*–not really, but it’s out there.
December 30, 2012: the final four games of the regular season kick off at 4:25 pm (Eastern).
The Raiders and Chargers are sitting at 4-11 and 3-12, and are so far out of the playoffs that they can’t even see the postseason on the horizon.
The Cardinals, 49ers, Rams, and Seahawks are all battling for position in the NFC West.
The other teams playing are the Chiefs and Broncos. The Chiefs are sitting at 8-7. The Broncos are sitting at 9-6. If the Broncos win, they’re in the playoffs and the Chiefs are out. If the Chiefs win, it goes to a tiebreaker.
Assuming the Chiefs win, the first tiebreaker: head-to-head. However, the Broncos beat the Chiefs earlier in the season, so their head-to-head records will be tied at 1-1.
The second tiebreaker: division record. However, the Broncos are at 5-0 and the Chiefs at 4-1, so their division records will be tied at 5-1.
The third tiebreaker: record in common games. The two teams have 14 games in common. Two are against each other. Four are other divisions. Those already match. Of the other eight games in common, they have identical records; another tie.
The fourth tiebreaker: conference record. However, the Broncos are at 8-3 and the Chiefs are at 7-4, so their conference records will be tied at 8-4.
The fifth tiebreaker: SoV (strength of victory). However, the combined records of the teams beaten by the Broncos are identical to those beaten by the Chiefs with the exception of their own records, and since those will be tied at the end of the game if the Chiefs win, the SoV will be identical as well.
The sixth tiebreaker: SoS (strength of schedule). However, the combined records of the teams played by the Broncos are identical to those beaten by the Chiefs with the exception of their own records, and since those will be tied at the end of the game if the Chiefs win, the SoS will be identical as well.
The seventh tiebreaker: Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed. By sheer coincidence, the teams’ rankings are tied and will remain that way regardless of what happens in the Chargers/Raiders game unless one of those two teams either scores or surrenders 100 points, and unless the Chiefs outscore the Broncos by at least 3 points. (This is, honestly, the hardest one to accept so far, but it is mathematically feasible.)
The eighth tiebreaker: Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed. Just like the above, the results of the NFC West games going on will not affect the rankings of the Chiefs or Broncos without unrealistically high-scoring games being played. (See above parentheses.)
The ninth tiebreaker: Best net points in common games. Currently, the Broncos are +35 for net points. The Chiefs are +32 for net points. The Chiefs would need to score three more points than the Broncos do in order to tie this up and move to the next tiebreaker.
…So the Broncos forfeit.
When an NFL team forfeits, the official score is 2-0 in favor of the other team. By choosing to play the game, the Broncos are running the risk of losing by at least 3 points and costing themselves a chance at the post-season. Of course, they could also win, and the culture of the NFL is that the team would want to play, the fans would be outraged if they didn’t, and so on.
But in that scenario, the best way to guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs is to forfeit the game. They would have the chance to stall at the beginning of their game to see how everything else in their conference shakes out… and considering their records were weak enough that they’re not likely to get a better seeding by winning, a guaranteed loss of 2 points would still be enough to put them into the post-season.
I know that the odds of all the other tiebreakers panning out is extremely slim. I think in the history of tiebreakers, it’s never gone past the “strength of victory” phase, and I’m not even sure if it’s gotten there.
But what if it did? Would any NFL team have the guts to give themselves an early bye week and rest up for a playoff game they clinched by forfeiting?