Tuesday night while checking out the latest sports stories on ESPN.com -- after exhausting the content on SBNation.com for several hours of course -- I came across the NFL Playoff Machine where you can choose winners each week and it figures the seeding and tie-breakers for you (some have pointed this service out before).
Obviously it's for fun, especially during your hard working hours when you're suddenly left with an insatiable curiosity on possible scenarios that could play out.
Here's a couple of things we learned playing with the ESPN NFL Playoff Machine. And that means insane mad scientist laugh.
If the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos all win their remaining games, the Bengals will keep the sixth seed in the playoffs essentially controlling their own destiny. Perfect. What else do we need to know about a team that's lost three of their past four against teams bound for the playoffs with a team coming up this weekend that's bound for the playoffs?
If the Bengals lose to the Houston Texans and finish the rest of the season on a three-game winning streak (we suspect that depending on how they do from now until the end of the season, the Baltimore Ravens may play their backups if their seed is set in stone) then Cincinnati could still be facing an uphill battle. One thing we're sure about is that unless all five teams that are competing for that sixth seed lose this weekend, the Bengals will lose the opportunity to control their own destiny.
BUT IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE:
If the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans finished the season tied at 7-5, ESPN's NFL Playoff Machine has the Titans claiming the sixth seed. The problem is that no matter what happens, no matter who each team beats, if the Titans and Bengals finish with identical records, the Bengals win the tie-breaker after Cincinnati beat Tennessee head-to-head (the first tie-breaker). I mean duh, times two!
Unless of course you have a three-way tie, in which case the first tie-breaker after head-to-head sweep (which doesn't apply) is the best record in the conference. Assuming that the Titans win three of their final four (with an assuming loss to the Saints) and the Jets win three of their final four with a loss to either the New York Giants or Philadelphia Eagles, then Tennessee will sport the best conference record amongst the three teams.
We could factor Oakland into the discussion but their road appears far more difficult with games against the Packers and Lions in the next two weeks and a season finale against the San Diego Chargers. Denver appears to be headed to the AFC West with their schedule against the Bears, Bills and Chiefs with an assumed loss to the New England Patriots (though angels coming from heaven to float their quarterback into the endzone against the tyrannical Bill Belichick isn't out of the equation).
TITANS SCHEDULE GETS COMPLICATED
We're going to assume two things; that the New Orleans Saint will beat the Titans this weekend and that the Titans will be 9-6 heading into the regular season finale against the Houston Texans. The question is at this point is where the Texans will be. If the Texans win out they have a chance to claim the second seed and a first round bye.
It would stand a good reason that if the a first round bye is at steak, it won't be an easy game for the Titans to win. But that game doesn't matter to Bengals fans if Cincinnati loses to the Houston Texans this weekend because if the Titans lose the regular season finale, the Jets claim the sixth seed over the Bengals due to the strength of victory tie-breaker.
That being said if the Bengals beat the Texans this weekend, the Titans are back in the thick of the AFC South (presuming the Titans take advantage against the Saints this weekend which is never easy... unless you're the Buccaneers or Rams).
THE JETS ARE CINCINNATI'S BIGGEST THREAT
Here's New York's schedule for the rest of the season: At home against the Chiefs, at Philadelphia, at home against the Giants and at Miami. The Eagles will likely have Michael Vick back, know knows about the Giants and the Dolphins are playing well enough not to be pushovers right now.
Cincinnati wins their final four games and it doesn't matter what the Jets do. Lose against the Texans and that all reverts back to an uphill battle. Jets lose to either the Giants or Eagles, Jets win the sixth seed (strength of victory if the Jets beat the Giants, based on best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed if the Jets beat the Eagles).
Regardless it'll be close.
BUT NONE OF THAT MATTERS
...if the Bengals just win their remaining schedule. Remove all that garbled confusing mumble jumble from the equation and get it done. There. Solution. Perfect.