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# The playoff picture

Posted by Adam Kilgore, Globe Staff  December 21, 2009 04:28 PM

The Patriots took control of the AFC East division yesterday by beating the Bills as the Dolphins and Jets both suffered losses, giving the Patriots a two-game lead with two games to play. The Jets dropped from contention for the division title, and the Patriots will clinch with any win or any Dolphins loss.

That’s the easy part. Mathematically, the Patriots can still land anywhere from out of the playoffs to earning the second seed. Most realistically, they are mainly fighting with the Cincinnati Bengals for the third seed behind the Colts and Chargers. So let’s start there.

If the playoffs began today, the Patriots would be the third seed by an incredibly close margin. The Patriots and Bengals are tied at 9-5 overall. From there, the tiebreakers break down like this:

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference: The Patriots and Bengals are both 6-4 against AFC opponents. The Patriots have games remaining against the Jaguars and Texans. The Bengals have games remaining against the Chiefs and Jets.

3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four: The Patriots and Bengals 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.

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 Patriots hold a slim edge. The teams the Bengals have defeated have gone 52-74, good for a .413 SOV. The teams the Patriots have gone 54-72, good for a .429 SOV.

That’s where we stand today. With two games left, we can start being precise about how and why the Patriots could land in certain seeds.

The Patriots are the No. 2 seed if ALL of the following happens:
-They win against Jaguars
-They win against the Texans
-The Chargers lose to the Titans*
-The Chargers lose to the Redskins
-The Bengals lose to the Chiefs OR the Jets.**

* The Patriots would beat the Chargers because of the common games tiebreaker. The Chargers would be 2-3 against Denver, Baltimore, Tennessee, and Miami. The Patriots would be 3-2 against those teams.

** The Patriots can still claim the second seed without a Bengals loss if they finish with a better strength of victory than both the Bengals and the Chargers. The Chargers’ SOV is currently .450. (All of that is because of how the three-team tiebreaker works. I could show you, but then your brain would hurt as badly as mine. Please, just believe me.)

The Patriots are the No. 3 seed if ANY of the following happens:
-
They win out and the Bengals lose once
-They beat the Texans AND the Bengals lose to the Jets
-They win once AND the Bengals lose twice AND the Ravens lose once
-They beat the Texans and lose to Jaguars AND the Bengals beat the Chiefs and lose to the Jets AND the Patriots finish with a better SOV.

The Patriots are the No. 4 seed if ANY of the following happens:
-They lose twice AND the Dolphins lose once AND the Ravens lose once
-They win twice AND the Bengals win twice AND the Bengals finish with a better strength of victory.
-The Bengals beat the Jets AND the Patriots lose to the Texans and beat the Jaguars.
-They beat the Texans and lose to Jaguars AND the Bengals beat the Chiefs and lose to the Jets AND the Bengals finish with a better SOV.

The Patriots can also be both the 5 and 6 seeds, but there are so many machinations for each that it’s not worth listing them all. Anyway, it would take the unlikely scenario of both the Patriots losing twice and the Dolphins winning twice.

UPDATE, 8:35: In the comments section, ddangers and jnrosen72 asked about why the Patriots would still be fighting the Bengals for the 3 seed if both teams win out. They are right that the Patriots have an advantage in SOV because the Patriots play two teams that currently have seven wins and the Bengals play the 3-11 Chiefs and 7-7 Jets.

But it’s a very fluid statistic, and the Patriots have a small margin with which to work. Let’s re-do the SOV tabulation including the current records of the Chiefs and the Jets for the Bengals and the Jags and Texans for the Patriots.

The Bengals’ defeated opponents will have a combined 62-92 record. For the Pats, it’s 68-86. So the Patriots have a six-game SOV edge with two weeks left.

More facts we need to get out of the way. There are four teams the Bengals will have beaten that the Patriots have not: The Packers, Steelers, Browns, Bears, and Lions. Two of those teams, the Steelers and the Browns, they have beaten twice. And the Benglas beat the Ravens twice, while the Patriots beat them once.

There are six teams the Patriots will have beaten that the Bengals have not: The Bills, Falcons, Titans, Bucs, Dolphins, and Panthers. One of those teams, the Bills have beaten twice.

So here’s how the Patriots can lose out on the 3 seed: The group of teams associated above with Bengals, with results weighted double for the Steelers and Browns, wins seven more combined games than the group of teams associated with the Patriots, with results weighted double for the Bills.

I hope that clears it up. (I fear it only further complicates things. If so, wait until next week. It will get simpler then.)

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

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