AFC Wild Card Tiebreakers

Filmstudy AFC Wild Card Tiebreakers

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The Race is On!

The AFC has a tight Wild Card race.

• Likely Division winners: New England, Pittsburgh

• AFC South situation: Either Jacksonville or Tennessee is likely to win the South. The Jaguars are the better team, but Tennessee has the head-to-head (HTH) tiebreaker. The loser will almost certainly get a wild card spot and probably the 5th seed (WC1). Jacksonville and Tennessee are both 8-4. I’m making the presumptive simplification that the loser of the AFC South will not drop to 9-7 for purposes of this article. I’ll update as needed with future versions.

• Wild Card contenders: Baltimore, Buffalo, Miami, NY Jets, Cincinnati, Oakland, LA Chargers, KC

• Out (can’t finish 9-7): Cleveland, Indianapolis, Houston, Denver

Here is a link to the NFL Tiebreaker rules:

LINK: NFL Tiebreaker Rules

An important thing to note is that divisional ties are broken first, before WC ties are resolved.

In terms of Wild Card tiebreakers, the Ravens have several significant advantages:

• They have HTH tiebreaker wins vs. Miami and Oakland

• The 2nd tiebreaker is conference record. The Ravens are 2-2 versus the NFC. Assuming a tiebreaker is needed, having the worse record against the NFC is synonymous with having the best record versus the AFC. For each of the competitors I’ll give current NFC record as the easiest way to compare conference records. Once again, the worst NFC record has the best conference record.

• The 3rd tiebreaker is common opponents (with a minimum of 4).

• The 4th tiebreaker is strength of victory. It’s possible this will come into play with a 3+ way tie, but I’m not going to consider it for this article.

Since I’m writing this from the perspective of the Ravens getting in, I’m only going to consider ties at 9-7. With the exception of an unusual and specific tie with Buffalo at 10-6, the Ravens are guaranteed at least a Wild Card at 10-6 in any 2-team tiebreaker. For each team, I have included the percentage chance I think they have to finish 9-7. You won’t need it to deal with the tiebreakers, but it’s nice to understand relative risk:

Baltimore (7-5, 2-2 vs NFC)—Remaining: @PIT, @CLE, IND, CIN

• Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 50%
• The Ravens own an impressive set of tiebreakers, including HTH wins against Miami and Oakland, and some large common opponent advantages, but we’ll look at those by individual team…

Buffalo (6-6, 2-2 vs NFC)—Remaining: IND, MIIA, @NE, @MIA

• Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 20%
• HTH: none
• NFC: 2-2, tied
• Common Opponents: Ravens 3-0 (IND, CIN, so min will be 3-2), Buffalo 1-1 (IND, MIA, @MIA, so max is 4-1)

Analysis: There is 1 exact combination of the 8 outcomes for the Bills and Ravens which results in Buffalo winning the tiebreaker for common opponents. However, if 1 of the 5 common opponent games in parenthesis above goes the way the Ravens would prefer, they can do no worse than tie this tiebreaker with Buffalo. If any 2 of the 5 games go in the Ravens favor, the Ravens win the common opponent tiebreaker vs the Bills. If both teams finish 10-6, the Ravens have already clinched no worse than a tie on common opponents. Buffalo’s most likely path to 9-7 includes wins in the 3 common opponent games and a loss at NE, so the Ravens may have to beat the Colts and Bengals to gain tiebreaker versus the Bills.

AFC Wild card

Miami (5-7, 1-3 vs NFC)—Remaining: NE, @BUF, @KC, BUF

• Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 5%
• HTH: Ravens
• NFC: 1-3, Miami wins tiebreaker
• Common Opponents: Not relevant

Analysis: Oddly, the Ravens can lose a multi-way tie to Miami on conference record, but cannot lose HTH. It’s important to note that the tied teams need to come from 3 separate divisions, since divisional ties are resolved first.

AFC Wild card

New York Jets (5-7, 0-2 vs NFC)—Remaining: @Den, @NO, LAC, @NE

• Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 2%
• NFC: 0-3 (NO): The Jets have won this tiebreaker with the Ravens, so they are the one team the Ravens can’t afford to end up in a tie with (after divisional tiebreakers are determined), regardless of the number of teams involved.
• Common Opponent: Not relevant

Analysis: Holy strength of schedule, Batman. The big advantage the Jets have relative to the very difficult schedule is the possibility for a meaningless game at the Pats in the season finale. The Jets beat anyone in a conference record tiebreaker based on their 0-4 record vs. the NFC. From the Ravens perspective, any Jets loss is equivalent at this point, but ideally they will lose 1 of the next 2 so the Ravens are not conflicted by a matchup with the Chargers in week 15 or concerned about a matchup with a disinterested Patriots team in week 17.

Cincinnati (5-7, 0-1 vs NFC)—Remaining: CHI, @MIN, DET, @BAL

• Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 5%
• HTH: Ravens or tied with result of week 17
• Divisional: Ravens 2-1 (@PIT, @CLE, CIN, min 3-3), Cincinnati 2-3 (PIT, @BAL, max 3-3).
• Common Opponents: Tie already guaranteed if both finish 9-7
• NFC: 0-1: To finish 9-7, the Bengals must win all of their remaining NFC games, which means they will lose the conference record tiebreaker to the Ravens

Analysis: The tiebreaker within the division is resolved before any other conference tiebreakers, so it’s the most important. The Ravens now have the tiebreaker versus the Bengals secured at 9-7.  It is still possible, of course, that the Ravens can lose outright or by tiebreaker if they finish 8-8.

Oakland (6-6, 0-1 vs NFC)—Remaining: @KC, DAL, @PHI, @LAC

• Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 10%
• HTH: Ravens
• NFC: 1-1 (Dal, @Phi). For the Raiders to finish 9-7, they have to beat at least 1 NFC team and thus can do no better than tie the conference tiebreaker. If the Raiders win both NFC games, they will lose a 3+ team, conference record tiebreaker to the Ravens.
• Common Opponents: Not enough games (min is 4)

Analysis: The only way for the Ravens to lose a tiebreaker to the Raiders at 9-7 involves 3+ teams and a fall to the strength of victory tiebreaker.

(Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

LA Chargers (6-6, 2-2 vs NFC)—Remaining: WAS, @KC, @NYJ, OAK

• Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 60%
• HTH: None
• NFC: 2-1 (WAS). If the Chargers beat Washington they will lose the conference record tiebreaker with the Ravens.
• Common Opponents: LAC 2-2 (Oak), Ravens 3-1 (Cle). The Ravens can’t lose the common opponent tiebreaker to the Chargers, but they can win it with either a win vs. CLE or a LAC loss to OAK.

Analysis: It’s very unlikely the Ravens will lose a tiebreaker to the Chargers, since the most likely paths to 9-7 involves a win over Washington at home. As good as the Chargers seem to be, they really need to win out or win the AFC West at 9-7 based on tiebreakers.

CARSON, CA – DECEMBER 03: Philip Rivers #17 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the game against the Cleveland Browns at StubHub Center on December 3, 2017 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

KC Chiefs (6-6, 2-2 vs NFC)—Remaining: OAK, LAC, MIA, @DEN

• Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 60%
• HTH: None
• NFC: 2-2, Tied.
• Common Opponents: KC 1-2 (OAK, MIA), Ravens 3-1 (@PIT). The Ravens win the common opponent tiebreaker versus the Chiefs if any of those 3 game results goes the Ravens way, but they can’t lose it under any circumstances.

Analysis: The Chiefs play 3 huge home games with a chance to save their season. They can only win a tiebreaker versus the Ravens if it falls to strength of victory.

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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 or followed on Twitter @filmstudyravens. More from Ken McKusick


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