For NFL Fans

If you would like to see the 2008 version, it is here:

Welcome back to what Andy Williams and I call the most wonderful time
of the year. One nice thing about a 45-12 game on Monday night is
that my tiebreaker charts got done early. I didn’t have to wait
around to see if the Giants would make it to 8-6. Also, this was
redemption for me as I sadly missed the only previous 45-12 game in
NFL history. The Browns beat the Steelers by that score, despite
committing 5 turnovers, on October 5, 1958. It helped that the
Steelers turned the ball over 9 times themselves. What we learn from
these two games is that you have to play pretty darn badly to lose,

Q: So are the Giants going to make the playoffs now?

A: They could. They’re a game behind the Cowboys and Packers for the
last wild-card spot, and they own the tiebreaker over each of those
teams. But one of them would have to lose to give the Giants a

Q: Could the Giants win the division? The Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants
could all finish 10-6. If that happens, the Cowboys would beat the
Eagles twice, and the Eagles have already beaten the Giants twice and
the Giants have beaten the Cowboys twice. It’s a circle! Who wins
that tiebreaker?

A: If this were the Big 12, the tie would be resolved by BCS
standings. In the NFL, of course, there is no BCS. Therefore, the
tie is resolved by Pete Prisco’s power rankings at CBS Sportsline.
I’m kidding. Actually, it’s resolved by which team’s fans would buy
the most travel packages to the Fiesta Bowl. Ha ha, just kidding
again! It’s resolved by division record, which basically means
whoever lost to the Redskins is out. To reach this 10-6 scenario, the
Cowboys would have to lose this week to the Redskins. Therefore,
they’re eliminated from the tiebreaker, and it comes down to the
Eagles’ head-to-head sweep over the Giants.

Q: Do you have anything else to say about the NFC?

A: Not really. It was pretty boring this year. For seeding purposes,
the Vikings win the tiebreaker against the Saints and lose against the
Eagles, Cowboys, or Cardinals. There you go.

Q: What about the strength-of-victory tiebreaker between the Falcons
and Panthers?

A: Nice try, but there are no strength-of-victory tiebreakers in the
NFC this year. The Falcons, in fact, are eliminated already despite
their 7-7 record, because they lose all tiebreakers to the 9-5 teams
above them. Now the AFC is another matter.

Q: Yeah, with six teams all at 7-7, you must have had your work cut out for you.

A: Um, that’s not exactly a question, but I’ll agree with you.

Q: What happens if all six of them finish 9-7?

A: First of all, unless the Ravens or Broncos lose at least once to
give someone else a chance, none of the 7-7 teams are going anywhere.
And second of all, they can’t all finish 9-7 because several of them
are playing each other: the Dolphins are playing both the Texans and
the Steelers. So you have to choose which teams you want at 9-7.

Q: Then what 7-7 team has the best shot at the playoffs?

A: That’s a better question. The Jaguars would be the only 9-7 team
with an 8-4 conference record, so they would win all tiebreakers,
except head to head against the Dolphins, who edged them a couple
weeks ago, 14-10. Both sides knew that was an important game, and
here it is. After the Jaguars, I’d say the odds run in this order:
Dolphins, Jets, Steelers, Titans, and Texans. The Steelers’ best
advantage is that they play the Ravens this week and don’t have to
hope for help. However, even if the Steelers win this game, the
Ravens keep the tiebreaker advantage due to division record.

Q: The Patriots lead the East division. How can they clinch?

A: The Dolphins win all tiebreakers in the East and the Jets lose all
tiebreakers. Therefore, the Patriots win the division unless they
lose twice and the Dolphins win twice. The Jets cannot win the

Q: The Bengals lead the North division. How can they clinch?

A: The Bengals win all tiebreakers in the North and the Steelers lose
all tiebreakers. Therefore, the Bengals win the division with any one
win or one Ravens loss. The Steelers cannot win the division. Nor do
they deserve to, after losing to the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns in
the space of 19 days.

Q: Have the Chargers clinched a bye week?

A: Not quite. At 11-5, the Patriots would claim the bye week ahead of
the Chargers, based on record against common opponents (the difference
being the Chargers losing this Saturday to a Titans team that was down
45-0 at halftime to the Patriots). The Chargers beat the Bengals head
to head and would win that tiebreaker. If all three teams finish
11-5, it goes to strength of victory.

Q: Ah, there it is. How does that work?

A: That three-way tiebreaker would slightly favor the Chargers and
strongly disfavor the Bengals. There are several scenarios where a
two-way tiebreaker between the Patriots and Bengals would have to be
resolved by strength of victory.

Q: Several scenarios?

A: Yes. Of course this tiebreaker would only determine 3rd vs. 4th
seed, so who cares. But basically, here’s how you figure out who gets
3rd seed: If the Patriots and Bengals have the same record after this
week, then their tiebreaker has to be resolved by strength of victory.
If they both lose this week, it’s a tossup; if they both win, the
Patriots have a big advantage, because the last thing the Bengals need
is a win against the 3-11 Chiefs on their slate. If the Patriots and
Bengals have different records after this week, then whoever has to
catch up next week wins the tiebreaker.

Q: Are there any other strength-of-victory tiebreakers?

A: Oh, quite a few. I’ve finessed a lot of the details because I
don’t want to bore you.

Q: Perish the thought.

A: Again, not a question, but thank you.

Q: What was the most complicated tiebreaker?

A: My favorite was the four-way tiebreaker at 8-7-1 between Miami,
Baltimore, Tennessee, and Denver. I had to invent new mathematical
notation just to fit it onto my chart. Here’s what my chart says:
[Bal/Ten,Den;Mia (C;O) \\ # Mia,Bal/Ten;Den (C;V)] % [Bal/Ten;Mia,Den
(C;O) \\ {Bal/Ten;Mia;Den (C;O;H) # Mia,Bal,Den/Ten (C;V)}]. What
this means in plain English is two things: One, Baltimore probably
wins the tiebreaker, unless Miami ties Houston and beats Pittsburgh,
in which case there’s a strength-of-victory tiebreaker between
Baltimore, Miami, and possibly Denver. And two, the odds against this
scenario not only happening but being relevant to the playoffs are
literally about 100 billion to one. I mean, all four of these teams
separately have to play tie games in the next two weeks. It’s more
likely that an asteroid will hit NFL headquarters than that this
tiebreaker will determine a playoff spot. In fact, it’s more likely
that an asteroid will hit NFL headquarters but deal it only a glancing
blow and spare Roger Goodell. But just in case it does, I’ll be
prepared. (For the tiebreaker, not the asteroid.)

Q: What would we do without you?

A: Seriously. I feel like Bruce Willis in “Die Hard.” Yippee-ki-yay
and so forth.

Q: Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mister Cowboy?

A: We covered the Cowboys already. They have a pretty good chance,
sorry to say.

Q: Anything else to add?

A: No, so why don’t I throw it open to questions from the gallery.
None of these are substantive, but I like to provide this service to
my loyal readers.

Aaron S. of Florida asks: Do a half-dozen 7-7 teams make the Answer
Man as giddy as a schoolgirl?

A: Yes, you’d be surprised what a charge I get out of [Bal/Ten,Den;Mia
(C;O) \\ # Mia,Bal/Ten;Den (C;V)] % [Bal/Ten;Mia,Den (C;O) \\
{Bal/Ten;Mia;Den (C;O;H) # Mia,Bal,Den/Ten (C;V)}].

Ben S. of North Carolina has a series of questions. Q: Who is the NFL
Answer Man?

A: The NFL Answer Man is one of the world’s leading experts on NFL
tiebreaker scenarios, for what it’s worth. It’s not worth much, which
is why I haven’t bothered to monetize it or even generate much
publicity for it.

Q: What kind of answers can he provide?

A: Mostly answers about tiebreaker scenarios. Sometimes I receive
questions about which players or teams are actually good, as distinct
from mathematically favored, but I don’t have any special expertise in
that area. I could tell you why the Texans can’t win the
strength-of-victory tiebreaker against the Broncos, but I couldn’t
name five players on the Texans.

Q: Who is Troy Polamalu?

A: This happens to be my favorite player, so I can identify him. He’s
the Steelers’ best player. Their excuse for missing the playoffs this
year, as they’re about to do, is that he’s been injured almost all
season. It bears mentioning, meanwhile, that the Colts’ best player
at the same position, Bob Sanders, has been injured most of the year
too and the Colts are 14-0.

Q: Who is Ochocinco? (I keep seeing their names around and can’t be
bothered to google them.)

A: Ochocinco is a self-promoting player who gets away with it because
he’s talented. The league office plays into his hands by issuing
nominal fines for his continual publicity stunts. He was born Chad
Johnson but nicknamed himself Ocho Cinco because he’s worn #85 his
whole career. As a self-promotional stunt, he sought permission to
replace the name JOHNSON on his uniform with OCHO CINCO. The league
denied his request. So he went to court and had his name legally
changed to Chad Ochocinco. Checkmate.

Q: Why is football?

A: I try not to think about this or I’d have to stop watching.

Q: What is the likelihood that Tom Brady dumps baby momma 2 for a baby
momma 3 to be named later?

A: I happen to know that Ben S. is a high school classmate of baby
momma 1 and I advise Ben S. not to take baby momma 1’s troubles to

Lastly, J. Edelman asks: How many NFL players would have to come down
with the swine flu before the Lions would qualify for the postseason?

A: First of all, this is J. Edelman of California, not J. Edelman of
Massachusetts, the poor man’s W. Welker. To answer your question, the
NFC gets six playoff teams and the Lions are the 15th best team in the
NFC. Therefore, nine teams would have to drop out before the Lions
could be a playoff team. I don’t know how many players would be too
few for a team to take the field, but let’s say you’d need at least 11
offensive players, 11 defensive players, a punter, and a placekicker.
NFL teams have 53 players on their rosters. Under our assumptions, 30
players from each team would have to come down with the swine flu,
times nine teams makes 270. Aren’t you glad you asked?

I’ll leave you here with the disclaimer that this is copyrighted
material but may be freely distributed as long as this notice is
preserved. I encourage you to freely distribute it (by forwarding
this email or by sharing the link to Besides, I won’t press my
rights; I don’t need to attract the attention of the NFL’s trademark
lawyers. I also encourage you to send me follow-up questions. I’ll
see you next week with my 22nd annual playoff charts. You have no
evidence that I’ve been doing this for 22 years, but take my word for


  1. 1
    . Says:

    Frank Gore worth 9 points to the line. Just gold.

    • 2
      joelshitshow Says:

      Hey, if it had been a legitimate move, that would have been the only logical explanation. Reread what I wrote.

  2. 3
    J Says:

    I have a tie breaking question that has been bugging me for eleven years. In 1999, what tie breaker did the dolphins hold over the chiefs that allowed them to make the playoffs and the chiefs to miss the playoffs? Both the chiefs and dolphins finished 9-7 and both finished 7-5 in the afc

    • 4

      Joel asked me to field this question for you. The short answer is that the Dolphins held the tiebreaker over the Chiefs based on record against common opponents. The slightly longer answer is that the Dolphins went 6-1 and the Chiefs went 5-3 against New England, Indy, Denver, Oakland, and San Diego. (Nowadays, teams always have the same number of games against common opponents, but back then it wasn’t always true.)

      The full answer is that the Chiefs signed Chester McGlockton away from the Raiders to key their defense, then missed the playoffs in their last game by blowing a 17-0 lead and giving up 41 points to the Raiders. So it’s probably time to accept that they didn’t deserve to make the playoffs.

  3. […] forget to read the 2009 version. You can read the original version of this on the author’s […]

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