Blog Entry


Posted on: December 13, 2011 1:20 am

Week 14 brought us some separation as the top teams in the AFC (NE, BAL, HOU, PIT) all won and the Jets grabbed a Wild Card spot for now with a badly needed win since all 5 of NYJ's losses are conference losses.  And then there's DEN-BOW.  Seriously?  This story just keeps on getting more and more incredible each week!

On the NFC side, NYG pulled out a huge late win at DAL and secured the lead in the NFC East (DAL could have clinched division title in wk 15 if they had won).  GB and NO continued their positive push forward with NO gaining a playoff berth and GB getting a first round bye, but the field goal happy 49ers stumbled against ARI.  DET and ATL kept up their Wild Card positions, but the Tebow-ed CHI squad is now on the outside looking in.

Playoff clinching scenarios for Week 15 are below.  Looked at DET and ATL potential clinching scenarios, but since both teams are playing AFC opponents they could still end up with 6-6 conference records (not typical for playoff teams) and DET can still be caught by CHI and lost to ATL H2H and ATL lost to CHI H2H...both teams have to wait at least another week for playoff qualification.

Also...since the only scenario keeping PIT from having already clinched a playoff berth is a PIT-TEN-DEN Wild Card tie at 10-6 that goes to Strength of Victory, we looked at whether any combination of game results during Wk 15 could clinch that SOV for PIT and there is none.  So PIT must rely on the scenarios below.



Clinched: HOUSTON (AFC South Champ)
Eliminated: IND (Wk 12), JAC (Wk 13), BUF (Wk 14), CLE (Wk 14), MIA (Wk 14)  

NEW ENGLAND clinches division title with:
1) WIN
2) TIE + NYJ loss/tie
3) NYJ loss

NEW ENGLAND clinches playoff berth with:
1) TIE
2) CIN loss/tie + TEN loss/tie + OAK loss/tie

BALTIMORE clinches playoff berth with:
1) WIN or TIE
2) NYJ loss + TEN loss/tie
3) NYJ loss + OAK loss/tie
4) TEN loss/tie + OAK loss/tie

PITTSBURGH clinches playoff berth with:
1) WIN or TIE
2) NYJ loss
3) TEN loss/tie
4) OAK loss/tie
5) DEN loss


Clinched: GREEN BAY (NFC North Champ + 1st Round Playoff Bye), SAN FRANCISCO (NFC West Champ), NEW ORLEANS (Playoff)
Eliminated: MIN (Wk 12), STL (Wk 12), CAR (Wk 14), TB (Wk 14), WAS (Wk 14) 

GREEN BAY clinches home-field advantage with:
1) WIN or TIE
2) SF loss/tie

NEW ORLEANS clinches division title with:
1) WIN + ATL loss/tie
2) TIE + ATL loss


Since: Dec 18, 2008
Posted on: December 17, 2011 3:40 am


Can you give us a breakdown of how you got the changes made to the written document? And rate the level of difficulty? I'd like to see changes made every season until everyone is satisfied!

I just read the 2011 edition and while there are still several items that I am unsatisfied with, there are three that I currently feel very strongly about.

Taken from the 2011 edition:
1. Only one club advances to the playoffs in any tie-breaking
step. Remaining tied clubs revert to the first step of the
applicable division or Wild Card tie-breakers. As an example,...

4. To determine home-field priority for Wild Card qualifiers,
apply division tie-breakers (if teams are from the same
division) or Wild Card tie-breakers (if teams are from
different divisions).

#1 would be much less confusing to me if it read:

1. Only one club advances to the playoffs per application of the tie-breaking procedure. If a subsequent application is needed to determine an additional playoff team, then all previously eliminated tied teams are re-eligible.

#4 to me is blatantly wrong. It most definitely needs the added clarification:

...UNLESS, if tie-breakers were already applied to select tied Wild Card teams over other tied teams, the tied Wild Card teams are seeded in the order they were selected (and home-field priority determined according to the seeding).

Otherwise, how do you explain a #5 seed hosting a #6 seed in the championship game when the #6 seed beat the #5 seed in their only regular season head-to-head matchup?

In situations where three
teams from the same division are involved in the procedure,
the original seeding of the teams remains the same for
subsequent applications of the tie-breaker if the top-ranked
team in that division qualifies for a Wild Card berth.

Delete, delete, delete! There is no scenario (real or hypothetical), under the current scheduling format or any possible future format, where this clarification is needed. As a result, people may read this and then make false assumptions about how to correctly apply the procedure.

Since: Dec 29, 2009
Posted on: December 17, 2011 2:54 am


I haven't seen the elimination scenarios all gathered in one place, so here's what I came up with.  I kept ATL in the scenarios even though they have already won.

1.  Loss
2.  Tie + DAL win/tie
3.  Tie + NYG win/tie
4.  DAL win + NYG tie + DET win/tie
5.  NYG win + DAL tie + DET win/tie
6.  DAL win + NYG win + DET win/tie

Elim with:
1.  Tie + DET win + ATL win
2.  Loss + DET win/tie + ATL win/tie
3.  Loss + DET win/tie + CHI win

Elim with:
1.  Tie + ATL win + DET win
2.  Loss + DET win/tie

Elim with:
1.  Loss/tie
2.  DEN win/tie

Elim with:
1.  Tie + DEN win/tie + NYJ win
2.  Loss + DEN win/tie + NYJ win/tie
3.  Loss + OAK win + KC win

Some thoughts.  Philly can win the NFCE at 7-8-1.  Because they could defeat DET by SOV, they are still alive at 8-8.  They incredibly have h2h losses to ATL, CHI, SEA, and ARZ.

In San Diego case 3, is due to KC playing OAK and DEN the last two weeks of the season.  OAK w/ a win (8) + DEN must lose out, meaning KC wins out and holds the tiebreakers at 8-8.

Since: Dec 18, 2008
Posted on: December 17, 2011 2:53 am


Noob, according to Joe's post, yours and my most recent post are moot; regardless of whether or not team B plays team D (whether or not there is a complete set of head-to-head games), team A cannot win the tiebreaker because it has not swept the other teams!

Since: Dec 18, 2008
Posted on: December 17, 2011 2:46 am


Noob, nygsb42,

The league has reviewed your PoV play and believes that it was incorrectly overturned.

I got...

1 in 3400 years* for the 4-way [2-1, 2-1, 1-2, 1-2] case, and

1 in 6.2 million years* for the 3-way [1-0-1, 1-1-0, 0-1-1] case. (Using "1 in 5 years" as the estimated probability for a tied game).

*Under the current scheduling format, which is I suppose is subject to change.

Sometime next week, I'll post how I arrived at these odds, along with more thoughts about the tiebreaking language and the decision to not include [1-0-1, 1-1-0. 0-1-1] as a qualifying head-to-head scenario. (I figure there's been enough discussion on this for one week).


There may be another dent in this thing besides the once in a lifetime probability.

What if in a four way tie, the records are
A: 2-0-1
B: 1-1-0
C: 1-1-1
D: 0-2-0

There was no match between B und D. But obviously whatever the result will be, A already won the tiebreaker. So more need for an even more complicated rules change like "check if team already won the tiebreaker, if a full set of game hypothetically were played".

Under the current scheduling format, if a full sesason is played, there can never be exactly 5 head-to-head games played amongst a group of 4 teams. But you have a very valid point. I actually proposed the following last season.

..."If a set of head-to-head games is incomplete amongst a group of tied teams, and no sweeps exist, a team could still be eliminated at the head-to-head tiebreaking step if ... in the hypothetical completion of this set, a team could not mathematically finish with a combined head-to-head record that is best (or tied for the best) amongst the group."
This language would be sufficient for declaring team A the winner of the 4-way tie above. -Teams B, C, and D would all be eliminated.

Despite this apparing perfectly logical to you and me, most people did not like this revision. The main argument against it was that if Team B and D did in fact play each other (in lieu of another game on their respective schedules), then the 4-way tie may no longer exist. In other words, If team D had the chance to play (and beat) team B, then team D may have finished with a better overall record than the other 3 teams. I'm not saying this should be the prevailing argument, but I believe it to be a solid one nonetheless.


Since: Dec 26, 2009
Posted on: December 17, 2011 1:43 am


There may be another dent in this thing besides the once in a lifetime probability.

What if in a four way tie, the records are
A: 2-0-1
B: 1-1-0
C: 1-1-1
D: 0-2-0

There was no match between B und D. But obviously whatever the result will be, A already won the tiebreaker. So more need for an even more complicated rules change like "check if team already won the tiebreaker, if a full set of game hypothetically were played".

Since: Dec 18, 2008
Posted on: December 16, 2011 10:53 pm


Hey Joe - you are right. I don't like the "head-to-head not counting" answer from Elias! And, I have a hunch that you don't like it either!

Interestingly, their answer is consistent with how the Big 10 football conference implented tiebreakers when tied games were possible. For tiebreaking purposes, at the head-to-head step, they treated a tied game as if the game was actually not played at all. Also, like the NFL, the Big 10 has been slow to update minor points in their published written version of their tiebreaking procedure: As recently as last season, the published written version still referenced tied games (which, due to the overtime system, haven't been possible since the 1995-1996 season).

Since: Dec 27, 2006
Posted on: December 16, 2011 9:51 pm


I guess in my earlier thread I gave the 2010 book twice.

Here is the 2011 factbook, completely up-to-date


Since: Dec 12, 2006
Posted on: December 16, 2011 8:54 pm



Ah yes, in doing research I do remember seeing Pete's name in many of those press releases.  And prior to that we had the outstanding work of Jim Kensil, Don Weiss, Joe Bussert and Dick Maxwell who were among the architects of the NFL tiebreaking procedures.  By the way, it was refreshing to see the "Other Tie-Breaking Procedures" when they did come out in '92.  The clarifications listed there had always been in effect but had not been spelled out in the official tiebreaking rules prior to that.  Also, I wanted to commend you on a job well done once you began handing the official tiebreakers that year.  It seems to me that after '92, the official playoff scenarios were much more thorough and more detailed, and also included the possibility of tie games.  

Jerry (database), I have a hard copy of the 2011 Record & Fact Book as well and yes, the updated tiebreaker language is not there since it was not available when it went to print.  However, as I mentioned in a post earlier this afternoon, an updated electronic version was released to all teams and media in July which does include the changes to the tiebreaking procedures on pp. 12-13.  Also, you'll notice that the book does not include the 2012 Opponents.  Those were released in October to all clubs and was updated in the pdf version as well.  If you need those, I posted the 2012 Opponents in the "Week 12 Playoff Scenarios" thread.  It's on page 2.  By the way, nice job on the website.  I sometimes refer to it to make sure my SOV and SOS totals are correct.  Keep up the good work! 

Since: Aug 30, 2006
Posted on: December 16, 2011 7:13 pm



Ivan...good recollection of the history of some of this.  In your one note...
The "Other Tie-Breaking Procedures" first appeared in 1992.  The sentence that reads, "As an example, if two clubs remain tied in any tie-breaking step after all other clubs have been eliminated..." was added in 1994.

...that brings back a flood of memories.  I joined the League's Broadcasting Dept. in 1992 and later that season helped out the PR guys in figuring out the tiebreakers.  Prior to my arrival, the tiebreakers were figured out by the AFC (Pete Abitante/Leslie Hammond) and NFC (Reggie Roberts) Information Directors and the information often wasn't released publicly until much later in the week (Thurs in some cases).  Pretty soon...they let me handle the Tiebreakers (which actually helped in communicating the scenarios with Broadcast/Cable/Radio partners) and I have done so every season since then working with Elias Sports Bureau as the Official Stats resource for the League.

@Jerry (database)...

Very sorry to hear about the Space Shuttle situation.  I actually left CBS a few months ago and am currently mulling options on my next adventure.  Hopefully it will continue to allow me time to handle NFL Tiebreakers.   Oh...and the changes are in the Official Record and Fact Book this year.  They are accessible through . 


Since: Jan 8, 2010
Posted on: December 16, 2011 5:31 pm


Joe with respect I hope things are going well for you and the family.  Now let's talk business.

Every year this blog brings newcomers so, this yearly chaos over how to apply the tiebreaking rules has got to stop.  The reason the ESPN playoff machine is not applying the tiebreaking rules in accordance with this blogs understanding of the rules is likely because the current understanding of the rules per this blog is out of sync with the published literature on the NFL tiebreaking procedure.  If what you say is true about the new wording of the reverting note, then that is great even though it is unneccessarily wordy, but I'm not about to celebrate until I see it published somewhere via NFL sources, such as the NFL tiebreaking page or the NFL Offficial Rules and Fact book.  I did check this years version and there was no such rule change on the books.  So giving the website guys at CBS direction to update their procedure doesn't make it official.  The only thing that will make it official is the NFL publicly publishing its rule somewhere.  If they have already done this, then I will gladly stand corrected.

Regarding the H2H stuff.  I went through this headache of understanding your application of the H2H tiebreaker in the past.  As I understand it, the following is how you apply the H2H tiebreaker:

Division:  Always use Best combined H2H record

WildCard or Seeding the Division Leaders:  H2H sweep is when one team has defeated each of the other tied teams or lost to each of the other tied teams.  A H2H tie does not constitute a defeat or a loss and therefore cannot be used as part of a teams sweep or having being swept.  And all teams do not have to have played one another.  You've also mandated in the past that if a round robin has occured among the collection of tied teams that the NFL would resort to using the best combined H2H record since there is sufficient basis to make that comparison at the H2H level.  We agreed to disagree on the H2H group sweep over the off season, so I'm not going to revist that here at this time, but maybe down the road. 

The round robin step and the reverting step caused me considerable frustration when I initially coded the tiebreaking logic for

The continued confusion here at this CBS blog has me semi-regretting changing my code to be in sync with your understanding of the tiebreaking procedure.  Not because I think it's wrong, but merely because it is out of sync with published NFL sources.  So from that perspective the NFL playoff machine probably does not perform this H2H round robin step along with the reverting step because, that's not what the NFL rule says anywhere, despite what we've agreed we would do here at this blog.

If we proclaim that we have the correct application of the NFL Tiebreaking procedure, we must enforce the NFL to change its public sources rather than resorting to our good ole boy ways of understanding the rules.   From a legal standpoint, if an NFL team were ever to be excluded from the playoffs do to this reverting step or the unwritten H2H round robin rule, then a firestorm would ensue between those franchises and its respective fans if those said rules were not publicly published somewhere official such as the NFL Official Rules and Fact book or

On a final side note.  I like how CBS this year has the tagline "If the playoff were to start today" on it's Playoff Race page...  Hmm I wonder where they thought of that???  Just kidding... No hard feelings..

Joe I got laid off from the Space Shuttle Program this year with the retirement of the Space Shuttle,
You wouldn't happen to have a job for me somewhere in the CBS sports division, would you???


The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or