Week 14 Mailbag

Welcome to our weekly mailbag post! If you have any questions for future posts, feel free to send us a message here!

See the Playoff Picture entering week 14 here

Clyde D:

How can the Green Bay Packers clinch a playoff spot, and when is the earliest that they can do so?

For the middle-of-the-pack (no pun intended) teams, the answer as to specifically “how” always has too many permutations to realistically go through. If GB wins out, they’re in. Outside of that, what GB is most likely looking for is to pass or tie SEA/LAR in record. In most situations, in a tie, GB will have conference record over them. Even though GB has a game against MIN, MIN still has a decent shot of finishing above GB in a tie, whereas LAR & SEA have a very low chance.

The earliest this could happen would be week 16.

Scott C:

Why do the Packers not control the 6 seed?

Definitely seems like they should. They are guaranteed to finish ahead of SEA & LAR in any tiebreaker thanks to their head-to-head over LAR and conference record over both at 11-6. However, there is one way to get LAR past GB - win the NFC West and have the 6 seed come down to SF/GB. If SF loses the division and gets one of their losses to BAL, GB/SF comes down to Strength of Victory, which SF can win.


When is the earliest week for the Ravens to clinch a playoff spot, and what needs to be done in order for them to clinch?

BAL could clinch by week 15 if they win both weeks 14 & 15. They’d need some help still. It would be possible if PIT, CLE, IND, HOU, DEN, and BUF all lose in week 14. There are a bunch of permutations as well that are too complicated to look at 2 weeks in advance with how tight things are, but if PIT & IND lose this week, and HOU & CLE lose this week, then the loser of PIT/IND would finish with 7 losses, and the loser of CLE/HOU would finish with 7 losses. Add a 7th loss for DEN & BUF, and BAL is in on record alone.

Tanner S:

How on earth can NE still get a wildcard birth in the AFC quagmire?

It’s a big list, but the simple answer is that they win a lot of tiebreakers thanks to having the best possible conference record at 7-10 (7-5). The main pieces are CLE & IND get the 5 & 6 seeds. PIT & HOU must lose out. CIN must lose every game other than beating PIT. After that, the remainder comes down to playing with all the interplay with BUF, LAC, LV, and DEN to get all of them to 10 losses. If every one of those teams (plus TEN & NYJ) get to 10 losses, NE squeaks into the 7 seed on conference record.

Brian L:

Was curious what the most plausible scenario is for the Jets making the playoffs. Seems like it’s very difficult given the logjam in the AFC

First NYJ needs to win out. Even though they won’t be eliminated this week with a loss, they escaped a scenario by a hair.

After that, there are a few permutations, but the easiest setup is to let BAL/MIA/JAX/KC win their divisions, and let IND & PIT be the 5 & 6 seeds. If those teams win their remaining AFC games that aren’t against each other, then NYJ ends up in decent shape. On top of losses from those other teams, NYJ would need another loss for CLE, HOU, and LAC, and another 2 losses for DEN & BUF. In that case, we would have 3 potential competitors at 9-8 for the 7 seed: HOU, DEN, and CLE, all of which would have head-to-head losses to NYJ.

In any permutation, due to a below average conference record, NYJ will rely heavily on those 3 head-to-head wins, even though there are other ways they could get past some teams.

David M:

Can the jets have an elimination scenario next week? What would need to happen for that to be the case?

NYJ barely escaped an elimination scenario this week. Pretty much regardless of how this week plays out, it will open up a scenario for them to be eliminated next week.

Charlie C:

If the Dolphins were to win out, would they automatically clinch the #1 seed or would they still need help?

Thanks to the MIA/BAL game, if MIA were to win out, MIA would have the 1 seed on record alone.

Jacob P:

What is the simplest scenario for the Dolphins to clinch the #1 seed in the AFC? And or, What is the simplest way the Bills don’t make the playoffs?

Simplest is to win out. MIA plays BAL and has a better record than any other AFC team. If MIA wins out, BAL gets a 4th loss, and MIA gets the 1 seed on record alone. More complicated setups could allow a 1 seed clinch in week 16, but unless MIA wins the next 3 and BAL loses the next 3, the week 17 BAL/MIA game will weigh heavily into which of them has the inside track to the 1 seed.

Incidentally, this is why the two teams are effectively even in 1 seed permutations in the simulation chart in the playoff picture post - most of the 1 seed permutations for them come strictly from the outcome of BAL/MIA.

As for BUF, the simplest way is for them to lose out. It’s not realistic to expand on permutations where they lose N number of games at this point.

Ryan C:

When is the earliest Miami could clinch playoff berth and the AFC East?

If MIA wins this week, they will almost assuredly have a scenario for week 15. There is a lot of interplay between the current 5-loss teams in the AFC, and it opens up a window for MIA to clinch with 11 wins.

For the AFC East, MIA would have to clinch a better overall record than BUF, as if MIA loses to BUF week 18, BUF has a sweep over MIA. Best MIA can do this week is guarantee a tie vs BUF, but if they win or BUF loses, MIA will have a clinching scenario in week 15.

Calvin C:

If all four AFC division leaders end up with the same record this week who would be the #1 seed?

KC would get the 1 seed on conference record, and JAX would then get the 2 seed on conference record (KC 7-1, JAX 7-3, MIA/BAL 6-3). MIA/BAL would fall to Strength of Victory, and BAL has a massive lead in that (54-57 vs 33-76), so BAL would take the 3 seed.

When is the earliest Washington can be eliminated?

WAS only evaded elimination scenarios in week 14 due to having a bye. They will have an elimination scenario in week 15.

When is the earliest Seattle can be eliminated from playoff contention?

This is somewhat of the reverse of the GB scenario I broke down above. SEA can still get the 7 seed on record alone after week 15, so week 16 would be the earliest SEA could be eliminated.

Jay D:

At what point can we lock the NFC South winner into their rightful place as the 4th seed? Before week 16?

We could lock ATL into the 4 seed by the end of week 15. We’d need ATL to win both week 14 & week 15, TB to lose week 15, and NO to lose week 14 & 15. That would clinch the division for ATL. One way to lock them into the 4 seed at that point is for SF, DET & PHI to win both weeks, and LAR, GB, and MIN to get 1 more loss.

Calvin C:

When is the earliest Dallas can overtake Philadelphia in the NFC East?

It depends on how you define overtake. If DAL wins this week against PHI, DAL will technically take the division due to a superior division record (4-1 vs 3-1), but if both win out and finish at 14-3, the teams would be tied in division record (5-1), common games (10-2), and PHI would take the division on conference record (10-2 vs 9-3).

Thus, in one way of thinking, DAL could overtake PHI in week 14. In the other way of thinking, week 15 would be the earliest.

Todd O:

It looks like DAL has to win out to have any shot at the 1 seed but other things need to fall their way, too. I’m sure there are multiple paths but in the coming weeks, would the simplest thing Dallas fans need to do be to root for SEA against both SF and PHI?

You pretty much nailed it. If DAL wins out and SEA beats SF & PHI the next 2 weeks, that coupled with DAL’s win over DET in week 17 will put DAL at the 1 seed on pure record. And it is very unlikely that DAL will be able to get the 1 at 13-4, so winning out would be optimal.


Why would the Cowboys need a Lions win in their playoff clinching scenarios?

This is an excellent question that I received from many people. It seems odd, given that DET is one of the teams DAL would be competing against. However, while there is some nuance I’m leaving out here, the basic reason is that SEA/LAR needs DET to force a 3-way tiebreaker to bypass their head-to-head loss to DAL. Only DET is usable for this purpose. However, DAL plays DET in week 17. That means that if DAL loses out after winning this week, DET gets a 10th win. If DET wins/ties this week, that pushes them to 10-6-1 or 11-6, which means that they can no longer be used in this 10-7 tie to get LAR/SEA past DAL.

Pack M:

Why can the Cowboys and Niners clinch a playoff spot this week even though the Lions can’t? They are all 8-3.

This is the flip side of why DET win/tie is necessary for the DAL scenarios. DAL required DET for SEA to get past DAL. On the other hand, DET has a head-to-head loss to SEA, and can lose conference record to LAR. Then with DAL finishing with 11 wins for the 5 seed, no result from this week can prevent DAL and 2 NFC West teams from passing DET for the wildcard spots.

Justin M:

What would need to happen in week 14 to give the Lions a win and in style clinching scenario in week 15? Will they definitely need help in order to clinch in week 15?

If DET wins this week and wins in week 15, the only way they can miss is if either GB or MIN wins out and both LAR and SEA win out. Thus, a loss by SEA or LAR in week 14, or a loss by GB week 14 and a loss by MIN week 14 or 15 (since MIN plays before DET’s game in week 15) will give it to DET. In the GB/MIN case, if both of them lose a game, DET is win-and-in for the NFC North title.

If DET loses in week 14, there is no path for them to clinch a playoff berth by their game in week 15. They might still have scenarios for week 15 depending upon week 14 results, but those scenarios won’t be able to come to fruition until after DET’s game.

Franklin C:

Why do you mention some teams WIN and some teams LOSE in playoff scenarios?
For example for Week 14 2023:
DAL clinches a playoff berth with:
  1) DAL win + DET win/tie + TB loss + SEA loss + LAR loss/tie + GB loss + MIN loss/tie
Why not say CHI loss/tie instead of saying DET win/tie?

This is another great question. I like to use the result that is most relevant to the scenario. For example, in that one. CHI’s record is irrelevant. It’s the DET win forcing DET to a record where they can’t be used to get SEA past DAL that’s relevant. Another example is in the AFC 1 seed elimination scenarios for DEN where one scenario has BUF loss. The relevant part isn’t KC’s result. It’s the fact that if BUF loses, we can’t use them to help DEN bypass MIA at 10-6-1. If both teams are relevant, then it’s a judgment call.

This means that if you ever see a win/tie in a clinch scenario or loss/tie in an elimination scenario, you know there is some tiebreaker magic at work.

A second part to that is related to who their opponent is. For example, MIN plays LV this week. If I put LV win/tie there instead of MIN loss/tie, I would get a lot of people asking me why an AFC team matters in NFC scenarios. Strength of Victory scenarios already raise plenty of questions in that respect.

The one exception I have here is Strength of Victory scenarios, where I generally push everything to wins. This is strictly because in SoV calculations, there’s a lot of N wins from (A, B, C) setups, which can only be done if we’re referencing teams from the same direction.

John Z:

Is it possible for a weird scenario to ever exist where a team would need to lose to get into the playoffs?

This is a great question, and one I have spent way to much time pondering over the years given that it’s a simple answer - no. If losing gives a team a tiebreaker to get in the playoff, then winning puts them in on record alone. There have been situations where if Team A & Team B both win in the final week, Team A advances, and if both lose, Team B advances, so Team B is more interested in what team A does than they are in what they do, but there is no active benefit in losing.