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Washington will move into “playoff position” if they beat Seattle tonight; why is that?

It’s all about the tie-breakers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

There’s a big crowd of teams in the NFC wildcard hunt, and with 6 weeks left in the season after tonight’s Monday Night Football game ends, the concept of “would be in the playoffs if the season ended today” doesn’t really matter much. After all, two weeks ago, the Carolina Panthers were “in” as the 7th seed on that basis, and now they’re a game out and disadvantaged on tie breakers.

Still, though, Washington is likely to be bobbing up and down the NFC conference rankings for the next few weeks, so the current situation offers a good chance to learn a little bit about tie breakers and how they work.

Nobody is taking Seattle for granted. Despite difficulties this season, they are a fine team with good coaching, a famous quarterback and a talented roster playing to keep their own playoff hopes alive; however, IF Washington wins on Monday Night Football, the Football Team will leap from its current spot of 13th in the NFC all the way up to the 7th spot. This would put the WFT into the “if the season ended today” 7th and final playoff seed by virtue of its new 5-6 record and the tie-breaking rules.

In the chart, you can see the 4 division champions (if the season were to end today) outlined in blue. In the green circle are the first two wildcard seedings (if the season were to end today).

There are currently 3 teams with 5-6 records in the red circle. Washington would join them at 5-6 with a win on Monday night, and would be ranked above the Vikings, Falcons and Saints. Given that Washington lost to the Saints earlier this season, this seems to be counterintuitive.

Here’s the explanation:

Tie-breaker No. 1: Head-to-head competiton

  • New Orleans beat Washington
  • Washington beat Atlanta
  • Atlanta beat New Orleans
  • The Vikings haven’t played any of these three teams

The first tie-breaker is head-to-head competition, but no one has a clear advantage on this, so the second tie breaker comes into effect.

Tie-breaker No. 2: Best record against (NFC) conference opponents

Against other NFC teams, Washington has the best win percentage, and Minnesota is next:

  • Washington would be 5-2 (.714)
  • Minnesota is 4-3 (.571)

Here’s a curve ball for you. With the 4-way tie now broken, the two remaining teams revert to Tie-breaker No. 1. Since Atlanta beat New Orleans in their only regular season matchup so far, the Falcons get the 9th seed while the Saints get the 10th, even though the Saints have the better record against NFC opponents.

  • Atlanta is 2-5 (.286)
  • New Orleans is 4-4 (.500)

You can see how quickly things can change as we go through the next 6 weeks. Of course, the win-loss totals will be shifting, but so will the tie-breakers.

While it is fun to imagine that Washington has the opportunity to go from their 2-6 record at the bye week to being positioned for the playoffs, as Ron Rivera likes to say, “that’s interesting, but not important”.

Playoff seeding at the end of Week 12 isn’t what matters. What’s important is the playoff seeding at the end of Week 18.

There are no good losses, but some are worse than others

I don’t expect the Washington Football Team to go undefeated to the end of the season. Heck, they may not go undefeated to Tuesday.

The key will be to win as many as possible, but you can see how important head-to-head competition and record against conference opponents are. Two things are key:

  1. If you’re gonna lose, try not to lose to teams you may end up tied with at the end of the season.
  2. Losing to an AFC team isn’t as harmful (for tie breakers) as losing to an NFC team.

Of the 5 remaining opponents on the schedule, here is the order of magnitude that potential losses carry, in my opinion:

Raiders - Washington plays in LA next week. The Raiders are the only AFC team left on the WFT schedule. The Football Team is 0-4 against the “other” conference. If the WFT has to lose one of its final 7 games, the Raiders is the least damaging to the tie-breaking scenarios.

Giants - Washington has beaten the Giants once already, so a loss to the G-men simply moves Washington and NY to the second tie-breaker.

  • First of all, the Giants are 3-5 in the NFC while Washington is 4-2. If Washington loses enough games to equal the Giants’ 5 NFC losses, they will be out of the playoffs anyway.
  • To get ahead of WFT in the standings, the Giants will need to win 2 more games than Washington by the end of the season. They can only do this if WFT loses at least 3 games, and — again — if that happens, the Football Team will be out of the playoff picture anyway.

Cowboys - With a win on Monday, Washington will still be two full games behind the Cowboys in the standings. The only way the Football Team is going to be in a tie-breaker with Dallas is if the ‘Boys fall apart over the final 6 weeks (which is possible). If they do, Washington has as much chance of competing for the NFC East title as for winning a tie-breaker with Dallas for a wildcard spot. Any loss to the Cowboys would suck and would injure Washington’s chances to get into the playoffs. The only thing worse for the purposes of making the playoffs would be a loss to the Seahawks or Eagles.

Seahawks - I want to see Washington win on Monday Night Football for a lot of reasons that go beyond eventual playoff seedings, but the reason that a loss to the Seahawks is not as critical as a loss to the Eagles, in my opinion, is because Seattle (currently 3-7 and ahead of only the Detroit Lions in the NFC) would need to go 5-1 in their final 6 games to get to 9 wins. With the 49ers and Cardinals still on their schedule, that seems like a big challenge.

Eagles - With a win on Monday night, Washington would move a half-game ahead of Philly in the standings, who are 5-7. The two teams play two times before the season ends. Two wins by Washington would go a long way towards putting the Football Team into the playoffs ahead of Philly, whether it is as a wildcard team or division champs. A loss to the Eagles, on the other hand, leaves the door open to falling behind Philly in the standings. A loss to the Eagles would have the most averse impact on the Football Team’s playoff hopes among the 5 remaining opponents and 7 remaining games.


Will Washington be part of the playoffs in the coming postseason?

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