One year ago, we constructed a popular post about the playoff permutations in the AFC East. This year, a logjam in the middle of the AFC leaves many meaningful games for week 17.
It is possible that five teams could finish 9-7 (Jets, Denver, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Houston). In this scenario, strength of conference record ranks the teams first. This eliminates the Texans and Steelers, since both teams would finish at 6-6 in conference, while the other three teams would finish 7-5. Next, record in common games applies:
Versus NE, OAK, IND, and CIN:
This gives the Jets the #5 seed and the Ravens would take the #6 seed thanks to their victory over the Broncos.
A different, crazier, possibility exists. With one week to play, it is possible that EIGHT AFC teams can finish at a mediocre 8-8, which in addition to giving ex-commisioner (and lover of parity) Paul Tagliabue a spring in his step, it brings upon the NFL the full power of the sometimes mysterious NFL Tiebreaking procedures. So what if the stars align and all eight teams finish at 8-8?
The key is that ties within divisions are broken first, with only one team per division advancing:
East: Mia > NYJ (head2head)
North: Bal > Pit (Division record)
South: Jax (3-way h2h):
Jax 3-1 vs Hou, Ten
Ten 2-2 vs Hou, Jax
Hou 1-3 vs Ten, Jax
In a multi-team tiebreaker, a head to head sweep would prevail but the teams did not all play each other. Baltimore's win over Denver is irrelevant now.
This lands with the games-within-conference tiebreaker, and an 8-8 Jacksonville would have 7 wins in conference, so they're in.
The remaining three teams would be 6-6 in conference.
The next tiebreaker is record in common games (minimum four), and each team has played NE, PIT, IND, and SD:
This, troublesomely, leaves each team at 2-3, causing us to enter the magical land of Strength of Victory. Luckily, in the Everyone 8-8 Scenario, many games have been decided for us.
Denver beat: CIN (11), CLE (4), OAK (6), DAL (10, Play PHI), NE (11), SD (12, Play WAS), NYG (8, Play MIN), KC (4)
Ravens beat: KC (4), SD (12, Play WAS) , CLE (4), DEN (8), CLE (4), PIT (8), DET (2, Play CHI), CHI (5, play MIN and DET)
Miami beat: BUF (5, Play IND), NYJ (8), NYJ (8), TB (3, Play ATL), CAR (7, Play NO), NE (11), JAX (8), PIT (8)
So the games we would know for sure:
The superior record of teams the Broncos have beaten is insurmountable, and so the Broncos would get the final playoff spot.
Meanwhile, the wins by the Patriots (over Houston) and Bengals (over the Jets) would put them both at 11-5 and at 8-4 in the conference. Moving on to record in common games against the Jets, Ravens, Texans, and Broncos:
Which leaves Strength of Victory:
NE beat: NYJ (8), BAL (8), HOU (8), BUF (5, play IND), ATL (3, play TB), TEN (8), TB (3, play ATL), MIA (8), CAR (7, play NO), BUF (5, play IND), JAX (8) (71 wins)
CIN beat: NYJ (8), BAL (8), BAL (8), PIT (8), GB (10, play ARI), CLE (4), CHI (5, play MIN and DET), PIT (8), CLE (4), DET (2, Play CHI), KC (4) (69 wins)
So New England would have multiple ways to increase its lead over Cincinnati in the Strength of Victory department next week, while the Bengals will have to wait for everything to fall into place in order to grab the 3rd seed.
In summary, the Great Mediocrity Scenario of 2009 would create the following playoff matchups:
1. Indianapolis (bye)
2. San Diego (bye)
3. New England vs 6. Denver
4. Cincinnati vs 5. Jacksonville
Feel free to point out any errors I have made in the comments.
Update 1: Fixed Ravens-Broncos error pointed out in the comments. I blame NFL.com's difficult to read schedule page...