Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NFL Playoff Picture after 8 Games


Three years ago, I posted the NFL playoff picture on a weekly basis after the bye weeks were completed. These posts took some time because it was always a bit of work to figure out the NFL's tie-breaking scenarios, especially when teams had only played 11 or 12 games. Nowadays, ESPN has a very detailed playoff picture that is updated after every game, so I use that to write my posts, which saves me a lot of time. I still enjoy comparing the week-to-week changes as some teams put together an unexpected playoff push while others fall off the pace, so I'll continue to post weekly updates, but I am going to start a few weeks early. Instead of waiting for the bye weeks to finish, I'm starting at the halfway point of the season, when each team has played eight games.

With the bye weeks still in play, this makes things a bit tricky, as you will see below. Let's start with the NFL. Here are your top nine teams based on records after 8 games:

Ari 7-1
Det 6-2
Phi 6-2
NO  4-4
Dal 6-2
Sea 5-3
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GB  5-3
SF  4-4
Car 3-4-1

Philadelphia takes the NFC East with a 2-0 divisional record compared to 1-1 for the Cowboys, but their 3-2 conference record is inferior to Detroit's 5-1 mark, so the Lions take the second seed. The Seahawks get the final wild card spot based on their season-opening thumping of the Packers. Three new playoff teams and three returnees from the 2013 season. Can't imagine another team sneaking into the playoffs in this conference.

Now check out the AFC, which is far tighter:

NE  6-2
Den 6-2
Cin 5-2-1
Ind 5-3
KC  5-3
SD  5-3
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Buf 5-3
Mia 5-3
Bal 5-3 
Pit 5-3
Cle 5-3
Hou 4-4

Twelve teams at .500 or above. This is a playoff race with seven clubs at 5-3 vying for the two wild card spots. Before we get to that, New England have the top seed by virtue of their win over Denver this past weekend. This is an interesting point because it was actually the Patriots ninth game but Denver's eighth. So the head-to-head record, which is the first tiebreakers, is 0-0 for New England and 0-1 for Denver. Well, 0-0 is better than 0-1, so the Pats get top seed. Now let's check out the wild card, which is aptly named in this situation.

To break ties with this many teams, you have to first break all divisional ties. Buffalo beat Miami in Week 2, Baltimore defeated both Pittsburgh and Cleveland (ignore the Steelers win over the Ravens in Week 9 as that was both team's ninth game and thus ignored in this analysis) and KC beat San Diego a couple of weeks back. The Bills, Ravens, and Chiefs have not competed head-to-head this season, so conference records is the next tiebreaker. Kansas City at 4-2 is better than Buffalo and Baltimore, both at 2-3 (they have beaten up on the NFC) so the Chiefs take the first wild card. That brings San Diego back into the equation, and although they have beaten Buffalo, they have yet to play Baltimore, so again it is the conference record that matters, and again the Ravens and Bills suffer as the Chargers are 4-2 as well. So  San Diego slots into the final playoff spot.

All six AFC playoff teams are the same as last year, and all but New England and Denver are in the same position! What media outlet gives you this type of insight?! Obviously some teams have already played their ninth game (Miami shutting out San Diego will change things here) but it is still fun to consider the possibilities. Check back next week when I will do this all again.

Best,

Sean


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