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Playoff Picture 12.13.05–First-Round Bye?

Dec 13, 2005, 12:22 PM EST

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Other than the most important result, their own win in Arizona, not much went right for the Redskins this weekend in their hunt to make the playoffs. The three teams immediately in front of them in the NFC standings–Dallas, Minnesota, and Atlanta—all won.
 
The chances of Washington getting in with nine wins, as outlined here last week, are not gone but they became a considerably longer shot than they were before. Now Dallas, Minnesota, and Atlanta all need to lose two out of three to wind up with nine wins instead of two out of four. I’m sure that there is some statistical formula where you could work out the odds of decent teams going .500 in four games compared to the chances of them posting a .333 winning percentage in three games. Without Googling that formula, it’s safe to say that the odds are for the latter are considerably worse.
 
All was not lost for the Redskins, however. The losses by the Bears and the Panthers opened the door just slightly to a very tantalizing possibility—a first-round bye.
 
All scenarios with three games left are pretty complex, but this one isn’t all that hard to figure out. What has to happen first is for the Redskins to win out and for the Giants to stumble either this week when they host Kansas City or in the season finale in Oakland. That gives the Redskins the division championship at 10-6 based on what would be a better division record than Dallas and the Giants should either of those teams also finish at 10-6.
 
The other part, the help, is not likely to happen but it’s possible. Seattle has 11 wins so the NFC West winner is excluded from this discussion. The first thing that has to happen is that the winners of the South and North finish with no more than 10 wins. That means that Chicago, Tampa, and Carolina can win no more than one more game and Minnesota can win no more than two. You can look at their finishing schedules below and see what you think the chances of that happening are before you read on.
 
The edge that a 10-6 Redskins team would have would be its conference record. All 10 wins would be against NFC teams and none of the other potential division winners could have a better conference record. That would give them a week off should Carolina win the South at 10-6 regardless of who wins the North (at 10-6, of course).
 
If Tampa Bay wins the South at 10-6, Washington would get the bye only if Chicago won the North. Yes, Tampa Bay did beat the Redskins but that wouldn’t matter because they didn’t play the Bears and in a three-way tie, head to head only comes into play if one team beat both of the other teams. It would then go to conference record and that would be advantage, Washington.
 
The only combination that would have the Redskins playing in the first round of the playoffs would be if Tampa Bay won the South and Minnesota won the North. The Bucs beat both the Skins and the Vikings so that would hand them the #2 seed and Washington and Minnesota would host the Wild Card teams in the first round.

The chances of all of this happening are quite slim, starting with the chances of the Redskins finishing 10-6. But this if this weekend the Panthers, Bucs, and Bears all lose and the Redskins win, you’ll start hearing about this possibility elsewhere. You will have heard it here first.
 
One other scenario to be cleared up here is the question of how a 10-6 Redskins team could miss out on the playoffs. First, the Giants would have to win their other two games, giving them the division at 11-5. Then it’s a matter of whether or not two or more of the other contenders gets to 11 wins. The issue of the loss to Tampa Bay could also come into play should they and/or the Vikings finish in the tiebreaker pool.

The playoff contenders with their overall, conference, and division records and their remaining games.
 
1. Seattle: 11-2, 10-1, 6-0Schedule: @Titans, Colts, @ Packers2. Chicago: 9-4, 8-1, 4-0 Schedule: Falcons, @Packers, @Vikings3. New York: 9-4, 8-3, 4-1Schedule: Chiefs, @Redskins, @Raiders4. Tampa: 9-4, 7-3, 3-1Schedule: @Pats, Falcons, Saints5. Carolina: 9-4, 6-3, 2-2Schedule: @Saints, Cowboys, @Falcons6. Minnesota: 8-5, 7-4, 4-1Schedule: Steelers, @Ravens, Bears7. Dallas: 8-5, 6-3, 3-2Schedule: @Skins, @Panthers, Rams8. Atlanta: 7-5, 4-4, 1-2Schedule: Saints, @Bears, @Bucs, Panthers9. Washington: 7-6, 7-2, 2-1Schedule: Cowboys, Giants, @Eagles

  1. Anonymous - Dec 13, 2005 at 2:10 PM

    While the chances of a #2 seed and bye are feasible, I think they’re too highly unlikely even to be worth discussing.

    Since the NFL adopted a 16 game schedule in 1978, only FOUR times (all in the NFC, in 1979, 1983, 1988, and 1993) where a 10-6 division winner could claim a #2 seed. In all four of those cases (out of roughly 50 opportunities), the #1 seed played in a division where the wild-card team was 11-5 or better but failed to win their division. I don’t see St. Louis playing this role to a #1 seeded Seattle. –af

  2. mbarnes202 - Dec 13, 2005 at 3:14 PM

    Rich,
    Yes, my buddies and I have been turning over the possibilities on our white board for the past two weeks. Having the Bears lose suddenly opens the door for us to catch them for that last wildcard spot, if Minnesota continues to win. The Bears play the Falcons at home, then @GB and @MIN. I think the Bears will beat the Falcons, but if the Bears lose, I could easily see them losing again @GB in late December. The GB D is underrated, and GB is much better than their record, and they’re playing at home, and it’s Favre.
    Of course, when you look back at playoff teams, I think hindsight shows that to make the playoffs, you have to beat the teams you’re supposed to beat, then the +.500 teams basically beat each other up.
    So, the odds of us beating a 8-5 team and a 9-4 team back-to-back are, sadly, very very slim.
    As a real die-hard fan, it pains me to say it, but I think the ride stops this week against Big D.
    I will say, here’s our formula, though, for winning, in my opinion:
    1.) The Defense is playing very well, especially at home; we have to hope they basically shut down Dallas. Think 13 points or fewer.
    2.) S/T must continue to excel. Maybe some punts downed inside the 5, maybe some 30+ yard KO returns and 10+ yard punt returns. Goes without saying, coverage must be superb. A score for us would be a huge boost.
    3.) The Offense cannot turn the ball over, obviously, but significantly, the offense MUST get positive yardage on 1st and 2nd down. Not much– 2 yards will do. We ABSOLUTELY have to limit 3rd and >7 yards, or Brunnel will get sacked, he’ll fumble, and we’ll lose, I guarantee it.
    4.) And here’s where we come in– this is a two-parter. a.) The ‘Skins must score first. This is because we need b.) The stadium must be absolutely deafening, thundering loudness to amp up our Defense. They will win the game for us, if we are to win.

  3. Jesse - Dec 13, 2005 at 8:19 PM

    It looks like there is a less than 5% chance of the teams in front of the Skins going 1 and 2.

    Details for the math nerds :)
    Since the teams have 8-5 records I used a 60% win and 40% loss probability. There are 4 possible combinations that produce or more losses in 3 games(LLL, WLL, LWL, LLW). The chances of 3 losses is (.4)(.4)(.4) = .064, there are 3 equally likely chances of 1 win and 2 losses each with a likely hood of (.4)(.4)(.6) = .096. The total chances for each team is 3*0.096+0.064 = 0.352 which is possible for one team. But the chances of all three teams is (0.352 ) to the third power which is 4.36%.

  4. Anonymous - Dec 14, 2005 at 3:07 PM

    Rich,
    Deep question here:
    I know the Skins have won the last two games in all-white uniforms, but I still think they’re ugly. Are they planning on donning them this Sunday?

  5. Joe - Dec 14, 2005 at 3:27 PM

    I guarantee as long as they’re winning games with them, they’ll keep wearing the white-on-white uniforms. Athletes are superstitious.

    This is one hell of a guantlet to run with 3 division games in a row and the season on the line. It’s the most exciting football we’ve had in years.

    I’m looking for Minnesota to be the team that drops out of the race. Sure, they’ve won 6 in a row, but 5 of them came against the Lions, Packers, Browns, and Rams. We’ll know more about them after they host the Steelers this Sunday.

  6. Anonymous - Dec 14, 2005 at 10:30 PM

    The all-white uniforms are great, and with two wins in a row I’m sure they’re here to stay.

    I think Minny will fall off, too. It’s hard to keep that kind of streak alive, and they’re just not that good.

    Brunell really needs to get back on track for this win streak to continue. He’s not playing nearly as sharply as he did at the beginning of the season.

  7. oneampoet - Dec 15, 2005 at 8:51 PM

    Rich,

    You have proven yourself a true redkins fan beyond all doubt. Not only are you willing to discuss how the redskins are going to be able to make the playoffs…your even talking about first round byes…gotta love you for that man!

    All though I have pretty much given up hope for the season I will be watching this Sunday as we play the make or break game of the season…lets see how good this team will play for Joe and how bad they want to win!

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