The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have officially earned spots in the AFC playoffs, but the Cincinnati Bengals can join them with just a little bit of help. The Ravens and Steelers both clinched playoff berths in Week 15, and the Cleveland Browns were mathematically eliminated back in Week 14, but the Bengals still have a shot.
First let's deal with the Ravens/Steelers scenarios. If the two teams finish with identical records, the Ravens win the division by virtue of a 2-0 head-to-head tie-breaker they hold over the Steelers, so Big Ben and company need to make sure they don't falter against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night. If Pittsburgh losses or ties on Monday night, the Ravens will control their own destiny in the division and have a shot at a first-round bye in the playoffs as well. At the moment, the Steelers control their own destiny when it comes to the division title, as they hold a half-game lead over the rival Ravens.
As for the Bengals, they are actually on the outside of the playoff picture despite having an identical won-loss record compared to the New York Jets. Jets are listed as the final wildcard team due to a better record against common opponents (3-2 vs. 2-2), and thus New York controls their own playoff destiny. The Jets have a fairly tough schedule in their final two games (vs. NYG, at MIA), but if they win they are in. If Mark Sanchez and company falter , the Bengals must overcome a daunting schedule (vs. ARI, vs. BAL) to stay in position to take the final wildcard spot.
|AFC Playoff Picture|
|1||* New England||11||3||3-1||8-2|
Outside Looking In
If there is a tie between two teams for a Wildcard berth, here is the tie-breaker procedure (via NFL.com):
- Head-to-head, if applicable.
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
- Strength of victory.
- Strength of schedule.
If there is a tie between three or more teams for a Wildcard spot, it is the same process as above except head-to-head and division record are used to eliminate teams within the same division before moving on to the listed tie-breakers.
For more on the 2011 NFL playoffs, visit the SB Nation NFL Playoff Race Stream.