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How do NFL tiebreakers work for the playoffs?

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Let's take a look at how NFL tiebreakers work for playoff seeding.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter the final quarter of the regular season, things are quite tight in the NFC playoff race. When Week 17 arrives, there could be several teams with similar records battling for the two wild-card spots, and it's possible that the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers could end up tied atop the NFC North. How exactly will everything be sorted out if ties happen? Let's take a look at the NFL's tiebreakers.

Ties within the division

If the Lions and Packers end up finishing with the same record, here's how that tie would be broken:

1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
5. Strength of victory.
6. Strength of schedule.
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
9. Best net points in common games.
10. Best net points in all games.
11. Best net touchdowns in all games.
12. Coin toss

Currently, the Lions own the head-to-head tiebreaker. A Packers victory in Week 17 would change that and bring their divisional records into play. The Lions also currently hold the edge there with a 3-0 record inside the NFC North -- Green Bay is 4-1 -- but that doesn't mean much with three divisional games to go, including one against the Packers. If that ends up in a tie as well, the tiebreaker would move on to each team's record in common games, each team's conference record and so on.

Ties in the wild-card race

The wild card could present some wild scenarios with four teams with similar records battling for only two spots. If there is a tie involving only two teams, it will be decided as follows:

1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
4. Strength of victory.
5. Strength of schedule.
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best net points in conference games.
9. Best net points in all games.
10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
11. Coin toss.

With the Lions not playing the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers or Seattle Seahawks, conference record is quite important. The Lions are off to a 6-2 start in the NFC, putting them in a pretty good spot going forward. All of the Lions' remaining games are actually against NFC teams, so stringing together wins in the next few weeks is all the more important when you consider the potential tiebreaker implications.

If there are multiple teams involved in a tie for the wild card, the tiebreaker procedure looks like this before reverting to conference record:

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 tie breaker 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.)

Since the Lions haven't played the aforementioned teams in the wild-card hunt, the head-to-head sweep criterion is unlikely to be in play. Also, if you assume that only one team from the NFC East and only one team from the NFC West will end up in a potential tiebreaker with the Lions, the tiebreaker just goes straight to the conference record step to determine who holds the advantage. If a tie remains, then things like common games and strength of victory and so on would come into play.

One final note on tiebreakers: When it comes to determining seeding and which teams get a first-round bye, tiebreakers are settled using the wild-card protocol. In other words, if the Arizona Cardinals take the top overall seed and the NFC North champion finishes with the same record as the NFC East champion, the team that gets the No. 2 seed would be based on the application of the wild-card tiebreakers.