At the urging of Nestor Aparicio, I have gone back in time when I would regularly bother the Elias Sports Bureau in New York for help in determining the scenarios in which the team I was working for (New Orleans, Atlanta) at the time needed to make the playoffs.
Yes, I know, “What’s Important Now” is the motto of the Ravens organization. This discussion is strictly for the fans. Everyone else connected to the Ravens has their minds on only the Steelers this week, as it should be. So with that disclaimer, let’s dive in, shall we?
So here is the official Elias playoff-clinching scenarios for the Ravens this week (originally posted by Casey Willett):
Baltimore clinches a playoff spot with:
1) BAL win + NE loss + NYJ loss or tie OR
2) BAL win + NE loss + MIA loss or tie OR
3) BAL win + MIA loss + NYJ loss + IND loss or tie OR
4) BAL win + MIA loss + NYJ loss + IND clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over MIA (we’ll discuss strength of victory below …)
Now, as far as the division title goes, let’s get the most obvious scenarios out of the way first. If Baltimore wins all three of its remaining games, the Ravens are no worse than the conference’s #6 seed, and could win the division. Also, if Pittsburgh beats the Ravens this Sunday, the Steelers are the AFC North champion, as Baltimore can only tie the Steelers in overall record, but Pittsburgh would have a sweep of the head-to-head matchups. Also, if the Ravens finish 3-0 and the Steelers go 1-2 or 0-3, the Ravens win the division on overall record.
Worth noting here is that Indianapolis owns the wild-card tiebreaker over the Ravens because of the Colts’ 31-3 victory over Baltimore, should the teams tie for the #5 seed.
Now, to the other scenarios as far as the AFC North title is concerned. If the Ravens win out for a 12-4 record and Pittsburgh goes 2-1 (with a loss to Baltimore), the Steelers would also be 12-4. The division tiebreaker would go this way:
1. Head-to-head: The series splits 1-1.
2. Division record: Each team would be 5-1 in the division (assuming Pittsburgh victory over Cleveland).
3. Common games: Division rivals play 14 common games (the only two games that are not are the ones based on the previous season’s division finish — the Ravens played Miami and Oakland, while the Steelers played San Diego and New England). All three remaining games for both teams are common. The current breakdown of common games is:
PIT (8-3): Houston W, Cleveland W, Philadelphia L, Baltimore W, Jacksonville W, Cincinnati W, New York Giants L, Washington W, Indianapolis L, Cincinnati W, Dallas W (left to play: Baltimore, Tennessee, Cleveland).
BAL (7-4): Cincinnati W, Cleveland W, Pittsburgh L, Tennessee L, Indianapolis L, Cleveland W, Houston W, New York Giants L, Philadelphia W, Cincinnati W, Washington W (left to play: Pittsburgh, Dallas, Jacksonville).
If the Ravens win out and Pittsburgh’s only loss is to Baltimore, teams would tie at 10-4 in common games.
4. Conference games. When the NFL went to the eight-division format in 2002, the league owners moved common games ahead of conference contests in the tiebreaker formula between teams in the same division, since there were more common (14) than conference (12) games. Here are the AFC records/games left for both clubs:
PIT 8-1 (left to play: Baltimore, Tennessee, Cleveland); BAL 7-3 (left to play: Pittsburgh, Jacksonville)
Pittsburgh would win the AFC North as a 2-1 record (losing to Baltimore) would give the Steelers a 10-2 conference mark, while the Ravens could do no better than 9-3 in the AFC (even by beating the Steelers). That would put the Ravens into one of the wild card spots as three straight wins gives the Ravens at least the No. 6 AFC seed.
Let’s look at a slightly different, but very plausible scenario: Baltimore goes 2-1 (beating the Steelers and losing one other game) and Pittsburgh finishes 1-2 (losing to the Ravens and one other team). Here we would have a tie at 11-5. How could that play out?
If the other Steelers loss came to Cleveland, the Ravens would win the AFC North on division record, 5-1 to 4-2. If the Ravens only loss comes to Jacksonville, the Steelers win the division on conference record: 9-3 to 8-4.
If Pittsburgh lost to both Tennessee and the Ravens, and Baltimore’s only loss comes to Dallas, the tie goes all the way through common games as both clubs would be 9-5.
Now, it gets complicated: Strength of victory. Strength of victory is simply the combined winning percentage (ties count as half-win, half-loss) of each of the teams you have beaten.
In this tiebreaker scenario, assuming Baltimore goes 2-1 (loss to DAL) and Pittsburgh 1-2 (losses to BAL and TEN), the only victories NOT shared by both clubs are Oakland, Miami and Philadelphia for the Ravens, and San Diego, New England and Dallas for the Steelers. ALL other victories (including 2 each over Cleveland and Cincinnati) would be shared here. So the current combined records of those un-shared victories in this scenario are: PIT: 21-18-0 (.538); BAL: 18-20-1 (.474).
The key to this step is that the Ravens would need Oakland, Miami and Philadelphia to win in their games; AND San Diego, New England and Dallas to lose in theirs.
Should the strength of victory be tied, it goes to strength of schedule (every game is common except for MIA/OAK for Baltimore and NE/SD for Pittsburgh. The two Ravens’ non-shared opponents are a combined 11-15, while Pittsburgh’s is 13-13.
Should strength of schedule be tied, then it goes to “best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.” Right now among AFC teams, the Ravens are tied for fourth (with Denver) in points scored for (316) and third in points allowed (200) for a combined rank of 3.75. The Steelers are ninth in points scored (289) and first in points allowed (183; by one point over Tennessee) for a combined rank of 5.
To sum up, the difference between the Ravens and the Steelers is razor-thin for the division title if Baltimore wins this Sunday at home.
Calculator burned out? Feeling like you are back in your high school algebra class? I understand your pain. We’ll update this next week after Week 15 is complete.