Was; record - 6-9-1
  • Redskins must lose next three games (vs. Bal, at Cle, and at Phi) at tie vs. Dal; record 6-9-1

In this scenario, the Eagles would tie the Giants at the top of the division, but advance to the playoffs on the basis of a season sweep (weeks #4 and #17). Cowboys and Redskins must tie in the finale to keep both teams behind the Eagles. Otherwise, the Dallas-Washington winner would also be 7-9 and advance due to tiebreakers.

A 7-9 Giants team would drop out of the three-way tie first because of worst division record. Then, the Eagles would lose a tiebreaker to the other team (Cowboys would have swept them; Redskins would have a better division record).

Scary? Sure. Could it happen? I just showed you. Will it happen? Probably not. What is the likelihood that Dal, NYG, AND Was all three go L, L, L, while Phi went W, W, W. That scenario would set up a season finale where any of the four teams could win the division with a win (Giants wouldn't need any help; the other three would).

Well, enough about the Eagles. May their fall be completed this weekend, when they are officially eliminated from the playoffs.

Let's turn our attention to what does matter: first, Cowboys in a three-way race for the division championship. As I mentioned in a comment on one of the 10-for-10 threads, the Giants have losable games down the stretch. It is not inconceivable that they will fall out of the lead before season's end. If so, then the Cowboys need to be poised to take control.

I made a new chart that outlines the entire season of each NFC East team. There are scenarios that would put the Cowboys, Giants, and Redskins in a three-way tie for the division championship. If they remained tied through the first tiebreakers (head-to-head sweep and division record), the next tiebreaker (before conference record) would be record in common games.

In the current NFL schedule, division teams play fourteen common games and only two "uncommon" games. Each team plays the other divison teams twice (six games); each team plays all four teams in an AFC division (this year, AFC North) and all four teams in an NFC division (this year, NFC South). The other two games are played against their counterparts in the other two divisions (NFC North and West). Cowboys did the worst of the three in uncommon games. So, their record in common games would be the best

This year, the Giants played the champions of the other two divisions (Packers and 49ers) and won both; Cowboys played the third-place teams (Bears and Seahawks( and lost both. Redskins played the other last place teams and split (beat Vikings and lost to Rams).

So, in any three-way tie involving the Cowboys, Redskins, and Giants, if the third tiebreaker is invoked, the Cowboys will have a significant advantage in common 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 16
vs Washington L 12 W 7 16
at Washington 17 L 13 L 11
Conference Result Week Result Week Result Week Result Week
Atlanta L 9 15 L 8 L 5
Carolina W 7 W 3 L 12 L 9
New Orleans 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 16 W 2 W 14
Cincinnati W 14 L 10 15 L 3
Cleveland W 11 W 5 W 1 15
Pittsburgh 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 3 3 1
Conference 5 5 7 3 2 8 6 4
Common 7 4 6 5 4 7 6 5
All Games 7 6 8 5 4 9 7 6

What about playoff seeding, and looking outside the divison? I did the math there as well. It starts simple, and gets more complicated.

  • #1 seed and home field advantage - not available; Dallas can win out and can max out at 10-6; Atlanta has already won eleven games, plus beaten the Cowboys
  • #2 seed and first round bye - still mathematically possible; there are several teams that have better records, but all are capable of finishing below the Cowboys. San Francisco has the inside track to this position. If they split their final four games, they will end 10-5-1 (a better record than the best the Cowboys can accomplish). If they do worse, then both Green Bay and Chicago have better records (8-4) than the Cowboys (6-6); plus, the Bears have already beaten the Cowboys.
  • #3 seed and host lower wild card - still mathematically possible; not much more likely than the #2 seed, as the chances are slightly greater that the Cowboys could pass either NFC-North or NFC-West champs than passing up both champions to get the #2 seed.
  • #4 seed and host upper wild card - still mathematically possible, and the most likely Cowboy prospective. The above table gives all the information to project various outcomes. If the Cowboys can beat the Redskins in the final week, I feel optimistic about the Cowboys making the playoffs. They will control most tiebreakers with the Redskins and Giants (two-way and three-way).
  • #5 and #6 seed (wild card) - I was about to run through all the scenarios, but Ride Together, Die Together ran through most of the possibilities. Read his FanPost for those options. I'm more optimistic about wild card options than RTDT, and think this is viable if the Giants don't back up this month. I personally see the Bears fading and not being around at the end.

My expectation - Cowboys win division and host Seattle in the first round (#4-#5 game). If the Cowboys can't catch the Giants, then I expect them to make the playoffs anyway by passing the fading Bears, holding off the Vikings, and taking care of business against the Redskins. That would be a less favorable matchup - probably having to open the playoffs in the frozen tundra (#6-#3). But, as the Giants and Packers have proved the past two years, anyone in the playoffs (even #4 and #6 seeds) can win the championship.The most likely playoff seeds for the Cowboys are #4 or #6, the positions used by the Giants and Packers to win the last two Super Bowls.

I will have more to say over the next weeks as the games play out. This is my time to say, I Did the Math.

[NOTE - I updated the chart to include the results from Sunday, December 9. All four NFC-East teams won. As commented below, the Cowboys' win officially snuffed out the last flicker of hope for the Eagles. They are officially eliminated now, and only the Cowboys, Giants, and Redskins are relevant for playoff discussions.]

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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