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Understanding tie breakers for the division title

Washington Football Team v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

At the end of Week 11, every team in the NFC East had three wins. That changed on Thursday, but already the Giants and the Football Team are knotted up at 4-7 atop the standings, with Philly yet to play on Monday night as home underdogs against the Seahawks.

With just 5 games left in the regular season, I would normally start looking at wildcard possibilities for the NFC East around now, but that will be a short conversation — there are none. The NFCE will have one representative in the playoffs in 2020, the division winner.

Reading the SB Nation fansites for all four franchises, I get the sense that each of the fan bases feel a bit torn by the possibility of winning a division title and getting to the playoffs. On the one hand, winning games and getting into the playoffs are the initial goals for every team every season; however, when fans feel that the team simply has no chance of success against much better teams in the playoffs, they tend to wonder what the point is of winning the division and getting into the dance if they’re just gonna get bounced right back out. When you add in the probability that, come April, the three NFC East division teams that don’t go to the playoffs will likely be drafting in the top-ten while the division winner will be lumped in with playoff teams in the latter half of each round of the draft, it feels a bit like the old joke — “first prize is a one-week all-expenses-paid vacation in Phildelphia; second prize is a two-week all-expenses-paid vacation in Philadelphia.”

Is it worth a fruitless trip to the playoffs if the team’s draft position drops precipitously?

That’s a question that was debated on this site ad nauseum last season, and not a debate I’m trying to reopen, but, for the record, I come down on the side of “winning is always better than losing”. I think two teams in this division — New York and Washington — are getting better as the season progresses, and might actually be able to win a game or two in the playoffs if either can get there. I think the Eagles and Cowboys are too injured and internally fractured right now to succeed if either wins the division. With that in mind, my argument would be that I’d rather see Rivera’s troops play well enough to win the division and then get a taste of playoff ball than to miss the playoffs and pick 8 or 10 spots higher in the draft.

But I digress...

What I wanted to discuss today is how the division winner will be decided if two or three teams in the NFC East finish with identical won-loss records — a possibility that isn’t at all remote.

Let’s start by removing the Eagles from the equation. With their tie against Cincinnati, they are removed from any division title tie breakers, unless the unlikely happens and one or more of the other teams in the NFC East play to a tie in the coming 5 weeks. We’ll discount that possibility for the sake of discussion in this article and simply say that the Eagles either win the division outright or they don’t.

That leaves us with three teams to consider: Washington, Dallas and New York.

Here are the tie-breakers for a two-team divisional tie

  1. Head-to-head record.
  2. Division record.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  5. Strength of victory.
  6. Strength of schedule.
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  9. Best net points in common games.
  10. Best net points in all games.
  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  12. Coin flip.

Washington-New York tie

If the Football Team and the Giants finish with identical overall records at the top of the NFCE, the Giants will become division champs based on their 2-game sweep of the burgundy & gold.

Washington-Dallas tie

If the Football Team and the Cowboys finish with identical overall records atop the division, Washington will become division champs based on their 2-game sweep of Dallas.

New York-Dallas tie

If the Giants and Cowboys finish with identical records at the end of the season, it’s a bit more complicated, but not much. Only two possibilities exist because Dallas has already beaten the Giants.

Tie Breaker 1: Dallas would have to win again in Week 17 to win the first tie-breaker.

Tie Breaker 2: Let’s imagine that Dallas loses the Week 17 game, forcing the two teams to the next tie breaker, which is division record. The Giants are currently 3-2 in the division with only that Week 17 game against the Cowboys remaining. If the Giants win that game, then they go to 4-2 and the Cowboys would not be able to achieve better than 2-4.

The bottom line is that, if these two finish the season with identical records atop the standings, then the winner of the final game of the season would determine the division winner.

Here are the tie-breakers for a three-team divisional tie

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games among the clubs)
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  5. Strength of victory.
  6. Strength of schedule.
  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
  9. Best net points in all common games.
  10. Best net points in all games.
  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
  12. Coin flip.

Here, we’re talking about a three-way-tie between Washington, Dallas and New York.

Tie breaker #1 would NOT include Philly.

  • Washington is .500, with two wins against Dallas and two losses to the Giants.
  • New York is currently at .667, with two wins vs. WAS and one loss vs. DAL
  • Dallas is currently .333, with one win against NY and two losses vs. WAS

In this scenario, a Week 17 win by the Giants would give them the title, while a win by Dallas in Week 17 would give us three “sweeps” and take us to the second tie-breaker.

Tie Breaker #2 includes Philly

We only get to this point if Dallas wins in Week 17, so the x-factor in the equation becomes Philadelphia.

  • The Giants would be 3-3 (.500)
  • The Cowboys would be 2-3 with a game vs Eagles in Week 16.
  • Washington would be 3-2 with a game @ Eagles in Week 17.

Under this tie breaker, Washington would control its own destiny. By winning in Philly in Week 17, they would be the only NFC East team with 4 division wins and would get the division title for 2020.

If the Football Team lost, however, it would be tied with the Giants, and possibly the Cowboys as well.

A Week 17 loss to the Eagles, then, would push the NFC East to the third tie-breaker.

Tie breaker #3 simply has too many variables to be meaningfully discussed in the scope of this article, but it should include the Eagles, and brings into play the games played against the AFC North (Steelers, Ravens, Browns, Bengals) and the NFC West (Seahawks, 49ers, Rams, Cardinals), so, ten games for each team.

As of right now, these are the records and remaining games versus these teams:

  • Washington 2-4 with 4 games remaining
  • New York 2-4 with 4 games remaining
  • Dallas 0-6 with 4 games remaining

Dallas looks like the long-shot in this scenario, but it’s conceivable that New York and Washington could end up tied again here, pushing the teams to the 4th tie-breaker, which is simply too distant to contemplate.

Bottom line

Two-way ties:

  • Washington loses a two-way tie with the Giants.
  • Washington wins a two-way tie with the Cowboys.

In a 3-way tie:

  • The Giants can clinch the title with a Week 17 win.
  • If the Giants lose in Week 17, Washington can clinch the division crown with a win at Philly that same day.
  • If the NY and Washington both lose that day, the tie-breaker will depend on record against common opponents. Once again, Dallas would probably lose here, but it’s too early to predict the outcome between the Giants and the Football Team.

Washington’s remaining schedule

  • Week 13 at Steelers
  • Week 14 at 49ers (but not in Santa Clara CA)
  • Week 15 Seahawks
  • Week 16 Panthers
  • Week 17 at Eagles

Poll

Predict Washington’s final overall record:

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    9-7
    (18 votes)
  • 6%
    8-8
    (41 votes)
  • 32%
    7-9
    (197 votes)
  • 44%
    6-10
    (267 votes)
  • 11%
    5-11
    (66 votes)
  • 1%
    4-12
    (10 votes)
599 votes total Vote Now