The NFL season is a long way from finished, but people are already inquiring about playoff tiebreakers and what they mean to the Miami Dolphins. As we have for the past couple of weeks, on Tuesday, we will have a full run down of the playoff standings for the AFC, but I thought today, we would take a look at the rules governing ties in the NFL standings.
The folks at NFL.com have a full rundown of the various tiebreaker scenarios. I'm posting those below, along with some Dolphins specific implications.
The NFL breaks up tiebreakers based on if it involves two clubs, and then three or more clubs. For the division, the only difference is in the first tiebreaker. For two teams, it is set at best won-loss-tied percentage between the two teams. For three or four teams tied, it is set at best won-loss-tied percentage AMONG the multiple teams. That means that if the Dolphins, Bills, and Patriots were all to finish the regular season tied, the first tiebreaker would factor in every game they played against each other.
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference
5. Strength of victory
6. Strength of schedule
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed
9. Best net points in common games
10. Best net points in all games
11. Best net touchdowns in all games
12. Coin toss
Wild Card tiebreaker
It can get a little more complicated with the wild card, but that is primarily when more than two teams are tied. If two teams are tied, the scenario breaks down as follows:
1. Head-to-head, if applicable
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four
4. Strength of victory
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
If three or more teams are tied, there are two changes:
1. You first apply the division tiebreaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2.
2. Step 2 starts at head-to-head, but it requires a sweep. That means, if 3 or more teams are tied, it only applies if one team has swept the others, or one team has been swept by the others. After that, proceed to step 2 above, involving conference win percentage.
For the Dolphins, a Wildcard berth seems much more likely than a division title does, now that New England has pulled to a three-game lead. The Dolphins are currently 6-5, with the two Wildcard positions being held by teams that are 7-4. currently ahead of miami are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, and Cleveland Browns, all at 7-4, while the baltimore Ravens are 6-4, pending their Monday night game. Just behind the Dolphins are the Buffalo Bills, who are 5-5 with a Monday night game against the New York Jets tonight, and the Houston Texans at 5-6 on the year.
The Dolphins have the second best conference winning percentage among those teams at 5-3, a half game behind the Steelers' 6-3 record and tied with the Chargers. They own the head-to-head tie break over the Chargers, lose it to Kansas City, and have a game against the Ravens still to play. The Bills and Dolphins split their season series, with Miami holding a slim 2-1 to 2-2 advantage in the division records tie break; if Buffalo wins tonight, they will close the gap on Miami in the standings with a 3-2 division record, for a .600 winning precentage, compared to the Dolphins' .667.
As I said above, there is still a lot of football left to play this season, and a lot of tie break scenarios to still decide. Miami has five weeks, and five games, to work their way through the crowd of teams ahead of them if they want to be playing games in January for the first time since the 2008-2009 season.