Monday, January 4, 2010

NFL Playoff Race - Final

Update on January 4th: The regular season has ended and the playoff teams are decided. So now it's time to look back over the past 8 weeks to see what happened in the playoff races.

Having a look at the Week 10 standings, I notice that the NFC only had one minor change, with Green Bay and Philadelphia swapping the #5 and 6 spots. It's interesting that the entire race was essentially decided after just 9 games. Tells me not a lot of parity in this conference.

In the AFC, both Denver and Pittsburgh fell out of the playoffs, to be replaced by Baltimore and the Jets. Jacksonville was also in for a bit, but dropped out. San Diego won 11 in a row to take the #2 seed and looks like the team to beat. I mean, can a team that loses to Buffalo make the Super Bowl?

Overall, I enjoyed keeping track of the standings for each week. It's cool to look back and see how each team did.

Now it's time for the playoffs - should be a great 4 weeks of football with the Chargers and Saints facing off in Miami.

The original post begins below:


With week 10 completed, all teams have had their byes and played 9 games, which means we can start looking at the NFL playoff race. Yeah, I know it's a bit early, but I find that out of all the leagues, the NFL playoff race is the most exciting, because so many teams have a chance and even on the final weekend, there are dozens of possible finishes.

I've always been interested in seeing how the teams fare over the final few weeks of the season, but by the time week 15 rolls around, I've forgotten the standings back in week 10. So it's not immediately clear which teams have dropped out and which teams have fought their way in. So I'm going to maintain a small NFL playoff table which tracks the playoff teams over the next 7 weeks. I'll update it weekly. It'll be interesting to see how different the playoff teams are at the end of the season from today. Although I can't imagine anyone ousting New Orleans or Indianapolis from top spot.

Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
1. NO (9-0) NO (10-0) NO (11-0) NO (12-0) NO (13-0) NO (13-1) NO (13-2) NO (13-3)
2. Min (8-1) Min (9-1) Min (10-1) Min (10-2) Min (11-2) Min (11-3) Phi (11-4) Min (12-4)
3. Dal (6-3) Dal (7-3) Dal (8-3) Ari (8-4) Phi (9-4) Phi (10-4) Min (11-4) Dal (11-5)
4. Ari (6-3) Ari (7-3) Ari (7-4) Dal (8-4) Ari (8-5) Ari (9-5) Ari (10-5) Ari (10-6)
5. Phi (5-4) Phi (6-4) Phi (7-4) Phi (8-4) GB (9-4) GB (9-5) GB (10-5) GB (11-5)
6. GB (5-4) GB (6-4) GB (7-4) GB (8-4) Dal (8-5) Dal (9-5) Dal (10-5) Phi (11-5)

Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
1. Ind (9-0) Ind (10-0) Ind (11-0) Ind (12-0) Ind (13-0) Ind (14-0) Ind (14-1) Ind (14-2)
2. Cin (7-2) Cin (7-3) Cin (8-3) SD (9-3) SD (10-3) SD (11-3) SD (12-3) SD (13-3)
3. Den (6-3) NE (7-3) SD (8-3) Cin (9-3) Cin (9-4) NE (9-5) NE (10-5) NE (10-6)
4. NE (6-3) SD (7-3) NE (7-4) NE (7-5) NE (8-5) Cin (9-5) Cin (10-5) Cin (10-6)
5. Pit (6-3) Jax (6-4) Den (7-4) Den (8-4) Den (8-5) Bal (8-6) Den (8-7) NYJ (9-7)
6. SD (6-3) Pit (6-4) Jax (6-5) Jax (7-5) Jax (7-6) Den (8-6) NYJ (8-7) Bal (9-7)

Week 17 Notes

Dallas beating Philly gave the Vikings the #2 seed and sent the Eagles all the way down to #6. In fact, looking back to Week 10, the only change is that Green Bay and Philadelphia swapped the 5 and 6 spots (the Packers win based on common games).

Baltimore's win gives them a spot and Denver gets hammered by KC at home to end the season on a very large down note. The Jets win gives them the final spot and sends Houston home. And there are no 8-8 teams in the playoffs.

Week 16 Notes

The NFC is pretty much set. The 6 teams that were in the "playoffs" when this post began back on November 20th have all clinched. Positions are not yet set, so there are still important games next week, including two battles featuring playoff teams. After Monday's Vikings loss to Chicago, New Orleans clinches first place and pushes the Eagles into 2nd overall. If Arizona beats Green Bay next week and the Vikes lose to the Giants and Philadelphia beats Dallas, then Green Bay will visit Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs. How very fitting.

Even so, the AFC is much more interesting. The top 4 spots are nearly set (New England holds 3rd on the "strength of victory" tiebreaker over Cincinnati) but the last two are up for grabs. Both Baltimore and Denver lost their games this week, which leaves 5 teams at 8-7 vying for those two wild card spots.

A complicated tiebreaking procedure is therefore required to figure out which two clubs are playoff-bound. First, Baltimore wins over Pittsburgh on the strength of a better division record in the North.

The next tiebreaker takes the 4 remaining teams (one from each division) and checks if any team has swept or been swept by all others. This didn't happen here. Next we check the conference record. Denver, Baltimore, and the Jets are at 6-5 while Houston is at 5-6. Bye bye Texans.

The next tiebreaker is common games with a minimum of 4. Again, this hasn't happened - yet. So we look at strength of victory, which is the combined winning percentage of the opponents a team has beaten. By my calculations, Denver takes this, mainly because their early-season winning streak saw them defeat playoff teams Cincinnati, Dallas, New England, and San Diego.

With the Broncos taking the 5th spot, the tiebreakers are applied from the beginning for the remaining teams. Again though, it comes down to strength of victory, and now the Jets take the 6th spot! Their win over previously undefeated Indianapolis vaults them up and into the playoffs, at least temporarily.

The possible permutations for next week are incredible. For one, with the Ravens playing Raiders and the Jets playing the Bengals, the common games tie breaker comes into play should all the 8-7 teams win. The common games opponents would be Cincinnati, Oakland, Indianapolis, and New England. In this case, the Jets would be 4-1 and take 5th spot. The tie breakers then restart from the beginning, and Baltimore would knock off Denver due to their head-to-head victory back in week 8. So despite Denver currently residing in 5th, should both Baltimore and the Jets win, Denver is out! Really fascinating to analyse all the possibilities.

In fact, I can't remember a final week of the season with so many teams having a chance to make the playoffs. All I can say is that I hope that at least two of those 8-7 teams win so we won't have to listen to any more talk about the indignity of having .500 teams in the playoffs.

Week 15 Notes

Dallas' victory over the Saints puts them in control of the final playoff spot. But the Giants hold the tiebreaker, so it's not over yet. Green Bay's last second loss gives Minnesota the division. The six teams who were in the "playoffs" back in week 10 are still there, and it's going to be tough for the G-men to break in. But they could run the table, closing against a Vikings team who might be resting their starters, and the 10-6 record might be enough to sneak in. The Dallas-Philadelphia finale is one to watch.

Jacksonville losing has likely sent them out of the playoffs, but we'll have to wait for Sunday's games to know who takes over that spot. Turns out to be Baltimore who make their first appearance in the table, jumping to 5th as they beat Denver earlier this season. There are six teams at 7-7 though, and neither Baltimore nor Denver have gimme games next week, so it could prove to be an interesting final week in the AFC.

San Diego clinched the West but not the second seed. Cincinnati and New England are tied and have the same conference record, but the Bengals have a slightly better record in common games. But I think that common games will not be a factor at season's end as they won't have 4 common opponents between them. It then turns to strength of schedule, and I've not enough time to figure that out right now.

Week 14 Notes

Finally some movement in the NFC as Philly's win combined with Dallas' defeat puts the Eagles up to the 3rd seed and knocks the Cowboys down to 6th. So they'd meet in the first round if things ended today. The other three division leaders have clinched or will shortly do so, so only the NFC East is left to decide. Green Bay looks like a solid bet for the first Wild Card spot, so the 2nd and 3rd place teams in the East will fight it out for the other one.

Jacksonville's loss to Miami puts 4 teams at 7-6 in the AFC, but the Jags retain the 6th spot by virtue of their conference record. Miami has beaten the Jets twice and Jacksonville, but they don't play Baltimore, so the tie-breaker is best record in conference games. Jacksonville plays Indianapolis and New England in the next two weeks, so expect somebody else to take over the final spot. Next week's Chargers-Bengals battle will likely decide the #2 seed with the loser fighting New England for the third seed.

Week 13 Notes

Philadelphia has won 3 in a row to put themselves in control of their destiny, as has Green Bay. Dallas has fallen to fourth after Arizona defeated the Vikings. The Cardinals now have a better conference record than the Cowboys. Minnesota's loss pretty much gives the conference to New Orleans. The Giants are the only other team with a shot at the playoffs after beating Dallas. With the Saints visiting next week, Atlanta's loss to Michael Vick and the Eagles really hurts their chances, although they do end with 3 winnable games against the Jets, Bills, and Bucs.

In the AFC, New England's loss to Miami leaves both the Dolphins and Jets just a game back at 6-6. Otherwise the top teams all won to remain in the "playoffs". However, San Diego moves on top on Cincinnati as the Chargers defeated Cleveland in the AFC while the Bengals beat the NFC's Lions. So San Diego now has a better conference record and the first-round bye, for the time being. Pittsburgh have lost 3 straight and are in serious trouble. So much for hell being unleashed on the rest of the league.

Week 12 Notes

Arizona's last-second loss didn't change things much, they're still 2 games up on San Francisco. It still looks like the Giants and Falcons are the only teams who can break into the top 6 over the next 5 weeks; both are a game behind the wild card teams.

Denver is back in with their Thanksgiving Day win and both Jacksonville and Pittsburgh losing. The Jaguars still have a 5-2 conference record though, which bests the Ravens 6-4 right now. Pittsburgh is tied with Baltimore at 6-5 overall, but their overtime loss Sunday night costs them the tiebreaker. Four other teams are a game back at 5-6 and the Titans are rolling with a 5-game win streak.

Week 11 Notes

All 6 NFC "playoff" teams won this week. It looks like the race there is for the NFC East title, while the two losing teams there will vie for the two wild cards along with Green Bay and possibly Atlanta.

The AFC is much more interesting after San Diego hammered Denver and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati suffered upset losses. By my admittedly simplistic (and probably wrong) calculations, the Bengals still have 2nd spot by virtue of their two wins over Baltimore. New England takes 3rd due to their split of Baltimore and Denver games as San Diego is only 1-2 in those common games.

For the Wild Card, Jacksonville has the best conference percentage despite being -36 in points differential, putting them in 5th. Pittsburgh beat Denver to take 6th. So Denver's loss to San Diego sent them out for the time being. Baltimore, Houston, and Miami are just a game back while Tennessee looks to be on a roll and can't be ignored now.

Week 10 Notes

Dallas wins the tiebreaker over Arizona on conference record
Philadelphia wins the tiebreaker over New York by defeating them
Philadelphia wins the tiebreaker over Green Bay and Atlanta on conference record
Green Bay and Atlanta win the tiebreaker over New York on conference record
Green Bay wins the tiebreaker over Atlanta based on the record within common games (only 2 right now)
Denver wins the tiebreakers over San Diego and New England having beaten both

Pittsburgh wins the tiebreaker over San Diego by defeating them

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