Saturday, December 16, 2006

When You're In

The NFL tie breaking procedures to get into the playoffs are some of the most complicated rules I've ever analyzed or seen discussed in such detail. Last year, at the end of the regular season, the Atlanta Falcons were playing a game and had to make a decision between going for a field goal for a tie or going for a touchdown to win. Because of 'playoff implications' they decided to go for the touchdown and failed - missing the playoffs. It turns out that had they played for a tie they would have made it into the playoffs. On the sidelines, following the end of the game, you could see the coach screaming into a cellphone. In the press conference afterwards he told the media that he was unaware that a tie would get them into the playoffs so he played for the win. When you read the tie breaking procedures it's no wonder he was confused.

Here they are (courtesy of espn.com with further explanations from me...)

Within a division:
1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
Common games are against same opponents. Within a division, two teams will have 8 games in common excluding the head-to-head and division games.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
5. Strength of victory.
Best won-lost-tied percentage of opponents the team beat
6. Strength of schedule.
Best won-lost-tied percentage of all opponents
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
Ranked 1-16 within conference for points scored and points allowed. Two rankings added, lowest number is 'best'.
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
Ranked 1-16 within conference for points scored and points allowed. Two rankings added, lowest number is 'best'.
9. Best net points in common games.
Two teams in the same division have 14 games in common including 2 head to head meetings.
10. Best net points in all games.
11. Best net touchdowns in all games.

TO BREAK A TIE FOR THE WILD-CARD TEAM
If it is necessary to break ties to determine the two Wild-Card clubs from each conference, the following steps will be taken.
1. Reduce to at most one tied club per division by applying the division tie breaker.
2. If more than one club is tied following step 1, see below.

Two Clubs
1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
4. Strength of victory.
5. Strength of schedule.
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best net points in conference games.
9. Best net points in all games.
10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
11. Coin toss.

Three or More Clubs
(Note: If two clubs remain tied after third or other clubs are eliminated, tie breaker reverts to step 1 of applicable two-club format.)
1. Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the three Wild-Card participants.
2. Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
5. Strength of victory.
6. Strength of schedule.
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
9. Best net points in conference games.
10. Best net points in all games.
11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
12. Coin toss.

1 comment:

jeff said...

Sorry if posting this twice under seperate comments violates some sort of web blogging etiquette, I just wanted to make sure that all Steeler fans saw this. I spent 12 hours today working out every possible scenario, even calling the NFL office in New York to be sure my interpretation of the tie-breaking procedures was correct. It was. Usually I am not that much of a dork, but I had the day off and, well, when it comes to the Steelers I guess I put the FAN in FANATIC.

For fellow Steeler fans, I have GOOD news to share. Hopefully after Sunday, it will STILL be good news.

There is one important element of the tie-breaking process that no one has mentioned -- at least not anywhere I have been looking. And it COULD favor the Steelers in a huge way.

It is true that Pittsburgh would hypothetically lose tie-breakers to the Jags, Broncos, and Bengals. But if the Steelers win out, and either the Jags or Broncos finished with an identical 9-7 record, the Steelers may not have to compete with them to secure a playoff spot.

Here is how:

Before the tie-breaking process to select each wild card team begins, the NFL rules call for ELIMINATING ALL BUT THE HIGHEST-SEEDED TEAM from each division from the process.

That is VERY important to remember.

Because if Denver loses to either Cincy or SF, and KC beats Oakland and Jacksonville, both will finish 9-7 and KC would win the tie-breaker to finish ahead of the Broncos.

The implications of that would also affect the AFC South, if Tennessee can Buffalo and NE. If Tenn and Jax both finish 9-7, the Titans win THAT tie-breaker.

That would mean that neither Denver nor Jacksonville could even compete in the tie-breaking process unless the higher-seeded team in their respective divisions (KC and TN) first qualifies. As I will explain below, neither will.

In effect, Tennessee and Kansas City could effectively BLOCK Jax and Den from wild card consideration.

The same thing is true in the AFC North. If Cincinnati beats Denver, the Steelers cannot finish with a higher AFC North seed than the Bengals. Thankfully, the Bengals would quickly qualify for the first wild card spot (assuming the Jets lose a game) with a 7-5 conference record. With the Bengals out of the way, the Steelers would become the highest seeded AFC North team before the process begins to select the second wild card slot.

That door would remain closed to the Jags and Broncos, however, given that they each would still trail a team in their own division.

The Steelers would win tie-breakers against the Chiefs (45-7 thrashing), the Jets (both will have 6-6 conf. records if NY loses one of its final games, but Pitt wins based on victories against common teams. Both played the Dolphins, Raiders, Browns, and Jags. The Steelers beat the Browns twice, and the Dolphins, and lost to the Raiders and Jags, for a 3-2 record. The Jets have beaten the Dolphins once, lost to the Jags and Brown, and play their final two games against the Dolphins and Raiders. To finish 9-7, the Jets must split these games. As a result, their overall record in common games will be 2-3.

Tennessee would face the same fate. The Titans split games with the Jags, and lost to the Dolphins, Chargers, and Ravens (1-4). The Steelers (hopefully)split with the Ravens, lost to the
Chargers and Jags, and beat the Dolphins (2-3). As a result, the Steelers would advance.

If Buffalo wins out, and the Jets lose a game, the Bills would beat the Steelers in every tie-breaker, so don't root for that.

However, at the end of this very long day, I think it is still much safer to root for the Broncos to beat the Bengals this weekend. Then, they would be 8-8 after the Steelers crush the life out of them next week.

If that happens, the Steelers would make the playoffs under the following conditions:

The Jets lose to Miami or Oakland AND ONE of the following:

1. The Jags lose to NE and KC. OR
2. The Jags win one of those games and Tennessee beats both Buffalo and New England OR
3. Denver loses to San Francisco and KC beats both Oakland and Jax.

If the Jets beat both Miami and Oakland, the only way the Steelers can make the playoffs is if:

1. Denver beats the Bengals and loses to San Francisco and Kansas City beats Oakland and Jacksonville.

AND

2. Either New England also beats Jacksonville OR Tenneessee beats Buffalo and New England.

If the Jets win both games, and the Bengals beat Denver, the Steelers will be eliminated.

Also, if the Bengals beat Denver, the Steelers could not make the playoffs unless:

KC beats OAK and JAX (or JAX if DEN loses to SF)
AND
JAX loses to both NE and KC or the Titans scenario happens
AND
The Jets lose
AND
The Bills lose at least once

I am rooting for the Broncos to beat the Bengals because I would rather count on the Steelers to beat the Bengals again next week than rely on the 49ers to beat Denver.

There is one scenario in which the Steelers could earn the #5 seed, which is exciting. It would happen this way:

1. Jacksonville loses to NE and KC, OR they can beat NE as long as they lose to KC and Tennessee wins out.

AND

2. Denver beats Cincinnati, but loses to San Francisco (not out of the question) AND KC beats both Oakland and Jacksonville

AND

3. The Jets lose to either the Dolphins or Raiders.

If that happens, the Chiefs would finish ahead of the Broncos. And TENN would either finish ahead of Jax, or Jax would be 8-8 and out of it.

That would make for a 3 or 4-way tie to determine the 5 seed among the Steelers, Jets, Chiefs, and maybe the Titans. The Chiefs would be eliminated first with a 5-7 conf. record. I explained earlier how the Steelers would finish ahead of the Titans and Jets.

The Wild Card teams would then be

#5 Steelers
#6 Jets

Go Steelers, Dolphins, Chiefs, Titans, Broncos, and Niners!

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