Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Numbers Time: Parity 2: Back in the Habit

This may be the most even playoff field in recent years. Five NFC teams are in a tight pack at the top, but the Wild Card teams could easily play spoilers. The AFC is so even, it’s possible only two games could separate the #1 seed and a team that gets eliminated. Only the Packers have locked in a bye, but that’s not because they’re overly dominant, they just have tie breakers over the rest of the pack. In a year this even, it’s not surprising so few games just don’t matter.

NFC: Go Forth From Fourth

All the focus will be on the Niners and Saints fighting over the last playoff spot, and the Rams/Cardinals battle for the West (Rams in with win or Cards loss). But the spot to focus on is the #4 Seed. Unlike previous years, no one is backdooring into the playoffs by winning a weak division. In fact, there are five competitive teams, and one of them will have to settle for the #5 Wild Card. That means the #4 seed that plays them will be the toughest battle of Wild Card weekend.

Here’s how it all breaks down. Dallas can avoid #4 ONLY if they win AND Arizona and L.A. both lose. Tampa has to worry about #4 ONLY if they, L.A., and Arizona ALL lose, AND Dallas wins. The Rams drop to #4 if both West teams lose, and the Cowboys and Buccaneers BOTH win.

AFC: This is Parity

Seeding in the AFC just doesn’t matter. The Patriots could be #1 with a win or #7 with a loss. On the right day, any of these teams could be a contender. Only two things matter: who gets the bye and who gets the last two wild card spots.

If the Titans win, everything else I’m going to say is moot; they’re #1 and get that coveted bye. If they lose and K.C. wins, they get the bye. If they both lose, we have the potential for a three, four, or five way tie for first and that’s where things get interesting. If the Pats win the division, and this unlikely tie happens, they get the #1 seed. Unfortunately, Pats win or loss, if the Bills win, they win the division, but they lose tie breakers to everyone else, so they cap out at #2. And in THAT unlikely scenario, where Tennesse and K.C. lose AND Buffalo wins the division AND Cincinnati wins, the Bengals can slide into #1.

One of the two remaining wild card slots will definitely be the Chargers or Raiders. This will essential be the first game of the playoffs, depending on how other teams fare. The NFL smartly moved this one to Sunday night. It’s going to be a hell of a game. It's win and in for both teams.

Indy is playing Trevor Lawrence with a mix of forty marionettes and mice in trench coats, so the likeliest scenario is the Colts take one of the slots and the winner of L.A./L.V. takes the other. But just for fun, let’s say Indy loses to the NFL equivalent of the Washington Generals. The most hilarious scenario is the Chargers and Raiders decide to just not play, resulting in a tie, putting them both in the playoffs.

Assuming they do play, Chargers have to win to make it. Raiders can make it in with a loss, but only if Pittsburgh loses alongside Indy. That’s right, the same Steelers who tied the fucking lions could make the playoffs with a win if Indy loses. The Ravens are going to do everything they can to stop that because if they win and Indy loses, they’ll be biting their nails until Sunday night because a Chargers loss gets them in.

In an ironic twist, the Patriots have one last chance to stick it to their old playoff rivals. If the Patriots lose, this will be my only solace. Baltimore beat the Chargers in the regular season but lost to the Raiders, so a head-to-head tie breaker with the Raiders is their best hope. BUT if the Dolphins beat the Patriots, it puts the Ravens and Dolphins in a threeway tie with the loser of Chargers/Raiders. Due to the insane calculus that is NFL tiebreaking procedure, that puts both L.A. and L.V. above Baltimore. That means if the Patriots lose, thereby losing the division even if the Bills win, and losing out on a chance at the bye, they still knock the Ravens out of the playoffs. That’s a win in my book.

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