It’s time to start thinking about tiebreakers for 2018. Before tiebreakers with other conference opponents are considered (we’ll do so in future weeks), the Ravens are going to need to outlast the Bengals outright or in a set of divisional tiereakers which could go either way.
An important thing to note is that divisional ties are broken first, before WC ties outside the division are resolved. The divisional tiebreaker is critical to the Ravens, because it’s likely either the Chiefs or Chargers will win the number 5 seed (first Wild Card spot). After that, there will be only 1 spot remaining, so the Ravens will need to win the tiebreaker versus the Bengals to advance out of the division then win any tiebreakers required with competitors from other divisions.
In terms of division tiebreakers, the order is as follows:
The Ravens and Bengals have split their HTH games.
Summary: Already decided, push
The Ravens currently have a 2-3 divisional record and the Bengals are 1-2. The Bengals play the Browns twice over the next 5 games, then finish with the Steelers in Week 17. The Ravens have only the Browns game in Week 17 remaining on their divisional schedule. This tiebreaker could go either way, but it’s difficult to envision a divisional tie that does not include the Bengals losing at least 1 divisional game.
The order of the schedule heavily favors the Bengals, who may play an unmotivated/resting Steelers team in Week 17. In fact, the Steelers may control their own fate in terms of their playoff opponent based on their Week 17 matchup (lose and get the Bengals, win and get the Ravens). My estimate of probability this tiebreaker is needed in the event of a tie: 100%.
Summary: Either team can win. This tiebreaker won’t be decided prior to Week 17.
There is a simple shortcut here…look at the record in non-common opponent games (2 games each). The Ravens have beaten Buffalo and Tennessee. The Bengals have beaten the Colts and the Dolphins. Since both teams are 2-0 vs. uncommon opponents, their record versus common opponents will be the same if a tiebreaker is required. My estimate of probability this tiebreaker is needed in the event of a tie: 70%.
Summary: Already decided, push
We’ll use a similar shortcut here. The team that finishes with the worse record versus the NFC wins the conference tiebreaker. The Bengals have finished their 4 games with the NFC and are 2-2. The Ravens are currently 0-2 versus the NFC with 2 games remaining (at ATL, TB). The Ravens can win the tiebreaker versus the Bengals if the 2 teams finish tied, but the Ravens lose vs the Falcons or Bucs. My estimate of probability this tiebreaker is needed in the event of a tie: 70%.
Summary: Ravens can win, but Bengals can’t. That said, it’s difficult to imagine a meaningful divisional tie where the Ravens don’t win both remaining NFC games.
Strength of Victory
This is defined as the sum of all victories by teams the contender has beaten (ties count ½). Currently, the Ravens have the lead in strength of victory with 19.5 wins by opponents they have beaten (excluding the Bengals) as compared to 17 for the Bengals. That lead is primarily a function of the Ravens’ win over the Steelers. While that seems like a significant advantage, the Bengals have some ground they will pick up in the stretch. For starters, the Ravens will have to beat the Falcons and Bucs for this tiebreaker to come into play (otherwise the Ravens will win by conference tiebreaker above). So far, the Ravens have non-common wins over the Bills, Broncos, Steelers, and Titans. The Bengals have non-common wins over the Colts and Dolphins. My estimate of probability this tiebreaker is needed in the event of a tie: 60%.
Summary: Either team can win this tiebreaker, but the Bengals’ best bet to do so is either a win over the Chargers or Steelers. The Ravens greatly increase their chance to win by this tiebreaker with a win over the Chiefs or Chargers.
Strength of Schedule
This is defined as the sum of wins by all opponents. For divisional tiebreaks, this is entirely driven by the 2 non-common games. The Bengals have the edge here, because both of their noncommon opponents (Colts and Dolphins) have 5 wins and are playoff contenders. Meanwhile the Ravens have the Bills and Titans as non-common opponents (8 total wins). My estimate of probability this tiebreaker is needed in the event of a tie: 15%.
Summary: Either team can win this tiebreaker, but the Bengals have the advantage and are likely to keep it. Fortunately, the probability of a tie in strength of victory is relatively low.
There are further tiebreakers, but the chance of them being triggered is so remote we’ll leave them for future analysis.
Please check my work. Even though much simplified with only 1 divisional opponent, there is a high likelihood of error with this sort of detail.