NFL Playoff Picture: Breaking Down the Tiebreakers in Each Division

Bryan DietzlerSenior Analyst IDecember 21, 2010

NFL Playoff Picture: Breaking Down the Tiebreakers in Each Division

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    The 2010 NFL playoffs are just about here and there are still several different teams that can make the playoffs as well as several different scenarios that these teams fall under in order to make the playoffs.  There are tiebreakers in each division, and these tiebreakers will come into play as the playoffs draw nearer and the last two weeks of the season play out.

    So what are the tiebreakers in each NFL division?  Let’s find out as we take a division by division look at the different tiebreakers in all eight of the NFL’s divisions.

The AFC East

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    The top two teams in the division are the New England Patriots (12-2) and the New York Jets (10-4).  Right now, the Patriots have secured a playoff spot, at the least a Wild Card, but still have yet to win their division.  If the Patriots lost their final two games (to the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins) and the Jets won their final two games (against the Chicago Bears and the Buffalo Bills) then these two teams would tie each other.

    So which team would win the division?  Right now, the Patriots are 3-1 in their division with two more division games to play.  The Jets are 3-2 in their division with one more division game to play.  If the Patriots lose their final two games (both are against division opponents) that would leave them 3-3 in the division.  The Jets would have to win their game against the Bills in order to have a better division and thus win the AFC East.

    If the Patriots win any one of their last two games, the Jets would not be able to win the division. 

The AFC North

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4) have clinched a playoff spot and the Baltimore Ravens (10-4) can clinch a playoff spot or the division.  Pittsburgh can clinch the division if they win their final two games (against the Carolina Panthers and the Cleveland Browns).  If the Ravens win their final two games (against the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals) (and the Steelers won their final two) they would not win the division because the Steelers own the tiebreaker over them (in this case it’s the better record in the division).

    The Ravens could win the North if the Steelers lose their last two games and the Ravens win one or both of their last two games.  They could also win the North if the Steelers dropped one of their last two games and they won their final two. 

The AFC South

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    This is a two-team race as well with the Indianapolis Colts (8-6) battling the Jacksonville Jaguars (8-6) for the lead in the division.  Right now, these two teams are tied for wins in their division at 3-2.  The Colts play the Oakland Raiders and the Tennessee Titans while the Jaguars close out the season against the Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans.

    The Colts can win the division if they win their final two games and the Jaguars lose at least one of their final two.  The Jaguars can win the division in the same fashion: If the Colts lose one of their last few games and they win one or both, then they will win the division.

    If these two teams end up tying, then the team with the better division record wins, but if they both win their final two games there would be a tie for the best record in the division.  Then it would come down to which team has a better record against common opponents, and the Colts would win that.

The AFC West

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    There are three teams that have a shot at winning the division crown here.  The Kansas City Chiefs (9-5), the San Diego Chargers (8-6) and the Oakland Raiders (7-7) are all locked in an exciting race for the AFC West title. 

    If the Chiefs win their final two games (against the Tennessee Titans and the Oakland Raiders), they would win the division because they have the better record.  If the Chargers win their final two games (against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos) and the Chiefs lose both of their final games, then the Chargers would win the division.

    If the Chiefs lost one game and the Chargers won both of their final games (they would be tied with 10 wins a piece), we would then go to which team has the better division record.  That would depend on which game these two teams lost.  If they both won their game against their division opponents, that would leave them tied.  If one team lost to a division opponent and the other won, then that team would win the division.

    If the Chargers and Chiefs both lose to a division opponent or win as outlined above, then it would come down to which team had a better record against common opponents.

    If the Chargers and the Chiefs both lost their final two games, and the Raiders won their final two games, then Oakland would win the division.

The NFC East

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    The Eagles are currently in the lead in the NFC East and if they win their last two games (against the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys) they will win their division.  If the Giants win out (they play the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins) and the Eagles lose one or both of their final two games, then the Giants would win the division.

    If the Eagles didn’t win another game and the Giants won one of their final two games, then these two teams would be tied.  They could also tie if the Giants won out and the Eagles won just one more game.  The tiebreaker advantage would go to the Eagles because they swept the Giants this season.

The NFC North

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    The Chicago Bears won the division thanks to a win against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football.  They can position themselves for the second seed in the playoffs if they keep ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles.

    If these two teams were to tie, the advantage would go to the Bears thanks to their win over the Eagles earlier in the year.

The NFC South

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    The Falcons have clinched at least a Wild Card spot in but can clinch their division if they win just one more game (with games against the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers). 

    If they lose their final two games and the New Orleans Saints win their last two games (against the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), then the Saints would win the division based on a better record against division opponents.

The NFC West

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    This is one of the most interesting playoff situations in the NFL.  Currently, the St. Louis Rams and the Seattle Seahawks are tied with a 6-8 record.  The San Francisco 49ers are in the mix as well with a 5-9 record. 

    If the Rams win their final two games of the season (against the 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks), then they would win the division.  If the Seattle Seahawks won their final two games (against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the St. Louis Rams), then they would win the division.

    If both the Rams and the Seahawks ended up tied, the Seahawks would win the division because of their better division record.  If both teams didn’t win another game and ended up tied or both won one of their final games and ended up tied, the Seahawks would still have the tiebreaker.

    The 49ers could win the division if they won their final two games and if the and Seahawks lost one of their final two games.  If they tied with the Rams by winning their game against them) then the 49ers would win the tiebreaker thanks to their record in the division.  The Seahawks would have the better division record if they won out and would trump the 49ers if they tied with them.

     

AFC Teams Still in Playoff Contention

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    New England Patriots-Clinched
    Pittsburgh Steelers-Clinched
    Kansas City Chiefs
    Indianapolis Colts
    Baltimore Ravens
    New York Jets
    San Diego Chargers
    Jacksonville Jaguars
    Oakland Raiders
    Tennessee Titans

NFC Teams Still in Playoff Contention

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Atlanta Falcons-Clinched
    Philadelphia Eagles
    Chicago Bears-Clinched
    St. Louis Rams
    New Orleans Saints
    New York Giants
    Green Bay Packers
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    Seattle Seahawks
    San Francisco 49ers