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NFL Playoff Picture: How The Tiebreakers Work

Since the NFC West playoff picture is a huge muddled mess, it benefits one to have an understanding of the tiebreakers and how they’re applied as it relates to the division race. As it stands now, the Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams sit atop the NFC West with a one-game lead on the San Francisco 49ers. The Rams and Niners play each other next week, in what serves as an elimination game. How will some of the playoff scenarios shakeout out should two teams be tied at the end of the regular season?

1. Head-to-head. Each team in the division plays the others twice, so if one side swept the series, the tiebreakers end and that team takes the playoff spot.
2. Best win/loss record within the division. Again, each NFC West team has a total of six games against division opponents, so we see who has the better record. If we’re still tied here…
3. Best win/loss in common games. For example, The Seahawks and Rams played all the division games plus common games against Carolina, New Orleans, Atlanta, Denver and Kansas City.
4. Best win/loss in games against conference opponents. How did each team do against the NFC? If we’ve gotten this far, the tiebreakers are getting a bit ridiculous.

And who holds which tiebreaker? Should the Rams beat the 49ers in week 16, if the Seahawks win the next week, at home against the Rams, the Seahawks would take the playoff spot by virtue of a better division record. The Rams and Seahawks split the season series, but the Seahawks would be 4-2 against NFC West opponents, while the Rams would be 3-3.

If the 49ers beat the Rams in week 16 and Cardinals in week 17, coupled with a Seahawks loss to Tampa Bay and win over St. Louis, then the Seahawks have a problem. San Francisco would, surprisingly, hold a 5-1 record over division opponents, giving the Niners the tiebreaker and playoff record, despite finishing at 7-9 and tied with the Seahawks.