Am I OK conceding the division to the Steelers? Hell no! It would be difficult for any Ravens fan not to be energized by Pittsburgh’s loss on Sunday night.
However, what the Ravens need to do in order to take the division is greatly simplified by the fact the Steelers have a tie. This tiebreaker article is all about the Ravens’ chance to get in through the back door.
For that, we’ll need some simplifying assumptions:
- Assumed division winners: New England, Pittsburgh, Houston, Kansas City
- Wild Card contenders: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Denver, LA Chargers
- Assumed Out (can’t finish 9-7): Buffalo, Cleveland, NY Jets, Jacksonville, Oakland
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 advantages:
- Their head-to-head (HTH) tiebreaker wins vs. Denver and Tennessee. The Ravens do not have a HTH loss against any of the other WC contenders, but still will face the Chargers.
- The 2nd tiebreaker is conference record. The Ravens are 1-2 versus the NFC. Assuming a tiebreaker is needed, having the worse record against the NFC is synonymous with having the better 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. That’s expressed here as total wins plus half ties for all opponents the Ravens have beaten.
Let’s say the Ravens run the table to finish 11-5…what needs to otherwise fall in place for the Ravens to make the playoffs?
Among the other AFC Wild Card contenders, only the Chargers can finish 11-5 or better. At 11-5 the Ravens would be guaranteed no worse than the 6 seed.
That sounds good, what if the Ravens finish 10-6?
It is possible the Ravens can miss out on the playoffs at 10-6, but it’s extremely unlikely. For it to happen, both of the following would have to occur:
- The Chargers win 2 of their remaining 4 games or beat the Ravens in week 16
- The Dolphins win their remaining 4 games, and win the SoV tiebreaker against the Ravens (requires the Ravens beat Tampa Bay)
That sounds good too, but what if the Ravens finish 9-7?
This scenario is more complex and more likely to include a multi-way tie. However, for this week I’m going to focus on 2-way ties and specifically ignore tiebreakers for common opponents where 3+ teams are involved.
Since I’m writing this from the perspective of the Ravens getting in, I’m only going to consider ties at either 9-7 or 10-6. For each team, I have included the percentage chance I think they have to finish 10-6 or 9-7. You won’t need it to deal with the tiebreakers, but it’s nice to understand relative risk (all probability estimates are mine):
Baltimore (7-5, 1-2 vs NFC)—Remaining: @KC, TB, @SD, CLE
- Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 25%
- Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 55%
- NFC: 1-2 The poor record against the NFC means the Ravens have a good position in terms of conference record.
- Common Opponents: See individual comparisons below.
- Strength of Victory: The teams the Ravens have beaten currently have 34.5 total wins.
- We’ll consider the Ravens tiebreaker advantages relative to the other AFC Wild Card contenders.
Cincinnati (5-7, 2-2 vs NFC)—Remaining: @ LAC, OAK, @ CLE, @ PIT
- Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 0%
- Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 3%
- HTH: 1-1, push
- Division Record: The Ravens can still win, lose, or tie the Bengals in division record and it won’t be decided until Week 17. Division record is only pertinent to tiebreakers with the Bengals.
- NFC: 2-2, the Ravens can win the conference tiebreaker against the Bengals, but they can’t lose it.
- Common Opponents: Ravens and Bengals are both 2-0 vs non-common opponents, push.
- Strength of Victory: The Bengals currently have 28 SoV wins, but also have 2 wins in hand against the Ravens, which means they are likely to win this tiebreaker. The Ravens must be the 2nd place team in the AFC North (either outright or by tiebreaker) in order to advance to the AFC Wild Card tiebreaker process.
- Analysis: The combination of a 5-7 record along with injuries to Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have all but snuffed out playoff hopes in Cincinnati. The Ravens’ best chance to beat the Bengals is to win outright and they currently lead them by 2 games. Were the Bengals to somehow rise from the dead with 3 consecutive wins, the Steelers (the opponent of the Bengals in their season finale) are likely to require a week 17 win in order to win the division or improve their seeding.
Denver (6-6, 2-1 vs NFC)—Remaining: @SF, CLE, @OAK, LAC
- Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 20%
- Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 60%
- HTH: Ravens
- NFC: 2-1 (@SF). The Ravens will win the conference record tiebreaker versus the Broncos if Denver wins at San Francisco in Week 14, but it will only be needed in the event of a 3+ way tie.
- Common Opponents: Not relevant for 2-way tie.
- Analysis: The Ravens are in good shape versus the Broncos for the tiebreaker based on their HTH win and conference record. However, Denver has emerged as the most likely team to win out to finish 10-6.
Indianapolis (6-6, 1-1 vs NFC)—Remaining: @HOU, DAL, NYG, @TEN
- Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 15%
- Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 40%
- HTH: None
- NFC: 1-1 (DAL, NYG). The Colts’ weakness is their conference record. If they win both the NFC games, they’ll lose a 2-way tiebreaker with the Ravens. They will need to win at least 1 NFC game in order to reach 9-7.
- Common Opponents: The Ravens are 4-1 against common opponents with the Colts (BUF, CIN, OAK, TEN). The Colts are currently 3-1 against those teams with their season finale at TEN yet to play.
- Strength of Victory: It’s a longshot for a 2-way tiebreaker with Indy to reach SoV, which can only happen at 9-7. To do so, the Colts must win exactly 1 of their 2 NFC games, win at HOU, and win at TEN. In that event, the Ravens have both a 6.5 game lead in the category now (the Colts have a win in hand). Both teams have an opportunity to improve their SoV position with quality opponents in the coming weeks.
- Analysis: The Ravens are in excellent shape to win a 2-way tiebreaker against the Colts by one of conference record, common opponents, or SoV, but the Colts remain a threat to beat the Ravens outright.
LA Chargers (9-3, 3-1 vs NFC)—Remaining: CIN, @KC, BAL, @DEN
- Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 20%
- Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 5%
- HTH: TBD Dec 22
- NFC: 3-1 The Ravens have clinched the conference-record tiebreaker against the Chargers, but it will only matter in the event a 3+ way tiebreaker is required.
- Analysis: HTH game on 12/22 will determine a 2-way tiebreaker with the Chargers even though the Chargers may have clinched the better record outright by then. No tiebreakers beyond Conference record will be needed versus the Chargers, even in the event of a multi-way tie. Even if the Chargers/Ravens race has been determined, their motivation in Week 17 may play a significant role in the playoff fate of the Ravens.
Miami (6-6, 1-2 vs NFC)—Remaining: NE, @MIN, JAX, @BUF
- Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 3%
- Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 15%
- HTH: None
- NFC: 1-2, The Dolphins can win or lose the conference record tiebreaker versus the Ravens. However, to win that tiebreaker at no worse than 9-7, the Dolphins will have to lose their 7th game to MIN and win their other 3 games. In addition, the Ravens will need to beat TB.
- Common Opponents: The Ravens are 4-1 against the common opponents with MIA (BUF, CIN, OAK, TEN). The Dolphins are currently 3-1 with 1 game remaining against the Bills.
- Strength of Victory: The Ravens currently enjoy a large SOV margin versus the Dolphins (34.5 to 26 wins). It will be difficult (but not impossible) for the Dolphins to overcome that disadvantage, even with 1 additional win needed to forge a tie.
- Analysis: The Ravens have several paths to beat the Dolphins if they cannot do so outright (by far the most likely result). Only 1 of the 16 possible W/L combinations of Miami’s remaining games can get them to 9-7 with the 2-way tiebreaker in hand against the Ravens. If the Dolphins run the table to go 10-6 and the Ravens get there as well, the tiebreaker will fall to SoV. At 10-6 the Ravens will have beaten either (or both) of the Chargers and Chiefs and will have a slight advantage the SoV tiebreaker based on information currently known.
Tennessee (6-6, 2-0 vs NFC)—Remaining JAX, @NYG, WAS, IND
- Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 10%
- Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 35%
- HTH: Ravens
- NFC: 2-0, The Titans can’t get to 9-7 without winning at least 1 of their 2 remaining NFC games. Doing so will mean they lose the conference tiebreaker versus the Ravens. This will only matter for a 3+ way tie.
- Analysis: The Ravens cannot lose a tiebreaker to the Titans at 9-7 or better, regardless of the number of teams involved. No tiebreakers beyond Conference record will be needed, even in the event of a multi-way tie.
The Ravens took a big step forward towards an AFCN title on Sunday, but it’s nice to see there is a reasonable plan B.
Please check my work. Even though much simplified, there is a high likelihood of error with this sort of detail.