Week 16 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 16 here

Many People

What’s the easiest way for insert team name here to make the playoffs?

I got enough of these, I just created an entire post for it!


Robby J:

Is Cincinnati in the table wrong? The tiebreaker talks about two other teams?

Robby here is talking about the explanation that says “IND wins the tiebreak over HOU on Head-to-Head (1-0). CIN wins the tiebreak over BUF/IND on Head-to-Head Sweep.” Seems odd that IND/HOU tiebreak would matter for CIN’s entry, right?

One of the big things to note in NFL tiebreakers is that division ties are always broken first. We have 4 teams tied at 8-6: CIN, IND, HOU, and BUF. Before we can process the multiway tiebreaker, we must first break the tie between IND & HOU to figure out whether we’re checking CIN/BUF/IND or CIN/BUF/HOU. So the first section tells us why we’re doing CIN/BUF/IND. The second section tells us why CIN wins that tiebreaker.


Dorian A:

I don’t see any elimination scenario for the Giants this week (it might not have been posted yet). What’s the path for them to make the playoffs if they lose another game to go 7-10?

There are NYG scenarios, but they had not yet been posted when I received this, and at the time of this writing, they are still woefully incomplete due to necessary SoV calculations that are still underway. However, the simplest path for NYG to make it through at 7-10 is:

  • NYG wins 2 of 3 games
  • LAR loses out
  • SEA loses out
  • GB loses out
  • TB loses out
  • ATL loses weeks 16 & 17 but wins week 18
  • CHI loses week 16

ATL winning week 18 puts them over TB in division. LAR has head-to-head over SEA in their division. Then NYG/CHI/ATL/LAR has ATL/LAR drop out on conference record, and NYG defeats CHI on common games.


Max M:

Could you do a 1st pick scenario? Would be awesome.

I am planning to do 1st pick scenario when it comes up. However, since CAR won last week, there is no clinching scenario on record alone, and the first tiebreaker in draft order is strength of schedule, which can not be clinched against CAR this week, so there is no first pick clinch this week. I will likely have one next week.



Why can’t Denver be eliminated this week with a loss and most of the teams above them winning?

If DEN lost this week and then won their final games, they’d still be 9-8. Even if they all won this week, BUF, CIN, JAX, and IND could still lose their last 2 to fall to 9-8 games. If that happened, We end up with a 4-way (DEN, CIN, BUF, JAX) tie (JAX finishes ahead of IND on head-to-head). BUF would drop out on head-to-head sweep. CIN would then drop out on conference record, and finally DEN would win on common games over JAX, not only not eliminating them but actually propelling them into the 6 seed.


Jaime B

Can you see a plausible scenario that all four AFC North teams make it to the playoffs? Or is it totally up to a lot of improvable results?

It depends on your definition of plausible, but one way to do it would be the following

  • PIT wins out (w16 vs CIN, w17 vs SEA, w18 vs BAL)
  • CIN wins weeks 17 (vs KC) & 18 (vs CLE)
  • CLE wins weeks 16 (vs HOU) & 17 (vs NYJ)
  • DEN loses a game
  • BUF loses a game
  • JAX loses 2 game
  • HOU loses another game beyond CLE

This gets JAX, HOU, and DEN to 8 losses, and BUF to 7, and BUF loses head-to-head to CIN, and conference record to PIT.


Declan W

Can KC clinch a playoff berth without clinching the AFC west this week?

No. 9.5 wins is not sufficient to clinch a playoff berth this week for any team. And if KC gets the 10th win this week, they clinch their division title.


Calvin C

What is the simplest path for Detroit to get #1 seed?

DET winning out takes care of most of it. It gives DAL a 5th loss, and guarantees they finish ahead of PHI on common games (SF isn’t usable to bypass the 2-way tiebreaker. However, SF is guaranteed to have a better conference record than DET, so DET needs SF to lose 2 of their last 3 as well.


Colin B

How can the saints clinch the south besides winning out?

If NO wins vs TB & ATL, and TB loses to either CAR or JAX, NO will still clinch the AFC South title on pure record even if they lose in week 16 to LAR.


Charlie C:

Why does it help the Browns clinch to have certain AFC teams with close records to them win their games?
Also, how did you learn how to calculate these playoff scenarios? I find it very interesting and might wanna try it myself

CLE’s scenarios were a lot of fun this week. The different teams winning in the scenarios prevents them from being used to get CLE out.

MIA win/tie - In the scenarios where we have MIA win/tie this is because the same scenario without MIA win/tie would enable BUF to clinch the AFC East title and drop MIA out into the wildcard race. BUF cannot pass CLE in a tiebreaker, but MIA can. However, if MIA win/tie, it ensures MIA can’t be part of the wildcard chase, removing them from possible ties to keep CLE out.

JAX loss + IND win - These travel together and are part of a very tricky situation. CLE has head-to-head wins over all 3 AFC South teams (including the week 16 win over HOU assumed in this scenario). This means the only way any of those teams can get past CLE is through a 3rd team. HOU is already out. HOU cannot get through even with a 3rd team because CLE has Strength of Victory clinched over them. This leaves JAX & IND. JAX cannot finish ahead of CLE without winning the division, as any tiebreaker with DEN or MIA that would force JAX/CLE past head-to-head would end up going to CLE on Strength of Victory. IND could get past on a conference record tiebreaker, though, as they could end up with an 8-4 record compared to CLE’s 7-5. However, in order for this to be usable, IND must finish exactly 10-7 to push JAX into the division title. That means IND needs to lose one more game. If that game is an AFC game (LV w17, HOU w18), then IND will no longer have the conference record edge, as it will give them a 5th conference loss. However, if that game is an NFC game, and they win both AFC games, IND can pass CLE on a conference record tiebreaker. Thus, JAX loss means IND is required to finish 10-7, and IND win means that IND can no longer get ahead of CLE at 10-7 due to conference record

KC win - This is a fun edge case that occurs only if CIN defeats PIT & DEN wins out. In this case, CIN can tie KC, and if KC goes 0-1-1 among week 16 & 18 games, they would fall behind DEN in the division. However, they would still dominate the conference record scene. If MIA lost out, and KC finishes 9-6-2 with one of those 2 ties to CIN, CIN finishes ahead on record, BUF can take the AFC East, and then KC/MIA/CLE goes to KC on conference record, giving them the 6, and then MIA/CLE goes to MIA on common games, giving MIA the 7 and leaving CLE out. This whole scenario is avoided if KC wins, though.

As far as how I learned to do these? I learned from the best. I started off on the CBS Message Boards when Joe Ferreira (the NFL’s guru) was running a playoff scenarios blog. I asked lots of questions and worked through things on those boards, and he tought me a lot and helped me continue to find issues. My recommendation is to try to work through them yourself, check them with what’s out there, and then ask questions about why X is a scenario or Y isn’t a scenario. There are a bunch of enthusiasts including me who are eager to teach!


Aaron S

If both DAL and PHI win out it falls to SOV. Could you go into what it would take for either team to clinch that? Or for us to get to strength of schedule and what that looks like?

I’ve had this question more than any other this week. So I’ll break it down in a bit of detail.

If both go 13-4, this will be who DAL will have defeated:


And this is who PHI will have defeated:


Here is the teams and their remaining opponents

For DAL: Total wins 29

  Wins   W16     W17     W18  


For PHI: Total wins 34

  Wins   W16     W17     W18  


The games in strikethrough are required losses due to the scenario in question. The games in bold are ones that swing double because the opponent is in the other team’s SoV list.

Now, the trick I like to use here is to give all the remaining results to the team behind. In this case, that would be DAL. We can get them an extra 14 wins if all of their SoV games end in a win, putting them at 43 wins. Now, with PHI at 34 wins, and to avoid Strength of Schedule shenanigans, let’s just look at PHI clinching it outright. And for simplicity, let’s look at whole numbers. That means they need 10 or more wins from the following 28 wins (an x2 indicates the team counts twice towards this 10 wins value)

Week 16: BUFx2, GB, TEN, WAS, MINx2, KC, TB, ARI
Week 18: KCx2, TBx2, ARIx2, MINx2, NE, BUF

Note that because there are 10 possible wins accounted for in week 16, it would be possible for PHI to have this clinched by the end of the week, but it would require all 10 to occur.