By the time Week 17 arrived, everyone knew what it would take for the playoff contenders to nail down a playoff berth. For some, it was win and in. For others, it was win and get help.
But the simplicity of the process on Sunday overlooks the complexity of determining two playoff teams from a four-way clusterfudge of 9-7 franchises.
All four teams — Titans, Bills, Ravens, and Chargers — finished 9-7. With each team coming from a different division, all were thrown in to the tiebreaker pot.
First step: Did any team sweep the other three, and did any team lose to the other three? In this case, the answer on both counts was, “No.”
Second step: Conference record. With the Titans at 8-4 and the others no better than 7-5, the Titans claimed the first wild-card berth, making them the No. 5 seed.
The process then started again, with the Bills, Ravens, and Chargers vying for one spot.
First step: No one swept or was swept by the other two.
Second step: the Bills and Ravens were 7-5 in the AFC, the Chargers were 6-6. That left out the Chargers.
Third step: Since the Bills and Ravens didn’t play each other in 2017, the next tiebreaker became record in common opponents. The Bills and Ravens were 4-1 each.
Fourth step: Strength of victory. This entails taking the won-lost percentage of all teams beaten by the Bills and comparing it to the won-lost percentage of all teams beaten by the Ravens. And that’s how the Bills pulled it off.
Of course, the Ravens could have avoided all of that by simply holding a late lead against the Bengals, which would have vaulted Baltimore to 10-6 and given it the No. 5 seed, without reliance on any tiebreakers.
For the Chargers, it’s hard to stomach seeing the Bills in and L.A. out, especially since the two teams had the same record — and since the Chargers blew out Buffalo, 54-24. If it had been a two-team tiebreaker, the Chargers would have sailed past the Bills. Adding the team introduced other factors, and a 6-6 record in the conference ultimately sealed the team’s fate.