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Explaining the rarely used tiebreaker that might keep the Seahawks out of the playoffs

It’s not often that “strength of victory” is used as a playoff tiebreaker.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Conor Courtney/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks find themselves once again jostling for the final playoff spot in the NFC. Last year, the Packers would’ve knocked the Seahawks out of the postseason with a win over the Detroit Lions, but failed in front of their home fans on national television. A Packers win would’ve meant a superior conference record (7-5 vs. 6-6), which is the top tiebreaker used in lieu of head-to-head.

This year is a unique circumstance not seen in the NFL playoff picture since 2017. If the Packers and Seahawks win and thus finish with identical records, the Packers have the path to the postseason on the rarely used fourth Wild Card tiebreaker.

Just like last season, the Packers and Seahawks didn’t play each other, so head-to-head is discarded.

The second tiebreaker is conference record, in which case their records are currently 6-5 and would be 7-5 with Week 18 wins.

The third tiebreaker is common games played, with a minimum of four common opponents. Green Bay defeated the (Brett Rypien-led) Los Angeles Rams, Carolina Panthers, and Detroit Lions, and lost to the Lions, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers. Meanwhile, the Seahawks lost to the Rams twice, Steelers once, but beat the Giants, Lions, Panthers. They’re both 3-3, and their respective final games do not impact this statistic.

Which brings us to the seldom-used “strength of victory” decider, which is above “strength of schedule” in the pecking order. Seattle has a more difficult strength of schedule, but Green Bay’s opponents’ combined win-loss record clears the Seahawks.

Green Bay Packers wins

Detroit Lions (11-5)
Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
Los Angeles Rams (9-7)
New Orleans Saints (8-8)
Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
Chicago Bears (7-9)
Los Angeles Chargers (5-11)
Carolina Panthers (2-14)

Total record: 59-69 (.461)

Seattle Seahawks wins

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)
Detroit Lions (11-5)
Cleveland Browns (11-5)
Tennessee Titans (5-11)
New York Giants (5-11)
Washington Commanders (4-12)
Arizona Cardinals (4-12)
Carolina Panthers (2-14)

Total record: 53-75 (.414)

No combination of results this weekend can overcome that six-game gap, so don’t entertain that “what-if?” if you were going that route. The Seahawks indeed are one of the few teams that can boast a trio of wins over 10+ win squads, but the tiebreaker works out in such a way that beating, say, the Ravens (13-3) and not the Titans would’ve actually been better. Stacking victories against the bottom four teams in the NFC might be good for the win column but it’s poison for SOV. Funnily enough, only two NFC teams have a SOV at or above .500: Arizona and Carolina. Go figure.

The last time SOV was a playoff-deciding tiebreaker was 2017, when the Buffalo Bills edged out the Baltimore Ravens on the final day of the regular season. Buffalo won their Week 17 game, while the Ravens lost to the already eliminated Cincinnati Bengals at home, which may or may not have led to the decision to draft Lamar Jackson.

In case you’re wondering, literally all of the other tiebreakers except “strength of schedule” do not favor the Seahawks, including net touchdowns, point differential, and points scored/points allowed ranking.

So there you have it. Green Bay has a better set of wins than Seattle, which is why the Seahawks need to be a game clear of the Packers on the final day in order to reach the postseason.