[Edit (12/4/2016) Correction to the following blog post.  After pondering this a bit more I’ve come to the conclusion that the Saints would win any tie-breaker against the Falcons where both teams end the season 10-6, no matter which teams the Falcons lose to in order to achieve a 10-6 record.  Reason for this is the Falcons already have 2 wins against the AFC and they have also already played the 2 non-common opponents (GB and PHI) and went 1-1 against them.  If the Saints win out (implying they beat Atlanta in the last game and further implying they also go 1-1 against their non-common opponents (NYG and DET) ) then the Saints would have the tie-breaker at either the division level (#2) in the event Atlanta loses to Carolina week 16 or at the conference record level (#4).  The tie-breaker will never get past #4 by virtue of Atlanta having the better record against the AFC and it will never get be anything other than a tie at the common opponents level (#3) by virtue of the tie at non-common opponents records (1-1 each).  To summarize, doesn’t matter if the Falcons lose to CAR, LA, SF, or KC in addition to losing to the Saints in week 17, as long as they lose to at least one of those 4 teams (along with the Saints winning out to finish 10-6), the Saints will hold all tie-breakers against them.  Note also, this is only about both teams finishing 10-6.  If they go 9-7, other tie-breakers might come into it, and other teams might come into it.]

[Original post follows]

The Vikings losing Thursday might potentially help the Saints to a wildcard berth, but I’m only going to focus here on how the Saints might win the division. I’ve worked out the scenarios and figured out the tie-breakers as follows below. (Remember, the following is only about winning the division. Even if that fails, the Saints could still get a wildcard spot.)

The following scenarios are predicated on the Saints winning out.  The Saints *could* still lose a game and finish 9-7 and still win the division, but I won’t be considering any of those scenarios here.  This is only for the case where the Saints win out and finish 10-6.

To set it up: ATL (7-4) plays KC, LA, SF, CAR, and NO (5-6) in its last 5 games. Saints need to both win out and hope ATL loses to either KC, CAR, LA, or SF in order to pick up the 2 games by which ATL leads them in the division. Got that? Good. Here’s what happens, depending on which of those games ATL loses (besides losing to the Saints in the finale, since that’s a given in this scenario with the Saints winning out).

First, let’s look at the tie-breaker priority for inside the division:
1) head-to-head
2) division record
3) common games record (basically all games EXCEPT those against the NFC NORTH and NFC EAST this year, INCLUDE games against the AFC WEST, NFC WEST, and NFC SOUTH)
4) conference record (at this point, the games against the NFC NORTH and NFC EAST count, but NOT those against the AFC WEST)
*5) strength of victory (I *believe* this is the combined records of the teams you defeated.)
*6) strength of schedule (I *believe* this is the combined records of all opponents, whether you beat them or lost to them is irrelevant.)

*I’m just going by memory from year’s past on #5 and #6, and could be wrong on those.

Let’s say ATL loses to KC:

1) head-to-head (tie 1-1 each, go to #2)
2) division record (tie 4-2 each, go to #3)
3) common games (I believe this would also be a tie because the Saints loss to NYG = the ATL loss to PHI and the ATL win over GB = NO win over DET. By commutative math and logical inference, if the record against non-common opponents is equal, and the overall record is equal, then the record against common opponents is also equal. Go to #4)
4) conference record (Saints win! Here’s why: the Saints are 1-3 against the AFC, which games don’t count for this tie-breaker, while the Falcons would be 2-2 against the AFC, and by applying the same logic as for #3, we get ATL having a better AFC record implying the Saints have the better NFC record since both teams have the same overall record. Falcons would be 8-4 versus the Saints 9-3 NFC records.)

If ATL loses to CAR (instead of losing to KC) the Saints win the tie-breaker at step #2 (better division record) instead of step #4 (better conference record). Either way, the Saints take the tie-breaker. (Note also, though probably not relevant, regardless of whether ATL beats KC or not, they already have 2 AFC wins against the Saints’ 1-3 AFC record, so the Saints will have the better conference record either way.

If ATL beats KC and CAR, but loses to either LA or SF, what then? I *believe* (and it’s kind of complicated, so I could be mistaken) it would then go to tie-breaker #5 (strength of victory). There’s no way to figure out who would win that tie-breaker because all of the games are not settled yet.

Head spinning? Keep in mind, I’m half asleep as I work on this, and I could have erred somewhere, and none of this is official, but I’ll summarize next.

Basically, no matter how it plays out, if the Saints win out *and* ATL loses to either KC or CAR, the Saints would take the division. If the Saints win out *and* ATL loses to either LA or SF, then it goes to a tie-breaker based on the records of the various opponents, which is yet to be determined.

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