Week 17 Mailbag

Welcome to our final mailbag post of the season! Thank you to everyone who submitted questions this season!

See the Playoff Picture entering week 17 here

Many people

How can insert team here make the playoffs?

Every year for week 17, we have a path to the playoffs post that lays out a myriad of paths for teams to reach the playoffs.


Parker M.

I saw on a couple of other websites that PIT can make the playoffs even if they lose out. Is this possible? How so?

It is possible.

It requires all of the following:

  • PIT loses out
  • CIN loses out
  • JAX loses out
  • HOU loses out
  • LV loses week 17
  • LV wins week 18
  • 1.5 or more wins from (CLE w17, BAL w17, LAR w17, GB w17, CHI w17, NE w17, TB w17, LAR w18, GB w18, MIA w18).

This gives IND the AFC South division title. After breaking division ties, we have PIT over CIN on head-to-head, JAX over HOU on division record, and if DEN wins week 17, LV over DEN on head-to-head. PIT/JAX/LV falls to Strength of Victory, which PIT has a substantial lead on, but not insurmountable. The 1.5 wins in the last part will clinch that Strength of Victory for PIT, sending them into the 7 seed.



Why can the Broncos be eliminated even if they win? But the Raiders can’t be eliminated with a win?

There are a couple of reasons here. The first is that LV plays IND, so LV win automatically means IND loss. Two of the 3 DEN elimination scenarios with a DEN win require an IND win, so those are out. The second is that LV at 9-8 has a conference record of 7-5, while DEN at 9-8 has a conference record of 6-6. LV can safely use IND winning in week 18 to protect them from the head-to-head loss to PIT, knocking off PIT on conference record if PIT loses in week 18. DEN’s worse conference record leaves them with fewer options.



There is still a possibility that Cleveland can be eliminated from the playoffs, then how?

It requires all of the following (ignoring ties):

  • CLE loses out
  • PIT wins out
  • JAX wins out
  • BUF wins out
  • Either IND or HOU wins out

In this case BUF gets the 5 seed on overall record. PIT wins the tiebreak over CLE on division record, but then loses the tiebreak to whichever of IND or HOU wins out due to head-to-head losses to both. That gives HOU/IND the 6 seed and PIT then takes the 7th.


Charlie C

1) What does “Common Games” mean as a tiebreaker?
2) Do you use some kind of computer program or bot to help calculate the scenarios? There were a ton of SOV scenarios for the Chargers last week so I didn’t know whether you did it all on your own or not.

Common games as a tiebreaker is the combined win/loss/tie percentage against the teams that both teams played against. For example, if DET & PHI both win out, the tiebreaker will fall to common games. The teams that both teams will have played are DAL, MIN, TB, SEA, and KC. PHI is 4-2 against these teams. DET would be 5-1, so DET would win the common games tiebreaker.

As far as computers go. I have simple programs to help me generate SoV tables, like the one you see at the end of the week 15 mailbag, and I have my own custom local playoff machine, but as far as actually creating the scenarios from those tables, that’s entirely done by hand. It’s why if you pay attention to those heavy Strength of Victory scenarios over the course of the week, you’ll notice they change a bit over time, because the manual process leaves a lot of room for errors that get caught only once things get public and other eyes end up on it.


Dilan T

What does the scenario look like for browns to have 1 seed?
Also what is easiest path for DET, PHI, DAL, and SF to get the 1 seed?

For CLE:

  • CLE wins out
  • BAL loses out
  • MIA loses week 18

CLE then wins the AFC North on division record and gets the 1 seed over MIA on conference record.

For DAL:

  • DAL wins out
  • SF loses out
  • PHI loses a game

DAL wins the NFC East over PHI on division record (if PHI loses week 18) or conference record (if PHI loses week 17). DAL then clinches the 1 seed over DET on head-to-head.

For DET:

  • DET wins out
  • SF loses a game

Even if PHI wins out, DET would have the common games tiebreaker at 13-4, so only SF stands in their way (SF has conference record on DET, so they need to finish behind)

For PHI:

  • PHI wins out
  • DET loses a game
  • SF loses a game

This is the corollary to DET. Since DET wins common games at 13-4, PHI needs them to lose a game on top of SF losing a game.

For SF:

  • SF wins out

SF has conference record over everyone, and head-to-head wins over DAL & PHI, so any tie goes to SF.


Calvin C

When can the Carolina Panthers lock up the number #1 pick and strength of schedule.

The SoS calculations are more obnoxious than I’d hoped, so I’m going to leave them in somewhat simplified form. The biggest piece of importance is that ARI has Strength of Schedule clinched over CAR, so the following are guaranteed clinches:

  • CAR loss
  • CAR tie + ARI win/tie

If CAR wins and ARI wins, then we have NE & WAS to contend with. WAS is a bit simpler because they are guaranteed a worse Strength of Victory than CAR, so they have to clinch Strength of Schedule outright. (Remember that for draft order, Strength of Schedule is the first tiebreaker, so we only care about other things if we are tied in Strength of Schedule).

Any of the following options take care of getting CAR ahead of WAS in draft order:

  • WAS win/tie
  • 5.5 or more wins from (LV, CHI, DALx2, NYJ, NYG, DEN)

Any of the following options take care of getting CAR ahead of NE in the draft order:

  • NE win/tie
  • 6.5 or more wins from (DAL, CHI, NO, *WAS, NYG, MIA, NYJx2, PITx2, KC, IND)
  • 6 wins from (DAL, CHI, NO, *WAS, NYG, MIA, NYJx2, PITx2, KC, IND) + 2.5 or more wins from (NYJ, PIT, DEN, TEN, CHI, NO)

So if ARI win & CAR win, then we need to get both WAS & NE behind CAR in draft order using one of the options shown above.

The last option for NE is for NE clinching Strength of Victory over CAR based upon the interconference tiebreaker rules. The first team list and the second team list are for clinching a Strength of Schedule tie and clinching Strength of Victory, respectively. There are some common games between these lists. We also left x2 in the team lists rather than breaking them out. Both items are left that way for simplicity or else this whole thing would expand into a huge list of scenarios, so I’ll leave it to reader discretion for interpreting it in the most useful way for them.


Seth A

Is there a scenario by which the Packers can “control their own path” in Week 18? Meaning, a combination of Week 17 results that would mean GB would be in with a win in Week 18. Thanks!

Absolutely. If GB wins, ATL loses, and either SEA or LAR lose a game, GB is in great shape. GB has head-to-head over NO & LAR, has conference record over NO, and has Strength of Victory clinched over SEA, so a win in week 18 would guarantee them a berth.


Aiden C

What’s the simplest way for KC to miss the playoffs?

This is just the simplest way:

  • KC loses out
  • DEN or LV wins out
  • BUF wins a game
  • CIN wins week 18

The first 2 are requirements to prevent KC from clinching the AFC West division title. The second two options require 1 game each to knock KC out on pure record. There are a myriad of other ways, but this requires the fewest games to make it happen.


Jordan A

For the games that aren’t obvious, which results would create the most chaos going into week 18? Am I right for thinking it makes sense to root against all of the 8-7 teams and for all of the 7-8 teams? What about PIT vs SEA? It seems like theoretically we could eliminate only one team this week and go into week 18 with 23 teams alive… are there any peculiar week 18 scenarios like LV/LAC/PIT from a couple years ago that could happen depending on results this week?

As far as chaos, I think you’re on the right track. Higher record teams losing, lower record teams winning create more confusion. However, We could go into week 18 with 24 teams alive, not just 23. If the following teams win, then we have no additional playoff clinches or eliminations for the entire week (just some division clinches & eliminations): JAX, CIN, MIA, HOU, LV, PIT, DEN, BUF, NO, CHI, NYG, GB, NYJ, DAL, WAS, PHI.

There is a world in which we end up with the similar type of thing as with LV/LAC/PIT a couple of years ago where we have 3 possible final wildcards going into the last game if BUF, PIT, and JAX all win out, CLE wins a game and HOU & IND win week 17. Then, were HOU/IND to be the final game, then the winner would be in, the loser would be out, and PIT would be in instead of either HOU or IND if the game ended in a tie.