Playoff Tiebreakers

Filmstudy Playoff Tiebreakers

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With 5 games to play the Ravens are back in the middle of the playoff hunt.  While they require some help to make the playoffs, there are now several plausible scenarios that will result in a wild card.

Were the playoffs to start today, the Ravens would be out with Denver (7-4) and Jacksonville (6-5, 5-2 in conference) taking the last 2 spots.  Division leaders Cincinnati, New England, and, Indianapolis have all either clinched or are very close.  The complete conference standings can be found HERE


The tiebreaker rules are here:


First, let’s talk about some of the important tiebreakers vs. individual teams:

Broncos and Chargers: Won Head to Head (HTH) vs. both teams 

Bengals and Patriots:  Lost HTH, so must beat them outright

Steelers:  The Ravens won the first meeting with the Steelers, so they now cannot lose the HTH tiebreaker, but the Steelers can knot that one up with a win at Pittsburgh.  The Ravens (3-2 in division) cannot lose the division record tiebreaker to the Steelers (1-3 in division), but that also will end in a tie if the Steelers beat both the Ravens and Browns.  However, the Ravens have already clinched the common opponent tiebreaker vs. the Steelers (should this tiebreaker be required).  An important component of 3+ way ties is that divisional tiebreakers are resolved first to have a single representative from each applicable division.  This fact means the Steelers can’t be bailed out by a 3-way tie that includes a team from another division.

Conference Tiebreakers for Wild Card vs. teams the Ravens did not face HTH (All of these assume the Ravens finish 10-6, which means they lose exactly 1 game):

Texans:  5-6 (4-5 in conference) with remaining conference games:  @Jax, @Mia, NE.  If the Texans run the table to finish 10-6, the Ravens would only win the conference tiebreaker if their remaining loss comes to an NFC team.  Otherwise, the Texans will win the common opponents tiebreaker.  Alternatively, the Texans can simply lose 1 game, conference or not, and finish 9-7.
Jaguars: 6-5 (5-2) with 5 remaining:  Hou, Mia, Ind, @NE, @ Cle.  The Ravens cannot win the Conference TB vs. the Jaguars at 10-6, because Jacksonville will finish with a conference record of 9-3.  However, Jacksonville has a tough schedule and the Ravens can hope the Jaguars lose at least 2 of their last 5 games to finish no better than 9-7.

Dolphins:  5-6 (3-4) with 5 remaining:  NE, @Jax, @Ten, Hou, Pit.  The Ravens can only tie the Conference TB vs. the Dolphins at 10-6 by having their remaining loss to an NFC team while the Dolphins run the table.  Were that to occur, the Ravens would beat the Steelers and win the common opponent tiebreaker.  Alternatively, if the Ravens lose an AFC game, they can hope the Dolphins lose 1 more game.

Jets:  5-6 (4-5) with 3 remaining:  @Buf, @ Ind, Cin.  The Ravens can win the conference tiebreaker vs. the Jets @ 10-6 if their remaining loss comes to an NFC team.  If they both finish with 7-5 conference records, the Jets will win the common opponent tiebreaker.  So if the Ravens lose an AFC game, they will need the Jets to lose 1 more game (AFC or NFC) to finish no better than 9-7.  These path to the wildcard is very similar vs. both the Jets and Dolphins.
Titans:  5-6 (3-6) with 3 remaining:  The Ravens have clinched the Conf TB vs. the Titans if 10-6, since they can’t finish with a conference record of worse than 7-5 in that scenario.

Broncos (used only in the event of a 3+ way tie with entrants from 3 separate divisions):  7-4 (5-3) with 4 remaining:
Chargers (used only in the event of a 3+ way tie with entrants from 3 separate divisions):  8-3 (6-3) with 3 remaining:

Putting the pieces together…in the event the Ravens go 10-6, they will win a Wild Card if 5 of the following 6 occur:

  1. The Texans lose a game (outright 9-7) OR the Ravens only loss comes to GB/Chi/Det (Ravens win by virtue of 8-4 conference record vs. 7-5).
  2. The Jaguars lose 2 games (outright 9-7).  The Ravens will lose the conference tiebreaker with the Jaguars at 10-6 because the Jaguars will be 9-3 in conference.
  3. The Dolphins lose 1 game (outright 9-7) OR [the Ravens only loss comes to GB/Chi/Det (Ravens win common opponent (3-2 vs. 2-3) tiebreaker with both 8-4 in conference)].  The Ravens will lose the conference tiebreaker to the Dolphins @ 10-6 if their loss comes in a conference game.
  4. The Jets lose 1 game (outright 9-7) OR the Ravens only loss comes to GB/Chi/Det (Ravens win by virtue of 8-4 conference record).  The Ravens will lose a common opponent tiebreaker to the Jets at 10-6.
  5. The Broncos lose any 2 games (Ravens win by virtue of HTH) OR the Chargers lose any 3 games (Ravens win by virtue of HTH).  It is possible, although extremely unlikely, that the Ravens could be left out if involved in a 3-way tie with one of these teams involved.
  6. The Steelers lose any game (Ravens will win common opponent tiebreaker and can do no worse than tie on HTH and division in this scenario)
No help is required from the Titans, against whom the Ravens have already clinched the conference tiebreaker at 10-6.  There are some additional (very unlikely) possibilities which include either the Bengals or Patriots accumulating 7 losses while losing their division.

It is possible, although I would call it unlikely, that the Ravens can make the playoffs at 9-7.  I’m going to leave that for another time.

Without considering independence (some teams play each other), nor which of these scenarios actually leave the Ravens at 10-6 (the Steelers/Ravens rematch currently has a huge impact on this one), I’d say the 6 events above have approximate probabilities of:

  1. 95%
  2. 92%
  3. 97%
  4. 97%
  5. 60%
  6. 70%
The 800-lb elephant in the room, however, is the Ravens chance to win 4 of their remaining 5.  That will either skyrocket or drop come next Monday night.


NOTE: Join us at the Manhattan Grill for a MNF Party and you could win a pair of Ravens tickets to a future game this season. Only attendees are eligible and someone at the party WILL WIN!

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Ken McKusick

About Ken McKusick

Known as “Filmstudy” from his handle on area message boards, Ken is a lifelong Baltimorean and rabid fan of Baltimore sports. He grew up within walking distance of Memorial Stadium and attended all but a handful of Orioles games from 1979 through 2001. He got his start in sports modeling with baseball in the mid 1980’s. He began writing about the Ravens in 2006 and maintains a library of video for every game the team has played. He’s a graduate of Syracuse with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Math who recently retired from his actuarial career to pursue his passion as a football analyst full time.

If you have math or modeling questions related to sports or gambling, Ken is always interested in hearing new problems or ideas.

He can be reached by email at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @filmstudyravens.

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