Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Titan Playoff Scenarios

After Week 15 of the NFL season, the NFL standings are in flux. After winning 5 straight games, the Titans are battling the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos, and Kansas City Chiefs for the two AFC wild card slots. Slim though their hopes may be, the Titans can still make the playoffs. Here's what would have to happen:

1. The Titans win their final two games, against Buffalo and New England
AND
2. No more than one of the following happens:
(i) New York Jets win both of their last 2 games;
(ii) Cincinnati Bengals win 1+ of their last 2 games;
(iii) Pittsburgh Steelers win both of their remaining games;
(iv) Jacksonville Jaguars win both of their remaining games; or
(v) Denver Broncos win 1+ of their last 2 games, EXCEPT if Denver wins one game and loses one game and Kansas City also finishes 9-7.

That last, 2(v), requires some explanation. Tennessee would finish behind Denver in a head-to-head race for the wild card, because the Broncos have a better conference record. But, when looking at multiple teams, you first eliminate division opponents. Kansas City finishes ahead of Denver in this scenario, thank to a better division record. The Titans would have the tiebreaker edge on KC, though, because of an edge in strength of victory.

From the Titans' playoff perspective, the most important game remaining is next week's tilt between Denver and Cincinnati. The winner of the game will have the edge on the Titans (unless it's Denver, who then loses to San Francisco, while KC wins out). There hasn't been a tie in the NFL since Pittsburgh and Atlanta played to a 34-all deadlock in 2002, but if you want to see the Titans make the playoffs, that's precisely what you're hoping for this Sunday in the Mile High City.

So, here's a rooting guide.
Week 16
TEN over BUF
KC over OAK
NE over JAX
BAL over PIT
DEN over CIN
MIA over NYJ

Week 17
TEN over NE
PIT over CIN
KC over JAX
OAK over NYJ
SF over DEN

I know it will be difficult to root for teams like the Patriots, Ravens, and Steelers, but the Titans' quest for Miami demands it.

Thanks to my fellow Football Outsiders chat participants for helping me work through the scenarios, particularly Travis for pointing out KC-Denver.

UPDATE (12/19, 1818 CT): Ok, there are more scenarios where the Titans can make the playoffs. Here's how the Titans would fare in each combination of 9-7 teams:

Any scenario + JAX: Unchanged from Titans' perspective, since JAX finishes behind TEN based on division record and division tiebreaker is applied first

NYJ, TEN: NYJ finishes ahead of TEN on head-to-head
CIN, TEN: CIN finishes ahead of TEN on conference record
PIT, TEN: PIT finishes ahead of TEN on common opponents
DEN, TEN: DEN finished ahead of TEN on conference record
K C, TEN: TEN finishes ahead of KC on conference record

NYJ, CIN, TEN: CIN finishes first on conference record, NYJ finishes second on H2H
NYJ, PIT, TEN: TEN finishes first on strength of victory
NYJ, DEN, TEN: DEN finishes first on conference record, NYJ finishes second on H2H
NYJ, K C, TEN: KC eliminated on conference record, NYJ finishes first on H2H, TEN finishes second

CIN, PIT, TEN: CIN eliminates PIT in division tiebreaker, PIT second on common opponents
CIN, DEN, TEN: DEN/CIN eliminate TEN on conference record, CIN/DEN H2H winner finishes first, CIN/DEN H2H loser finishes second
CIN, K C, TEN: CIN finishes first on conference record, TEN finishes second

PIT, DEN, TEN: DEN finishes first on conference record, PIT second on common opponents
PIT, K C, TEN: PIT/TEN eliminate KC on conference record, PIT finishes first, TEN finishes second on conference opponents

DEN, K C, TEN: KC eliminates DEN on division record, TEN finishes ahead of KC on conference record

NYJ, CIN, PIT, TEN: CIN eliminates PIT, CIN finishes first on conference record, TEN finishes second on strength of victory over NYJ and PIT
NYJ, CIN, DEN, TEN: CIN and DEN finish 1/2 on conference record, NYJ finishes 3rd
NYJ, CIN, K C, TEN: CIN finishes first on conference record, NYJ/TEN eliminate KC on conference record, NYJ second based on H2H over TEN
NYJ, DEN, K C, TEN: KC eliminates DEN in division tiebreaker, KC eliminated on conference record, NYJ finishes first, ahead of TEN on H2H, TEN finishes 2nd

CIN, PIT, DEN, TEN: CIN eliminates PIT in division tiebreaker, DEN/CIN eliminate TEN on conference record, CIN/DEN H2H winner finishes first, CIN/DEN H2H loser finishes second, PIT third, TEN fourth
CIN, PIT, K C, TEN: CIN eliminates PIT in division tiebreaker, CIN first on conference record, KC eliminated on conference record, PIT second, TEN third
PIT, DEN, K C, TEN: KC eliminates DEN in division tiebreaker, PIT/TEN eliminate KC on conference record, PIT first, TEN second

NYJ, CIN, PIT, DEN, K C, TEN: Oh. CIN eliminates PIT and KC eliminates DEN on division tiebreaker. CIN first on conference record, NYJ/TEN/PIT eliminate KC on conference record, TEN wins on strength of victory

AND I think that's all the independent scenarios. I'll review this post later to make sure I've covered everything.

UPDATE #2 (12-20, 1305 CT): I think I got all the independent scenarios. Remember, if DEN and KC both finish 9-7, KC wins on division tiebreaker, so look at the same scenario -DEN. If PIT and CIN both finish 9-7, CIN wins on division tiebreaker, so look at the same scenario -PIT.

I still think my rooting guide is pretty good, but may be really obsessive and plot out the easiest way to reach a Titans playoff scenario. Oh, and if 2 AFC non-division winners finish 10-6, the Titans can't make the playoffs and all of this is moot.

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