Explaining the NFL playoff seeding tiebreakers and how they work

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Explaining the NFL playoff seeding tiebreakers originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The end of the 2022 NFL regular season is finally here, but there’s still plenty of questions about the playoffs.

With one game to play, only two of the 14 playoff seeds are secured – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be the NFC’s No. 4 seed and the New York Giants will be the NFC’s No. 6 seed. That leaves 12 seeds left to be determined, giving almost every team reason to play hard in Week 18.

Undoubtedly, there will be teams with the same record after their final games. How is a tie broken between two teams? What about ties within divisions?

Here’s a full breakdown of the NFL tiebreaking procedures:

How is a tied record broken between playoff teams?

Tied records happen basically every year as teams enter the NFL playoffs.

Through 17 weeks this season, there are several ties that would need to be broken between. The Chargers and Ravens are both 10-6 wild card teams entering Week 18, for example. On the NFC side, the 49ers and Vikings are both 12-4 division winners.

How would those ties be broken? Here’s the procedures for ties between two and three teams:

Between two clubs

  1. Head-to-head, if applicable.

  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in conference games.

  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.

  4. Strength of victory in all games.

  5. Strength of schedule in all games.

  6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.

  7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.

  8. Best net points in conference games.

  9. Best net points in all games.

  10. Best net touchdowns in all games.

  11. Coin toss.

Between three or more clubs

  1. Apply division tiebreaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tiebreaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the two Wild-Card participants.

  2. Head-to-head sweep. (Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others.)

  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in conference games.

  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.

  5. Strength of victory in all games.

  6. Strength of schedule in all games.

  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.

  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.

  9. Best net points in conference games.

  10. Best net points in all games.

  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.

  12. Coin toss

How is a tied record broken between division teams?

Division tiebreakers are broken in a slightly different way – and those procedures could be on display this season if the 7-9 Titans beat the 8-8 Jaguars in Week 18. They could also be used if the 13-3 Eagles lose to the Giants and the 12-4 Cowboys beat the Commanders in Week 18.

Here’s the full division tiebreaker procedures:

Between two clubs

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).

  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in divisional games.

  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.

  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in conference games.

  5. Strength of victory in all games.

  6. Strength of schedule in all games

  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.

  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.

  9. Best net points in common games.

  10. Best net points in all games.

  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.

  12. Coin toss

Between three or more clubs

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games among the clubs).

  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in divisional games.

  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.

  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in conference games.

  5. Strength of victory in all games.

  6. Strength of schedule in all games.

  7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.

  8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.

  9. Best net points in common games.

  10. Best net points in all games.

  11. Best net touchdowns in all games.

  12. Coin toss