NFL Tiebreaking Procedures

Playoff Tiebreakers

American football players readying to kick ball.
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At the end of the football season, the NFL determines the seeding, or ranking, of the six top teams based on the top four teams with the best records and the two wild card teams with the two best records.

Within a division or a wild card race to the top, sometimes there are ties among teams. If two teams finish with identical records, the NFL has a definitive way to break a tie between teams. 

Tiebreaking Within a Division

The following table illustrates the order of the tiebreaking procedure for two, three or more teams with identical records.

If two teams remain tied after a third is eliminated during any step, the tiebreaker procedure starts from the top of the order among the two teams until a team champion is determined using the tiebreaking procedure.

OrderDivision Tiebreaking Procedure
FirstHead-to-head
SecondDivision record
ThirdCommon games
FourthConference record
FifthStrength of victory
SixthStrength of schedule
SeventhCombined ranking among conference teams
EighthCombined ranking among all teams
NinethNet points/common games
TenthNet points/all games
EleventhNet touchdowns/all games
TwelfthCoin toss

Head-to-Head

Head-to-head refers to the best won-lost-tied percentage in games among the teams. Example: If the Miami Dolphins and NY Jets had the same record, the Dolphins would lead the division due to a victory over the Jets earlier in the season.

Division Record

The division record is the best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.

 Example: The Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are tied 1-1 in their head-to-head record, but if the Falcons win out against the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints and the Buccaneers slip up down the stretch, the Falcons would win the NFC South Division due to a superior record against division foes.

Common Games

Common games are the best won-lost-tied percentage among the two teams' common games. Example: The Falcons and Buccaneers play 12 games against 10 common opponents. The team that has the best record in that stretch would win the tiebreaker.

Strength of Victory

Strength of victory refers to the combined winning percentages of the opponents that a particular team has beaten. Example: By Week 13, the Oakland Raiders had beaten 10 teams with a combined record of 68-76, giving the Raiders a .472 strength of victory.

Strength of Schedule

The strength of schedule refers to the composite win percentage of all the opponents a team has on its schedule regardless of whether the team in the tiebreaker has beaten these opponents. Example: At 13 weeks, the New England Patriots’ opponents had a combined 59-85 record, giving them a .409 strength of schedule.

Combined Ranking Among Conference Teams

Combined ranking among conference teams is measured in points scored and points allowed. If the team is No. 1 in scoring and No. 1 in defense in the conference, then that team is untouchable in this case.

Combined Ranking Among All Teams

Combined ranking among all teams is measured in points scored and points allowed.

 If the team is No. 1 in scoring and No. 1 in defense in the among all NFL teams, then that team is untouchable.

Net Points in Common Games

Net points in common games involves looking at the two teams' common games to determine which of the two teams in the tiebreaker won by more points in those games.

Net Points in All Games

Net points in all games are determined by counting all net points scored in all games played by each team. Example: The Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans have the same record, but the Titans would win this tiebreaker because it has outscored all its opponents this season by a net 12 points, which is considerably more than the Texan’s -50.

Net Touchdowns in All Games

Net touchdowns in all games are determined by counting the touchdowns scored and subtracting the touchdowns allowed over the course of the season.

Coin Toss

If all else fails and the first eleven procedures do not break the tie, then the winner is determined by a coin toss.

Wild-Card Tiebreaking Procedure

If two or more teams finish the season tied for one of the two wild-card berths, the tiebreaking procedure used depends on if the teams are from the same division or not. If the two top wild-card teams are from same division use the division tiebreaking procedure. If the tied wild-card teams are from different divisions, there is a wild-card tiebreaking procedure.

Also, the wild-card tiebreaking procedure is used to determine home-field advantage for the playoffs.

OrderWild-Card Tiebreaking Procedure for Two Teams
FirstHead-to-head (if applicable)
SecondConference record (best win-loss-tie percentage)
ThirdCommon games (best win-loss-tie percentage, minimum of four)
FourthStrength of victory
FifthStrength of schedule
SixthCombined ranking among conference teams (points scored/points allowed)
SeventhCombined ranking among all teams (points scored/points allowed)
EighthNet points/conference games
NinethNet points/all games
TenthNet touchdowns/all games
EleventhCoin toss

Three or More Wild-Card Teams

If two wild-card teams remain tied after a third is eliminated during any step, the tiebreaker reverts to the top of the order of the two-team wild-card tiebreaking procedure. Start by eliminating all but the highest ranked team in each division by using the divisional tiebreaker. After the field has been narrowed to no more than one team from each division, use the tiebreaking procedure for two teams again until a wild-card team winner is determined.