AFC Wild Card Tiebreakers Week 16

Filmstudy AFC Wild Card Tiebreakers Week 16

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The Ravens still have a legitimate shot to win the division title, but now require 3 of the 4 remaining games played by them and the Steelers to end in their favor. That’s still the most likely path to the playoffs for the Ravens, since it now appears 10-6 will be required to qualify.

We’ll look again at the Wild Card tiebreaker situation with some simplifying assumptions:

  1. Assumed division winners: New England, Pittsburgh, Houston, either Kansas City or LA Chargers
  2. Guaranteed no worse than a Wild Card and 5th seed: Kansas City or LA Chargers
  3. Wild Card contenders: Baltimore, Miami, Indianapolis, Tennessee
  4. Assumed Out (can’t finish 9-7): Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, NY Jets, Jacksonville, Oakland

Here are the NFL Tiebreaker rules

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

Let’s say the Ravens run the table to finish 10-6…what needs to otherwise fall in place for the Ravens to make the playoffs?

With the Dolphins’ loss to the Vikings, the Ravens are now all but guaranteed the 6th seed if they win their last 2 games with tiebreaker advantages over the Titans (HTH) and Colts (conference record) if either of those teams were to finish 10-6.  However, the Texans can still lose the AFCS at 10-6 and if that occurs, the Texans/Ravens tiebreaker would be decided by strength of victory (SoV).  The Ravens currently hold a razor-thin, half-game lead in SoV versus the Texans if both teams finish 10-6.  We’ll expand next week if required.

Even with all those caveats, that sounds good.  But what if the Ravens finish 9-7?

This scenario is more complex and more likely to include a multi-way tie. We’ll have to deal with it on a team-by-team basis and summarize in the table at the end of the article.

It is no longer possible for the Ravens to make the playoffs with an 8-8 record. 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 (8-6, 2-2 vs NFC)—Remaining: @SD, CLE

  1. Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 22%
  2. Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 55%
  3. NFC: 2-2 The win over the Bucs closes out the Ravens schedule against the NFC.
  4. Common Opponents: See individual comparisons below
  5. Strength of Victory: The teams the Ravens have beaten currently have 46.5 total wins
  6. We’ll consider the Ravens tiebreaker advantages relative to the other AFC Wild Card contenders

Indianapolis (8-6, 1-1 vs NFC)—Remaining: NYG, @TEN

  1. Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 40%
  2. Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 45%
  3. HTH: None
  4. NFC: 2-1 (NYG). If the Colts beat the Giants, they’ll lose a 2-way tiebreaker with the Ravens. However, this is unlikely to matter, as we’ll see.
  5. 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. Barring ties, a tiebreaker between the Colts and Ravens can no longer be decided by common opponents at 9-7 or better.
  6. Strength of Victory: It’s possible for a tiebreaker with the Colts to be decided by SoV at 9-7. To occur, the Colts must lose to NYG and win at TEN to push the conference and common opponents tiebreakers.
  7. Analysis: The Ravens will win a 2-way tiebreaker with the Colts at 10-6 by conference record tiebreaker, but The Colts are now in better shape on a SoV tiebreaker at 9-7. The Colts also have the best chance to beat the Ravens outright if they run the table.

Miami (7-7, 1-3 vs NFC)—Remaining: JAX, @BUF

  1. Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 0%
  2. Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 40%
  3. HTH: None
  4. NFC: 1-3, The Dolphins now have secured the conference record tiebreaker versus the Ravens and each other AFC Wild Card contender.
  5. Analysis: With the Dolphins losing their 7th game to the Vikings, they can no longer finish 10-6, which secures a playoff spot for the Ravens if they finish 10-6. However, the Dolphins now hold the conference record tiebreaker, so the Ravens cannot win any tiebreaker involving the Dolphins. If the Ravens finish 9-7, they will need the Dolphins to lose another game in order to win the Wild Card.

Tennessee (8-6, 3-0 vs NFC)—Remaining WAS, IND

  1. Probability to finish exactly 10-6: 40%
  2. Probability to finish exactly 9-7: 40%
  3. HTH: Ravens
  4. NFC: 3-0, The Titans have lost the conference record tiebreaker against both the Dolphins and Ravens. This will only matter for 3-way tie with the Dolphins and Ravens (see table below).
  5. 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 2 AFC South contenders can’t both finish 10-6, because of the HTH matchup in week 17.

With their win on Thursday night, The Chargers are guaranteed no worse than the 5th seed and neither they nor the Chiefs can finish worse than 11-5. Neither team need be considered for tiebreaker purposes.

Denver was eliminated from beating the Ravens out of a Wild Card position with their 8th loss. Cleveland can still qualify in an extremely unlikely scenario involving a tie between Tennessee and Indianapolis, but the Ravens will be eliminated if that comes to pass.

The following table shows the results of all possible tiebreakers involving the AFC South runner up, Miami, and Baltimore at 9-7:

The Ravens’ likelihood to win the AFCN title dimmed substantially with Pittsburgh’s win over New England on Sunday. Their Wild Card hopes also were set back on multiple fronts. However, the Ravens are now almost certain to qualify for no less than a Wild Card at 10-6 if they win their last 2 games.

Please check my work. Even though much simplified, there is a high likelihood of error with this sort of detail.

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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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