What are the Rules for tie-breaks in the NFL?

As the National Football League (NFL) season draws to a close, many teams still have their eyes on the postseason playoffs. With multiple teams potentially finishing with identical records, it becomes crucial to understand how tiebreakers work in order to determine playoff seeding and wild-card spots. This comprehensive guide outlines the rules for NFL tiebreakers among both divisional and conference rivals.

Breaking a Divisional Tie Among Two Clubs:

Tiebreaking procedures in sports.
Tiebreaking procedures in sports.

In case two teams within the same division finish the regular season with an equal number of victories, defeats, and ties, the following tiebreaking procedures are used:

  • Head-to-head record: The team that won more games against its tied rival is given priority.
  • Winning percentage within the division: The team with a better win-loss-tie ratio against other division opponents gets priority.
  • Winning percentage in common games: The team that performed better against common opponents outside their division is ranked higher.
  • Conference record: The tied teams’ performance against all teams within their own conference determines their ranking.
  • Strength of victory: This evaluates the average win-loss-tie record of teams defeated by each contender.
  • Strength of schedule: This measures the combined winning percentage of opponents faced by the tied-contenders throughout the season.
  • Overall point rankings: The teams’ combined rankings in points scored and points allowed across conference-wide matchups are compared.
  • Total net points: The team scoring more total net points across all games, followed by common games, are ranked higher.
  • Total net touchdowns: The team with more total net touchdowns throughout the season is prioritized.
  • Coin toss: In extremely rare cases where all previous tiebreakers are inconclusive, a coin toss decides the final standings.

Resolving Divisional Ties Among Three or More Clubs:

Eliminating ties among multiple clubs.
Eliminating ties among multiple clubs.

When three or more teams in the same division finish the regular season with identical records, similar tiebreaking procedures are applied to sequentially eliminate contenders until only one team remains.

  • Upon eliminating a team, remaining tied teams follow the two-club format from step one.
  • Criteria used for breaking ties among two clubs remain largely unchanged, though emphasis lies on resolving any intra-divisional ties first before addressing ties with inter-conference adversaries.

Breaking Interconference Ties:

Resolving interconference sports ties.
Resolving interconference sports ties.

In instances when two or more clubs from different conferences end their regular-season campaign with the same overall win-loss-tie record, these specific steps are implemented:

  • Head-to-head meetings: Ties between non-divisional opponents emphasize their head-to-head record first and foremost.
  • Common games’ winning percentage (minimum of four): Performance against at least four common teams determines rankings if no direct encounters happened during the season.
  • Strength of victory across all games: The average record achieved by defeated teams determines which contender has the edge in this situation.
  • Combined rankings in points scored and allowed: Teams’ success rates across all played games in terms of both scoring and stopping opponents are evaluated.
  • Best net points: Total net points scored by each team in all their games act as the final ranking criterion for breaking interconference ties.

Understanding these NFL playoff tiebreaker rules allows fans to better grasp the precarious nature of postseason qualification. Although rare, there may come a time when the flip of a coin dictates a team’s chances at gridiron glory. With heightened stakes on the line, knowing these intricacies proves valuable to players, coaches, and spectators alike!