It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that THE game of the 2010 NFL Regular season will be played Monday night, December 6th in Foxboro. You've got two teams with identical, league-leading 9-2 records, who happen to play in the same division, and who absolutely despise each other. Jets/Pats is clearly the #1 rivalry in the league at the moment and a decade and a half's worth of bad blood, scandal, and trash talk is going to come to an ugly head in front of a prime time National TV audience.
Still, for all the hyperbole, the fact remains that this is a regular season, divisional game. It's no more important that the Week 2 matchup between these teams, and honestly, only slightly more important than when New England heads to Buffalo in Week 16. So I'm going to bypass all the superlatives, and for the sake of this article, focus strictly on how this game affects each team's ability to accomplish their ultimate goal – winning Super Bowl XLV.
Let's take a look at the current standings across the AFC, just to get a feel for the landscape:
Now, clearly, whoever wins Monday's game will hold a 10-2 record and be the front-runner for the AFC East title. However, despite the advantage that a win might bring, the victor is still by no means guaranteed to take the division crown. After Monday night, there will be four games remaining on the schedule for each team, and the NFL is a league where absolutely anything can, and usually does, happen. On that note, here's what Weeks 14-17 hold for the Patriots and Jets:
|14||@ CHI||vs. MIA|
|15||vs. GB||@ PIT|
|16||@ BUF||@ CHI|
|17||vs. MIA||vs. BUF|
Scenario #1: If the Jets Win…
I'll start off by giving the rundown of a Jets' victory since the possibilities are much more limited if Gang Green gets the W. They would be 10-2, while the Patriots would be 9-3. The Jets would have won both regular season contests between the teams, giving them the #1 tie breaker edge. This means that the Patriots would have to finish with an outright better record than New York to take the AFC East.
However, all is not lost, even though New England would need to make up two games in the final four weeks on the Jets. New York has three games left on the schedule which could pose problems for them. Home against Miami, at Pittsburgh, and at Chicago are certainly not "gimmee" games. The Jets could realistically drop two of those three. If they did, however, New England would need to counter by running the table during its final four games. Unfortunately for the Pats, at Chicago, vs. Green Bay, and vs. Miami aren't cupcake games either.
Scenario 1a: Jets go 3-1 or better down the stretch – Jets win
Scenario 1b: Jets go 2-2, 1-3, or 0-4 down the stretch, AND New England goes 4,0, 3-1, or 2-2, respectively – Patriots win
The bottom line is that the Patriots aren't completely sunk if they lose, but would likely need to play perfect down the stretch and get some help to claim the AFC East.
Scenario #2: If the Patriots Win…
If the Patriots win on Monday night, they obviously have the edge at 10-2 over the Jets at 9-3. If they run the table and finish 14-2, it's a no-brainer and they claim the AFC East. They could also win the division by simply matching wins and losses with the Jets over the final four games.
Scenario 2a: Patriots finish 4-0 OR match wins/losses with the Jets down the stretch – Patriots win
However, if New England were to lose a game or two and finish with the same record as New York, things really get tricky! The reason the waters get so muddy here, is because the AFC East will not be determined by simple wins and losses, but rather which teams those wins losses came against.
To shed some more light on the situation, here's the NFL tie-breaking procedures for two teams within a division:
- Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
- Strength of victory.
- Strength of schedule.
- Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
- Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
- Best net points in common games.
- Best net points in all games.
- Best net touchdowns in all games.
- Coin toss
If the Patriots win on Monday Night, Tie-breaker #1 is out the window as New England and New York would have split their series 1-1. So let's move onto #2, division record. In the case of a Patriots victory, both New England and New York would have 3-1 AFC East records, with games remaining against Miami and Buffalo. It's critical that New England take care of business in those two divisional games, otherwise the Jets could claim the division tie-breaker.
Scenario 2b: Patriots and Jets finish with same record, but Jets have better division record – Jets win
But let's say New England and New York are tied, but both teams only had one division loss, to each other. Now we're down to tie-breaker #3 – Best record against common opponent. (As an aside, it was this very tie-breaker that kept the Patriots out of the playoffs in both 2002 and 2008). Here's the Patriots and Jets' common opponents:
Keep in mind, we're assuming that both the Pats and Jets won their remaning division games, or at least finished with the same division record (ie. both losing one game to Miami or Buffalo). If they hadn't, then tie-breaker #2 would likely be in effect.
At the moment, the Patriots are 7-1 in games against common opponents. The Jets are 6-2. However, if New England wins on Monday night, but still ends up tied with the Jets, it means that they lost a game somewhere. It can't be against Miami or Buffalo, or the Jets win via tie-breaker #2. So if the Patriots and Jets are tied, it means that New England either lost to Green Bay or Chicago. Those are "common opponents", and would drop the Patriots.
To keep things simple, let's say the Jets finish 4-0, and the Patriots lose a remaining NFC North game. Both the Patriots and the Jets would have records of 10-2 against common opponents. This makes the #3 tie-breaker void, and we're moving onto #4. Any way you shake it, it's impossible for the Patriots and Jets to tie and then win via this tie-breaker.
So we're onto tie-breaker #4 – Best conference record. Here's the breakdown of the conference games…
|New York 2||W||N/A|
|New England 2||N/A||L|
Again, assuming New England wins Monday night and defeats Miami and Buffalo down the stretch, the Patriots would finish with a 10-2 conference record. In this scenario, the New York has also beaten Miami and Buffalo, to push their conference record to 9-2. However, the Jets have one more AFC game remaining against the Steelers, which complicates matters.
Let's say the Patriots lose to Green Bay or Chicago, but the Jets finish 4-0. Both New England and New York would finish with 10-2 records in the AFC and we're off to tie-breaker #5. However, if New England were to drop both games to Green Bay and Chicago, and New York went 3-1 with a loss to Pittsburgh, then the Jets would have a 9-3 AFC record and the Patriots would win the division.
Scenario 2c: New England loses to Green Bay and Chicago AND New York loses to Pittsburgh: Patriots Win
So if the Patriots win on Monday night, but finish tied with the Jets, and they both finish 5-1 in the AFC East, and the unlikely Scenario 2c above doesn't play out, we're onto tie-breaker #5 – strength of victory. As strange as it may be to have gotten this far down the tie-breaker ladder, I can't say that I'd be shocked to see the Patriots and Jets in this situation. It's entirely possible that these teams finished tied with identical AFC East, Common Opponent, and AFC records. So what exactly is "strength of victory"? I had to look this one up myself, but strength of victory is figured by calculating the combined winning percentage of the opponents a team has beaten.
Now this has the potential to get really crazy, and complex. However, if you take into account the "common" victories and eliminate them from the equation, it becomes more clear. Since the winning percentage for these common teams would contribue equally to both teams' strength of victory, we can disregard them. Here are the common victories between the Jets and Patriots so far, along with the needed assumptions (some combo of wins over Miami and Buffalo, Pittsburgh) to even make it to this tie-breaker…
Miami x 2*
Buffalo x 2*
New England / New York (teams are tied, so their winning percentage cancels out)
If you take those games out, New England has beaten…
San Diego 6-5
Winning Percentage: 63.6%
New York will have beaten…
Winning Percentage: 33%
That's a pretty sizeable lead that New England holds. The Jets need about 10 more victories tacked on to those three teams to catch up. In all likelihood the gap will only get wider as Baltimore, Indy, and San Diego rack up wins and Houston, Cleveland, and Denver rack up losses. The only question remaining is whether or not something can happen in the final four games to tip the scales in New York's favor. Let's run some scenarios…
What if the Jets run the table and New England loses to Chicago? Well, you can add Chicago's 8-3 record to the Jets which helps. However, in this scenario, it means New England will have beaten Green Bay, adding their 7-4 record to the Patriots' strength of victory. This would be a minor boost to the Jets, if any. Green Bay could easily overtake Chicago and end up with a better record. No matter how you shake it, these two NFC North teams are simply too closely matched to cause a huge swing either way.
What if something crazy were to happen, where New England lost to Miami and Green Bay/Chicago, and New York lost to Buffalo? This would give the teams even AFC East records, even common opponent records, and even AFC records. However, you'd have Miami's better strength of victory helping the Jets and Buffalo's weak strength of victory helping the Patriots. Miami could finish as good as 10-6 in this case, and Buffalo as bad as 2-14. That's a potential eight game swing which could definitely level the playing field.
However, like I said above, New England holds about a 10-win advantage over the Jets at the moment. Even if the stars aligned with Miami/Buffalo and allowed the Jets to close the gap on New England's lead, there's still five games remaining per team amongst Baltimore/Indy/San Diego for New England and Houston/Cleveland/Denver for New York. I just can't imagine that over a 15 game stretch, New England's three teams won't win more games than New York's three teams. The bottom line is that unless something truly crazy happens, New England wins the strength of victory tie-breaker!
Scenario 2d: New England loses to Chicago or Green Bay, Jets finish 4-0: Patriots win
Scenario 2e: New England loses to Miami or Buffalo AND Green Bay or Chicago, and Jets lose to Miami or Buffalo: Patriots win
So that's the Patriots/Jets AFC East scenarios in a nutshell. The scenarios are super complex and potentially go five rungs down the tie-breaker ladder , but in reality, it's this simple…
If the Jets win on Monday night, they would have to lose two of their last four games for the Patriots to even have a prayer of taking the AFC East.
If the Patriots win Monday night…
- The Patriots can lose one game to either the Packers or Bears and still win the AFC East.
- If the Patriots lose both games to Chicago and Green Bay, they can win the AFC East if the Jets finish 3-1 or worse
- If the Patriots lose one game to Miami or Buffalo, they can win the AFC East if the Jets finish 3-1 or worse
- If the Patriots lose both games to Miami and Buffalo, they can win the AFC East only if the Jets finish 2-2 or worse.
- If the Patriots lose one game to Chicago/Green Bay and one game to Miami/Buffalo, they can win the AFC East if the Jets also lose one game to Miami/Buffalo or finish 2-2 or worse
- If the Patriots finish 1-3 or worse… There's a bunch of ways things could go, but then they really don't deserve the AFC East title, do they?
There's a lot of different ways for the AFC East to shake out, but the bottom line is that the winner of Monday night's game holds a tremendous edge.