The Redskins are one game out of playoff position with three weeks remaining in the regular season. At 7-6, they trail the New York Giants (8-5) in the NFC East standings, and they trail fifth-seeded Seattle (8-5) and sixth-seeded Chicago (8-5) in the competition for the two wild card berths.
Tiebreakers are likely to affect the final seeding, so let’s examine the Redskins’ two-team tiebreakersituation against each of their competitors in this playoff race. (It can be quite complicated when three or more teams are tied.)
**IMPORTANT NOTE: I’m assuming no games will end in a tie.**
For our reference, here’s a link to the NFL’s tiebreaking procedures.
Let’s start with the NFC East division. Winning the division is the Redskins’ main goal because that would earn them a home playoff game.
Here are the NFC East standings:
TWO-TEAM TIEBREAKER VS. NEW YORK GIANTS
The Redskins have clinched the tiebreaker victory in any two-team tie with the Giants.
1. Head-to-head: Indecisive because the Redskins and Giants split their two games.
2. Divisional record: Washington would clinch this by beating either Philadelphia or Dallas. But if the Redskins were to lose to Philly AND Dallas, they would have eight losses overall and could only tie the Giants with an overall record of 8-8. For the Giants to drop to 8-8, they would have to lose all three of their remaining games, including to Philadelphia in the regular season finale. And if the Giants lost to Philly in the season finale, they’d have only two division wins compared to the Redskins’ three.
TWO-TEAM TIEBREAKER VS. DALLAS COWBOYS
1. Head-to-head: The Redskins hold the advantage by virtue of their Thanksgiving Day victory in Dallas, but more work remains. If the Redskins complete the season series sweep of Dallas by beating the Cowboys in the season finale on Dec. 30, Washington would clinch the tiebreaker victory in any two-team tie with Dallas.
2. Divisional record: If Dallas beats the Redskins on Dec. 30, the head-to-head tiebreaker would be indecisive. The Cowboys’ divisional record would improve to 4-2, which the Redskins could not beat. Washington could only tie that by beating Philadelphia. Of course, Washington’s game against Philly precedes the Dallas game, so we’ll have a clearer sense of who has the advantage in this tiebreaker by the time the Redskins and Cowboys play to finish the season.
3. Common opponent: Dallas holds the advantage by virtue of its 7-3 record against common opponents, compared to the Redskins’ record of 5-5. The Redskins can’t let the tiebreaker process against Dallas get this far. They need to beat Dallas to clinch the tiebreaker victory there.
THREE-TEAM TIEBREAKER WITH NEW YORK AND DALLAS
1. Head-to-head (best winning percentage in the games among the tied clubs): The Redskins would win this tiebreaker if they beat Dallas on Dec. 30. They would improve to 3-1 against the Giants and Cowboys; Dallas would fall to 1-3 against the Redskins and Giants, and New York already is locked in at 2-2 against Dallas and Washington.
If the Redskins lose to Dallas in the regular season finale, this tiebreaker would be indecisive because Washington, New York and Dallas each would be 2-2 against the other two teams.
2. Divisional record: The only way the tiebreaking process could reach this point is if Dallas beats Washington on Dec. 30. That would make Dallas 4-2 against NFC East opponents. The Redskins would have needed to have beaten Philadelphia the previous week just to tie that 4-2 mark.
The Giants’ best possible division record is 3-3, so if Dallas beats the Redskins in the finale and Washington and Dallas finish with divisional records of 4-2, any three-way tie in the division would become a two-team tiebreaker situation between the Redskins and Dallas. See the above breakdown for that scenario.
OK, now let’s look at possible two-team tiebreaker scenarios in the NFC wild card race. Remember, things get complicated in the event more than two teams are tied. For sanity’s sake, I’ll focus for now on two-team ties.
Here are the NFC standings:
TWO-TEAM TIEBREAKER VS. CHICAGO
The sixth-seeded Bears are Washington’s closest target because they hold the final wild card spot entering Week 15.
The Redskins have clinched the tiebreaker victory in any two-team tie with the Bears.
1. Head-to-head: Indecisive because they did not and will not play.
2. Conference record: The Redskins have clinched victory in the conference record tiebreaker.
Let’s look at the possible scenarios, keeping in mind the Redskins are 6-4 against NFC opponents, and Chicago is 5-4. In order for Washington to tie Chicago in the overall standings, Chicago must lose at least one game, and all of the Bears’ remaining games are against NFC opponents.
In order for the Redskins to tie Chicago in the overall standings, the Bears’ best possible record against NFC opponents is 7-5. The Redskins would finish 8-4 in the NFC if they beat Philly and Dallas.
If the Redskins split against Philly and Dallas, they would finish 7-5 against the NFC, and their best possible overall record would be 9-7. In order for the Bears to tie the Redskins at 9-7 in the overall standings, they would have to lose two games, which are against NFC opponents because they’re all that remains on Chicago’s schedule. And if the Bears lose two more conference games, they’d be 6-6 against the NFC compared to Washington’s 7-5.
If the Redskins lose to Philly AND Dallas, Chicago would have to lose all three of its remaining games to tie the Redskins in the overall standings at 8-8. That would mean three Chicago losses, all against NFC opponents, which would lower the Bears’ NFC record to 5-7. The worst the Redskins can finish is 6-6.
TWO-TEAM TIEBREAKER VS. SEATTLE
1. Head-to-head: Indecisive because they did not and will not play.
2. Conference record: The Redskins and Seattle each are 6-4 against NFC opponents. The Seahawks have to lose one game in order for Washington to tie them in the overall standings. If the Seahawks lose to Buffalo, an AFC opponent, this Sunday, the Redskins and Seahawks would have the same conference record and two games remaining each against NFC opponents. The tiebreaker would be determined from there.
3. Common opponent: Seattle has the advantage by virtue of its 3-1 record against common opponents, compared to Washington’s record of 2-2. These records will change, though. Seattle still has to play St. Louis again, and Washington still has to play Dallas.
If Washington beat Dallas and Seattle lost to St. Louis to tie their common opponent records at 3-2, the Redskins and Seahawks still could finish with the same 7-5 record against NFC opponents. In that scenario, it would be on to…
4. Strength of victory (combined winning percentage of opponents a team has beaten): Seattle currently has the advantage, .524 to .505, according to ESPN.com.
TWO-TEAM TIEBREAKER VS. MINNESOTA
The Redskins have clinched the tiebreaker victory in any two-team tie with the Vikings.
1. Head-to-head: The Redskins beat Minnesota, 38-26, on Oct. 14.
TWO-TEAM TIEBREAKER VS. ST. LOUIS
St. Louis has clinched the tiebreaker victory in any two-team tie with the Redskins.
1. Head-to-head: The Redskins lost to St. Louis, 31-28, on Sept. 16.
Because the Rams tied a game this season, Washington could not finish in a two-team tie with them unless it tied one of its last three games. That’s highly unlikely.
TWO-TEAM TIEBREAKER VS. TAMPA BAY
The Redskins have clinched the tiebreaker victory in any two-team tie with Tampa Bay.
1. Head-to-head: The Redskins beat Tampa Bay, 24-22, on Sept. 30.
…hope you’re still seeing straight after all that. The bottom line is that the Redskins need to keep winning. A loss to AFC opponent Cleveland this Sunday wouldn’t eliminate them, but they can’t afford to lose to conference/divisional opponents Philadelphia or Dallas.