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12-22-2009, 02:22 AM
Steelers' playoff hopes hinge on A over B or 2 over 3 or 1A-2B-3C
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Now comes the fun part, the complicated tiebreaker system the National Football League uses to determine which teams with identical records at the end of the season make the playoffs, and which do not.

For those who believe the Steelers, with a 7-7 record and two games left to play, have a snowball's chance in Florida to make the post-season, there is a story there, too.

The road from Heinz Field to the playoffs for the Steelers is a complicated one. Win, and let those who enjoy working the Rubik's Cube that is the NFL tie-breaking system figure it all out. The health care debate might be easier to solve.

Unlike sports such as baseball, where a one-game playoff or even a three-team playoff can break a tie at the end of the regular season, football has no such system. And, with only 16 regular season games compared to baseball's 162, there are infinitely more chances for teams to end up tied for a playoff spot.

The NFL uses a long-standing tiebreaker method that calculates everything that has occurred except corner kicks. For example, No. 7 in the tiebreaking procedure calculates "best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.''

If teams remain tied as they work through the procedures, it can come to best net points, even best net touchdowns. It says nothing about best net income of each 53-man roster, but don't disregard that as possible for future use.

Having exhausted all steps laid down to break ties, if two or more teams remain in their stalemate, the NFL leaves one final, surefire tiebreaker: A coin flip. It has never come to that, but perhaps the league could make it simpler for all involved and have the coin flip as the first tiebreaker rather than the last.

Yet, as there are so-called draftniks who immerse themselves in the data of college football prospects, so too there are tiebreakerniks. They appear more often than shopping mall Santas this time of year.

That brings us to the question of the day: How can the Steelers make the playoffs?

There is no easy answer. As Steelers tackle Max Starks said, "That's a good question. We'll have to see."

Before we begin, if the Steelers do somehow squeeze into the playoffs, they would not overcome longer odds than did their 1989 team. Twenty years ago, coach Chuck Noll's Steelers needed to win their final three games to finish 9-7 and have, oh, several hundred other scenarios break just right to secure a wildcard playoff spot. Their chances of doing so ranked alongside it snowing in Tampa. They not only ended the regular season on Christmas Eve in Tampa with a win, it snowed there the night before. They beat the Buccaneers and then needed the Vikings to beat the Bengals Monday night, which happened.

The Steelers won their first playoff game in Houston in an overtime upset, and came within a point of winning in Denver against John Elway or they would have played the American Football Conference championship game in Cleveland.

So, there is hope for them this season, however slim it might be. It will not be as simple for them as their dramatic road to the Super Bowl in 2005. They knew if they won their final four games they would make the playoffs, no matter what else happened. That is not the case now.

Let us begin with the easy part. The Steelers must win their final two games, Sunday against Baltimore at Heinz Field and Jan. 3 at Miami, to finish 9-7. Lose one, and they are done; no playoffs for the reigning Super Bowl champs.

The Steelers cannot win the AFC North Division, as they did the past two years, so they must secure one of two wildcard playoff spots available in the AFC to join the four division winners from the conference.

The difficult part comes trying to determine the many other scenarios. There are two potential wildcard playoff teams with better records than the Steelers, Baltimore and Denver at 8-6. Five other teams besides the Steelers stand 7-7.

They all likely will not finish with the same record, and the Steelers can eliminate the Dolphins from the equation when the two play on Jan. 3 in Miami.

If two teams tie for the final playoff spot, that is easy to determine. The first tiebreaker would be their head-to-head result. For example, if the Steelers and Denver tie, the Steelers would get the playoff nod based on their victory at Denver this season. The next tiebreaker would be best record within their division (if the two tied teams are in the same division). That's not good for the Steelers because, if they beat Baltimore Sunday and they both wind up 9-7, Baltimore gets the nod based on its better record against AFC North teams this season. If two teams tie and they are not from the same division and they did not play each other, the nod goes to the team with the best record against AFC opponents. If that, too, is tied, they look at the common games each team played and take the team with the best record against those.

Where it really becomes complicated is when three or more teams are tied for a wildcard playoff spot.

That could be good, or bad, for the Steelers because their 4-6 record in the AFC does not help if it gets to that tiebreaker. Of the 7-7 teams, Jacksonville (6-4) and the New York Jets (5-5) both have better AFC records.

Because there are so many scenarios, and newspaper space and readers' attention are not unlimited, we must turn to logic. So here goes:

We have to assume the Steelers finish the season 9-7 or there would be no reason to do this. That would eliminate Miami and reduce Baltimore to 9-7 at best. The Jets must play both the Colts and Bengals; New York is likely are to lose one and miss out. Jacksonville has to finish at New England and at Cleveland and the Jaguars also are likely to lose at least one and be done.

That would leave Tennessee, Houston, Baltimore and Denver. The Steelers would win tiebreakers over both Tennessee and Houston.

So, it could readily come down to Baltimore and Denver. If those two and the Steelers finish tied at 9-7, the Steelers and Ravens would earn the two wildcard playoff spots. In that scenario, the NFL would break the tie between the Steelers and Ravens first, because they reside in the same division. The Ravens would advance, based on their better division record.

Then, they would pit the Ravens against the Broncos and Baltimore would win because the Ravens beat Denver. The NFL would then break the tie between the Steelers and Broncos for the final playoff spot, and Denver would lose out because they lost to the Steelers this season.

Have all that?

Other than that, here are some teams to pull for or against if you want to see the Steelers in the playoffs: Root against the Jets and Jaguars to lose at least one game. This weekend, pull for Philadelphia to beat Denver. Next weekend, pull for Oakland to beat Baltimore.

And remember, it can snow in Florida.
For more on the Steelers, read the new blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at http://www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.

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12-22-2009, 02:34 AM
Steelers' playoff scenarios complex

Tuesday, December 22, 2009
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 58881.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_658881.html)

Following a heart-stopping, 37-36 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, several Steelers captains said they weren't even thinking about the playoffs.

Here's the kicker: if the 7-7 Steelers beat the 8-6 Ravens this Sunday at Heinz Field, they may actually control their playoff destiny heading into their regular-season finale Jan. 3 in Miami.

For that to happen, the Jets, Jaguars, Broncos and Texans have to lose this Sunday; all are underdogs in those games.

If such a scenario transpires, the Jets, Jaguars and Texans could finish no better than 8-8 and the Broncos would do no better than 9-7.

If the Steelers win out, the Dolphins would finish 8-8 at best, and the Ravens would finish no better than 9-7.

One plausible scenario given the remaining schedules of the teams in playoff contention would be the Steelers, Ravens and Broncos all finishing 9-7 and vying for the two AFC wild-card berths.

Under NFL guidelines for wild-card tiebreakers, the Ravens would eliminate the Steelers based on a better division record and get the No. 5 seed over the Broncos since they beat Denver earlier this season.

The final spot in the playoffs would come down to the Steelers and Broncos, and the defending Super Bowl champions would get in based on their 28-10 win Nov. 9 in Denver.

If the Titans would happen to win their remaining two games -- they play host to red-hot San Diego on Christmas -- and join the Steelers, Ravens and Broncos at 9-7, the Ravens and Steelers would still get the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds. The Steelers would get in because they have beaten the Broncos and Titans this season.

A lot has to happen, and if the Steelers don't win their last two games, all of the scenarios for them to make the playoffs are moot. But the team that won its last four games in 2005 and became the first sixth seed in NFL history to capture the Super Bowl title isn't out of postseason contention.

"I'm not really thinking about that right now," Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior said. "I know we're a long shot, and I just want to focus on these last two games."

Though only two weeks are left in the season, there still are countless scenarios that could play out. The Steelers may be the biggest wild card in what has become a muddled race for the two wild-card playoff berths in the AFC. The reason: they have been harder to figure out than the tax code.

The Steelers have beaten the Vikings, Packers and Chargers, who have won nine consecutive games. They also have lost to the Browns, Raiders and Chiefs, who have a combined record of 11-31.

"This is a crazy league; it really is," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said when asked to explain the route the Steelers have taken to 7-7.

What may be crazier is that a team that had been in the midst of a five-game losing streak still can consider itself in playoff contention even if the players won't talk about it -- at least not publicly.

"All I care about," Roethlisberger said, "is us winning these last two games."

Wild race

Here are the teams that are bunched together in the battle for the two AFC wild-card spots:

Broncos (8-6) -- Play at Philadelphia on Sunday, and the Eagles clinch the NFC East with a win over Denver and a Cowboys loss.

Ravens (8-6) -- They needed OT to beat the Steelers in Baltimore, and the Steelers didn't have Ben Roethlisberger that game.

Steelers (7-7) -- If they beat the Ravens, their playoff chances drastically improve.

Dolphins (7-7) -- Could be a de facto playoff game when they play host to the Steelers on Jan. 3.

Jaguars (7-7) -- Play at New England on Sunday, and the Patriots clinch the AFC East title with a victory over Jacksonville.

Jets (7-7) -- Visit the undefeated Colts on Sunday and finish the season by playing host to the Bengals.

Texans (7-7) -- Visit Miami on Sunday and play host to the Patriots the following week.

Titans (7-7) -- They probably turn back into a Christmas pumpkin when they play the visiting Chargers.

Poised to clinch

The following is a list of AFC teams that can clinch playoff berths this week. The Colts (AFC South) and Chargers (AFC West) already have clinched division titles:

Patriots (9-5)

Clinches AFC East with:

New England win or tie OR

Miami loss or tie


Clinches AFC North with:

Cincinnati win OR

Cincinnati tie PLUS Baltimore loss or tie OR

Baltimore loss
Clinches a playoff spot with:

Cincinnati tie OR

Jacksonville loss or tie PLUS New York Jets loss or tie PLUS Houston/Miami game ends in a tie

Ravens (8-6)

Clinches a playoff spot with:

Baltimore win PLUS Jacksonville loss or tie PLUS New York Jets loss or tie OR

Baltimore win PLUS Jacksonville loss or tie PLUS Denver loss OR

Baltimore win PLUS Miami loss or tie PLUS New York Jets loss or tie PLUS Denver loss OR

Baltimore tie PLUS New York Jets loss PLUS Jacksonville loss PLUS Tennessee loss or tie PLUS Houston/Miami game ends in a tie

Broncos (8-6)

Clinches a playoff spot with:

Denver win PLUS Jacksonville loss or tie PLUS Miami loss or tie PLUS New York Jets loss or TIE plus Steelers loss or tie

Tiebreaker procedure

With a handful of teams, including the Steelers, in contention for a wild-card berth in the AFC playoffs, here's how the NFL breaks ties:

Two teams

1. Head-to-head, if applicable.

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.

3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.

4. Strength of victory.

5. Strength of schedule.

6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.

Three or more teams

Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the two Wild-Card participants.

1. Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)

2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.

3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.

4. Strength of victory.

5. Strength of schedule.

6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.

12-22-2009, 09:47 AM
Wow...My explanations were alot easier!

12-22-2009, 09:50 AM
As crazy as it sounds, everything broke so well for us this weekend that I believe our odds of going to the playoffs are pretty good if we win out. We don't need anything to happen that will require a Vegas line underdog to win... Jags lose to New England looking to clinch the East? Check. Jets lose to Indy playing for perfection? Check. Broncos lose to the Eagles in Philly with a first round bye still in play for the Iggles? Check. I hate being dependent on others to get in, but I would hate even more looking at a list of must haves with things like "the Rams and Lions must beat... anybody..."