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The playoff picture

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  November 24, 2009 12:00 PM

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As Monique Walker explains today, division leaders Patriots, Bengals, and Chargers are tied in the race for the second first-round AFC playoff bye behind the undefeated Colts. They are not concerning themselves with the peripheral playoff picture, but that doesn't mean we can't.

The six weeks to come promise to be a month-and-a-half race for the No. 2 seed between the Patriots, Bengals, and Chargers, with the Steelers, Broncos, and Jaguars, all at 6-4, knocking on the door. If the playoffs began today, the Bengals would would win the second spot, the Chargers would be third, and the Patriots would be fourth.

In order of tiebreakers, here is why, with a look ahead to what could separate the three division leaders, other than the Colts, by season's end.

1. Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)
The Chargers and Bengals will play in Week 15, but the Patriots face neither team this season. While that Chargers-Bengals game very well could determine playoff position for other, obvious reasons, it will be moot in terms of a head-to-head tiebreaker regarding the Patriots.

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
All three teams are 5-3. The Patriots have AFC games left against the Dolphins, Bills, Jaguars, and Texans. The Chargers have AFC games left against the Chiefs, Browns, Bengals, and Titans. The Bengals have AFC games left against the Browns, Chargers, Chiefs, and Jets.

3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
All three teams have played the Ravens and Broncos. The Patriots are 1-1 in those games. The Bengals are 2-1 (they’ve played Baltimore twice). The Chargers are 1-2. (they’ve played Denver twice).

If all three teams are tied, then there are not enough common games for this to qualify as a tiebreaker.

If the Patriots are tied only with Cincinnati, the teams share games against Denver, Baltimore, Houston, and the Jets. The Bengals are 2-2 with a game remaining against the Jets; the Patriots are 2-2 with a game remaining against the Texans.

If the Patriots are tied only with San Diego, the teams share games against Denver, Baltimore, Tennessee, and Miami. The Chargers are 2-2 with a game left against the Titans. The Patriots are 3-1 with a game left against the Dolphins.

4. Strength of victory.
Strength of victory is the combined winning percentage of the teams a contender has defeated. Obviously, this is very fluid. As of right now, the Bengals would earn the No. 2 seed base on this tiebreaker. Cincinnati’s S.O.V. is .471. San Diego’s is .457, and New England’s is .386.

Chances are, the tiebreaking procedure won’t be reaching this point by the time the season ends. Just in case, here are the remaining tiebreakers:

5. Strength of schedule.

6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.

7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.

8. Best net points in conference games.

9. Best net points in all games.

10. Best net touchdowns in all games.

11. Coin toss
Can you imagine if it ever came to this? The Patriots, I think, like to call tails.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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