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2015 AFC Playoff Picture: AFC South Could Finish Dead Even Through Five Layers Of Tiebreaking Procedures

Houston can still march into the playoffs even if they get obliterated by the Patriots as long as they do the one thing they've never done before - beat the Colts in Indianapolis.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles somehow pulled off a stunning win on the road against the indomitable New England Patriots yesterday, which means something terrible is about to hit the Houston Texans next weekend – a pissed off Tom Brady. I did not reasonably expect J.J. Watt and crew to walk out of this game with an easy win, of course, but trying to defeat "Angry Brady" in primetime is just about the most impossible task in the history of sport.

Can it happen? Sure. Will it? Probably not.

Losing two games in a row is the last thing this Texans club needs if it wants to win the AFC South in the next month or so, but even taking a loss to the Patriots does not completely douse Houston’s chances. If – and this is a big "if" – the Texans win their remaining three games after presumably losing to the Patriots, they can still win the division regardless of what the Colts do for the rest of the season. Both teams would have a 9-7 record with a win over each other, which means tiebreaking procedures would immediately come into play to decide the division champion.

After a straight up win-loss (9-7) and head-to-head (1-1) comparison, the next rung in the tiebreaking ladder is division record. If both teams win out, that would put them still tied at 5-1 in the AFC South. Following that, the winner is decided by who has the best record against common opponents, which this year is the AFC East and NFC South divisions. Again, if both teams win out (excluding the Colts losing to the Texans in Indianapolis for the first time ever), they would be tied with a 3-5 common opponent record; Houston would have wins over New York, Tampa Bay, and New Orleans, while the Colts would have wins over Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Miami. After common opponents comes the win-loss record within the AFC, where both teams would again be knotted up with equal 7-5 records. For those keeping score at home, we are now through four tiebreaking procedures without a single advantage for either team.

The fifth layer of tiebreakers is where it gets interesting, because that is strength of victory. Strength of victory, in essence, is the cumulative win-loss record for each team that the Colts and Texans defeated. If the Texans beat teams that ended up with a better overall record than the teams that Indianapolis beat, Houston wins the division. Taking out common victories – including within the AFC South itself – the Texans have three "unique" wins this season against the Jets, Bengals, and Saints. The Colts also would have three unique wins against Denver, Atlanta, and presumably Miami if they win that game. Ironically enough, both groups of unique wins have identical cumulative records as of today with 21 wins and 15 losses apiece.

So what does this all mean? Well, for starters every Texans fan in the country needs to root extra hard for the Jets, Bengals, and Saints for the rest of the year. To raise the stakes even higher, Houston’s strongest win, the Bengals, play against Indianapolis’ strongest win, the Broncos, in Week 16. That game is being billed as a battle for the first seed in the AFC, but it may just determine who wins the fourth seed when all is said and done. Of course all of this becomes moot if Miami somehow beats the Colts and the Texans manage to finish the year with a superior win-loss record, but for now this convoluted series of tiebreakers is actually the most statistically likely situation that we could be facing over the course of next four Sundays.

Don’t believe me? Check out the chaos for yourself in the scenario I generated with the ESPN Playoff Machine. Play around with the records for all of the involved teams and see just how fragile this division championship really is. And while you are at it, keep shouting "Who Dat", "Who Dey", and "Go Gang Green" until your lungs give out. I know I will.

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