NFL Playoff Picture 2016: Every tiebreaker scenario entering Week 17

Well, we've just about wrapped up another year of NFL tiebreaker scenarios. This is my 24th year helping the NFL determine playoff clinching and elimination scenarios and it certainly has not disappointed. Starting with the cluster of teams in the middle of the pack that led to more teams staying alive longer than usual to now having all six NFC playoff teams determined on week 16 ... yeah, pretty crazy.  In fact, there are only 14 teams still in Super Bowl contention, which is the lowest number with one week to play since 2005 (also 14 teams that year).

NFC notes

  • The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have been determined, we just don't know the order yet. It will be the Panthers unless the Cardinals win and Panthers lose, in which case Arizona will take the top seed and claim home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
  • The Packers and Vikings will clash on the final game of the season to determine the NFC North division champion and the No. 3 seed. In case of a tie game, the Packers will be the No. 3 seed.
  • The Redskins are locked in as the No. 4 seed and will host the No. 5 seed (either the Seahawks, Packers or Vikings) on Wild Card Weekend.
  • If the Packers lose, they will be the No. 5 seed and travel to Washington.
  • If the Vikings lose, they will either be the No. 5 seed if the Seahawks lose or tie or will be the No. 6 seed if the Seahawks win and make a return trip to Lambeau Field to face the Packers one week later.
  • If the Vikings win, they will definitely host the Seahawks on Wild Card Weekend. Even though that may be tougher matchup than others, I think Minnesota wants the division title and the home game.
  • The Seahawks will be the No. 6 seed and play at the Minnesota/Green Bay winner on Wild Card Weekend unless Seattle and Green Bay both win, in which case the Seahawks will head to Landover and face the Redskins as the No. 5 seed.

The Vikings can clinch the NFC North and the No. 3 seed with a win in Green Bay. (USATSI)

AFC notes

  • The Patriots are set up for another nice playoff run as they just need to win at Miami (or lose and have the Broncos lose/tie) to claim the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage.  New England is assured of at least the No. 2 seed.
  • Denver is now the only team that can take the No. 1 seed from the Patriots after their thrilling OT win over the Bengals on Monday night. If the Broncos win and the Patriots lose, the Broncos win the No. 1 seed regardless of what Cincinnati does as Denver has beaten both teams head-to-head this year.
  • But first things first for the Broncos as they still have to win their division with either a win/tie against the Chargers or a Chiefs' loss/tie at home to Oakland. If they can accomplish that with a win, they will at least be a No. 2 seed, but can also claim the No. 2 seed with a loss and losses by the Chiefs and the Bengals.
  • Speaking of the Bengals, they hurt their seeding chances mightily with the loss at Denver but have already claimed the AFC North title and can grab a No. 2seed with a win and Denver loss. Even if the Bengals lose, they would be the No. 2 seed with a Denver loss and a Kansas City win as that would make the Chiefs the AFC West champs and the Bengals beat the Chiefs head-to-head back on Week 4.
  • The Chiefs are in the playoffs as either a No. 3, No. 5 or No. 6 seed with the No. 5 seed in their control with a win at home against Oakland. They claim the AFC West title with a win and Broncos loss ... and can also get the fifth seed with a Jets loss (or both the Chiefs and Jets tie).  A No. 5 seed would see the Chiefs travel to either Houston or Indianapolis on Wild Card Weekend.
  • The Jets are currently the No. 6 seed and control their own fate for that seed but have not secured a playoff spot yet.  The only thing that can keep them from that is a loss at Buffalo and a Steelers win at Cleveland. Jets fans should be nervous ... and I know many that will certainly be come Sunday. The Jets can also be the No. 5 seed and play at either Houston or Indy on Wild Card Weekend (seems better than at Denver, Cincinnati or Kansas City) if they end up with a better record than the Chiefs OR if the Jets win and Denver loses.
  • Pittsburgh is on the outside looking in for the playoffs after their tough loss to Baltimore in week 16. The Steelers can only claim a No. 6 seed and travel to the No. 3 seed on Wild Card Weekend with a win at Cleveland and a Jets loss at Buffalo.
  • Now we come to the fun that is the race for the AFC South crown. The Texans could have clinched a strength of victory (SOV) tiebreaker over the Colts with a Bengals win on Monday night, but it was not to be. The AFC South champion will be the No. 4 seed and will host either the Chiefs, Jets or Broncos (in that likelihood order) on Wild Card Weekend.
  • If Houston loses and Indianapolis wins, they will tie on overall record, split head-to-head and tie on conference record (6-6 each) and record against common opponents (6-6 each). Next tiebreaker is strength of victory (SOV) or better described as the combined records of the teams you've beaten. In the case of  the Texans and Colts, they have three teams each that are non-common wins between them ... the Texans have the Bengals, Jets and Saints (27 total wins now) and the Colts have the Broncos, Falcons and Dolphins (24 total wins).
  • With only three total games left for the Colts to catch the Texans for SOV and being behind three wins, you can see why the Bengals win on Monday Night would have clinched the tiebreaker for the Texans. So to try and get to a tie in SOV, Indy needs all games to go their way (Bengals, Jets and Saints losses (a Saints loss is also a Falcons win) and Broncos and Dolphins wins.  But that just gets them to a tie in SOV and moves to next tiebreaker step which is Strength of Schedule (SOS). 
  • The only non-common games between Houston and Indy are Houston's games against Kansas City and Cincinnati (21 total wins) and Indy's games against Denver and Pittsburgh (20 total wins).  AND ... since the Bengals loss and Broncos win are already needed to gain the SOV tie, that puts the SOS tiebreaker in a 21 total wins tie with the only outcomes left to help the Colts being a Chiefs loss and a Steelers win. If both happen and Kansas City loses and Pittsburgh wins, Indy would win the SOS tiebreaker and complete a monumental tiebreaker comeback. They could also win with one of those games tying and the other result ending in the Colts favor.
  • If none of those two results happen or if one game ties and they other result doesn't happen, Houston would clinch the SOS tiebreaker and win the division.
  • HOWEVER, if only one of a Kansas City loss or a Pittsburgh win occur, we have an SOS tie and the NEXT TIEBREAKER is best combined ranking among AFC teams in total points scored and total points allowed. Currently, Houston leads at 17 (11th in points scored and tied for 6th in points allowed) and Indianapolis is at 25 (12th in points scored and 13th in points allowed). Due to the nature of relatively unlimited points scored in games, clinching scenarios to lock this tiebreaker up are quite convoluted but let's just say the Colts have an uphill battle in this scenario, but it's not impossible.
  • If best combined conference ranking were to tie, it moves to best combined league ranking in points scored and points allowed and the Texans currently enjoy a fairly comfortable 35 to 51 edge there over the Colts.
  • BOTTOM LINE:  Colts have an incredible challenge in front of them to win the AFC South...and the Texans just need one of the Colts many challenges to go their way to win the crown.  It should be fun to watch (unless you're a Texans fan) if some of these games start going the Colts way on Sunday.

Here's to a fun final weekend of tiebreaker scenario watching!

The Colts need a miracle to make the playoffs. (USATSI)

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