With only 4 regular season games left and a 7-5 record, the hunt for a playoff spot is on. One of the most straightforward explanations I've found on how ties are broken can be found here. Open it up in a different window and keep it handy (you're gonna need it). Did I mention the AFC East hasn't been this close in a long time? Here's the current standings within the AFC East, opponents for the next 4 games, and their records:
- Jets (8-4) - 49ers(4-8), Bills (6-6), Seahawks (2-10), Dolphins (7-5)
- Pats (7-5) - Seahawks (2-10), Raiders (3-9), Cardinals (7-5), Bills (6-6)
- Fins (7-5) - Bills (6-6), 49ers (4-8), Chiefs (2-10), Jets (8-4)
- Bills (6-6) - Dolphins (7-5), Jets (8-4), Broncos (7-5), Patriots (7-5)
Leaving the Bills out of it for the moment, the Pats, Jets, and Fins will end up at 11-5 (winning out for Miami means they beat the Jets) and tie breaking rules for the Division Winner will apply. You kept that tie breaker link open, right?
Rule 1, Head-to-head record: 1-1
Rule 2, Won/Lost percentage within division: 4-2
Rule 3, Won/Lost percentage in common games: Pats (9-1), Fins (9-1), Jets (7-3)
Believe it or not, the Jets would be out of the Division leader race because they don't pass Rule 3, Win/Lost percentage in common games. They could still be in the hunt for a Wildcard spot, but that's for Part II. We've now narrowed the AFC East Division Champion race down to the Pats and Fins. We go back to Rule #1 once the third club is dropped off the list. Since both the Pats and Fins have passed through Rules 1 - 3, we move on to:
Rule 4, Won/Lost percentage in conference games: Pats (7-5), Fins (8-4)
The Miami Dolphins become the Division Winner and are guaranteed a playoff berth. We then battle it out with the Jets (and the rest of the AFC) for a potential Wildcard spot.
The most expensive games to lose, at this point, are divisional games. Ex: if the Fins win out, but lose against the Jets, they hand a win to a divisional opponent and blow their standing within the division. Jets at 12-4 would win the division, we'd finish at 11-5 and Miami at 10-6. Record is king. There would be no application of tie breaking rules. The Pats would then move on to other AFC teams with an 11-5 and the tie breaking rules would be applied to fight for WC spot.
Best possible scenario? We win out (11-5), Buffalo gets hot and beats both the Fins and the Jets, and the Fins beat the Jets (both end up 10-6). We become the division champs with a better record than both the Fins AND the Jets. Suddenly, the Bills are my new favorite team...except in Week 17.