A lot on the line for NFL teams in this final weekend of the regular season
You know they pay people to figure this stuff out.
I went to the NFL’s official website (it has the shield and all that at the top of the home page) to read up on the league’s tiebreaking procedures for the playoffs and found about five pages in medium-sized type with all the provisions.
There’s a list of how the seeds are determined, which was pretty obvious, though I appreciated them pointing out that a tie counts as “one-half win and one-half loss for both clubs.”
Then it started getting to be some pretty dense reading.
You start with “To Break A Tie Within A Division” — it’s supposed to sound more important when you capitalize every single word, I guess.
For two teams, there’s 12 tiebreakers, the first one being head-to-head and the last being a coin flip — yes, really. In fact, the NFL uses a trusty coin at the end of every list of tiebreakers.
Another dozen tiebreakers are involved for three or more teams tied atop a division before they get into ties for wild cards — 11 procedures for two teams, 12 for three or more.
There’s a few more clauses before they get into “Other Tie-Breaking Procedures” and “Tie-Breaking Procedure For Selection Meeting” which looks like it means the order for the draft in the spring.
Let’s just say I didn’t closely read the vast majority of this, even though I like playing around with statistics and numbers in general.
So when NFL commentators start talking about who needs to win which game to get in or be knocked out, it’s best to just listen. Maybe take notes. Eh, maybe not.
But all the scenarios they bring up might not make a bit of difference in figuring out who will win this Sunday.
I used to think that the most desperate teams — those that must have a win to get in — were best bets to win in the final week or couple of weeks of the regular season, followed by those who get something of an advantage, like home field, by winning.
Then comes all the teams knocked out, especially those who have been out of the running for awhile, and finally, the least motivated are the playoff teams that gain nothing by winning in the final week.
But about a decade ago came a rash of teams in the “win and you’re in” situation who would lose and be gone. What’s up with that?
Best I could figure is those teams get tight. You know, let’s just say they have a hard time pooping for a couple weeks. To me, that would seem to be particularly a problem for good offenses, as opposed to good defenses. Offenses have to perform with precision, defenses are best when they just act like ferocious animals.
With all this in mind — even the toilet talk — let’s look at Week 17:
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Miami at Buffalo — The Dolphins have more to play for, needing a win to lock up their playoff berth. But Buffalo could get the No. 2 spot in the AFC, meaning a second-round home game for sure. The climate advantage for the Bills I think is negated with Miami’s strength being defense, therefore less of “lock up” in the sphincter category, so I’ll go with the Dolphins, 24-19.
Baltimore at Cincinnati — Three things I like about Baltimore’s plight — first, they were out of the playoffs for a couple weeks, making them appreciate their current position of “win and you’re in”; second, their defense, not offense, is their strength; and third, just how much Cincy’s defense really sucks. Ravens, 31-21.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland — The Browns had every reason to win last week, then lost to the Jets. And the Steelers were supposed to be in free fall, then somehow came back from 17 points down to beat playoff-quality Indianapolis.
Still, Pittsburgh “proved” themselves the previous three weeks with bad play, and even with way too many Cleveland players out, I’ll take the team that again is “win and you’re in.” Browns, 34-27.
Minnesota at Detroit — Ah, one of just three also-ran games this week — that’s where two teams are vying only for draft position. I’d rather be right than hold out hope for the future for the Lions, therefore Vikings, 29-20.
New York Jets at New England — It was actually refreshing to see Bill Belichick get mad and throw things during last week’s loss. Just on that thought, Patriots, 20-13.
Dallas at New York Giants — This winner gets to sit on pins and needles for about seven hours waiting to see if Washington loses that night to let them in the playoffs. On a hunch, Cowboys, 31-29.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay — The Buccaneers can lock up a trip to open the playoffs against the NFC “Least” winner by winning here, but that doesn’t seem enough of an incentive. Falcons, 34-26.
Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
New Orleans at Carolina — All three teams vying for the No. 1 seed in the NFC play simultaneously, and even if New Orleans can’t get the top spot, they might like No. 2. Saints, 35-24.
Green Bay at Chicago — Wouldn’t you as a Packer Backer feel a huge letdown if your favorite team had the top spot in the NFC only to let loose of it in Week 17? I wouldn’t know what that feels like as Lions fan, so I can only ask.
In November, even though Green Bay beat Chicago 41-25 during the Bears’ midseason slide, they did score 41 points on a defense that never really was questioned. So I think this is the Cheeseheads’ game to win or lose. Packers, 33-27.
Tennessee at Houston — The Titans are also “win and you’re in,” but have a big cushion even if they lose — losses by Indy, Baltimore, Miami or Cleveland also get them in. Let’s make it Texans, 27-20.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis — While the Colts are out of the playoffs right now, any of four teams losing gets them back in — if Indy wins. Even though Jacksonville has no more incentive to lose with the No. 1 draft pick sewn up, it’s hard to change your stripes after 14 straight losses. Colts, 29-17.
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City — The only playoff team with absolutely nothing to play for. Good enough for me. Chargers, 33-20.
Las Vegas at Denver — The final also-ran game. Supposedly, the Raiders really like to run the ball. Looking at league statistics, Las Vegas has a whopping 14 more yards on the ground than Denver this season. But they do have about 730 more passing yards.
Then there’s the real eye-opener — the Broncos’ turnover ratio is minus-20. To put that in perspective, the league’s other 31 teams are all between plus-11 and minus-11. Raiders, 37-24.
Arizona at Los Angeles Rams — The Rams have more wiggle room and a quarterback who’s never taken an NFL snap, John Wolford of the Alliance of American Football and Old Dominion University. Arizona would lose a lot more if their QB, Kyler Murray, can’t play, but he was supposed to have looked promising in Wednesday’s practice. Cardinals, 24-20.
Seattle at San Francisco — The Seahawks are close to having nothing to play for, needing losses by both the Packers and Saints to get the No. 1 NFC seed. 49ers, 27-17.
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
Washington at Philadelphia — The ultimate in pressure that a team could fold under. The Cowboys-Giants winner will overtake Washington if the former Redskins lose. I’m invoking their old nickname as they’ll remind all of us of that moniker under owner Daniel Snyder’s mess of a regime. Eagles, 32-23.
Last week — 9-7, 56 percent. Season — 151-88-1, 63 percent.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.