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Breaking down the NFL playoff tiebreakers

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The NFL playoff tiebreakers starts out fairly simple, but can grow complicated the more teams involved and the further down you go. Here is the rundown as we prepare for the 2015 NFL playoffs.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL season is a long way from finished, but people are already inquiring about playoff tiebreakers and what they mean to the San Francisco 49ers. I know plenty of people do not want to talk playoffs quite yet, but I like the idea of having a quick resource I can link to when people are asking about who we want to win and why.

The folks at NFL.com have a full rundown of the various tiebreaker scenarios. I'm posting those below, along with some 49ers specific implications, and the current playoff standings.

Division tiebreaker

The NFL breaks up tiebreakers based on if it involves two clubs, and then three or more clubs. For the division, the only difference is in the first tiebreaker. For two teams, it is set at best won-loss-tied percentage between the two teams. For three or four teams tied, it is set at best won-loss-tied percentage AMONG the multiple teams. That means that if the 49ers, Cardinals and Seahawks all finished tied, the first tiebreaker would factor in every game they played against each other.

1. Head-to-head
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference
5. Strength of victory
6. Strength of schedule
7. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed
8. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed
9. Best net points in common games
10. Best net points in all games
11. Best net touchdowns in all games
12. Coin toss

The NFC West currently breaks down as follows. I don't have record in common games, but as we get closer we'll look further into that. I'll update this as each week passes

Team Overall Division Conference
Arizona Cardinals 9 - 3 2 - 1 7 - 2
Seattle Seahawks 8 - 4 2 - 1 6 - 2
San Francisco 49ers 7 - 5 1 - 3 6 - 4
St. Louis Rams 5 - 7 2 - 2 3 - 5

Wild Card tiebreaker

It can get a little more complicated with the wild card, but that is primarily when more than two teams are tied. If two teams are tied, the scenario breaks down as follows:

1. Head-to-head, if applicable
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four
4. Strength of victory
5. Strength of schedule
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed
7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed
8. Best net points in conference games
9. Best net points in all games
10. Best net touchdowns in all games
11. Coin toss

If three or more teams are tied, there are two changes:

1. You first apply the division tiebreaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2.

2. Step 2 starts at head-to-head, but it requires a sweep. That means, if 3 or more teams are tied, it only applies if one team has swept the others, or one team has been swept by the others. After that, proceed to step 2 above, involving conference win percentage.

That latter head-to-head sweep could impact the 49ers if they end up in a tie for a wild card berth. The 49ers have beaten the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. They have two games remaining with the Seattle Seahawks, but do not play the Detroit Lions or Green Bay Packers. Barring any dramatic changes, that covers all the potential wild card teams. If the 49ers finished in a tie with just the Eagles or Cowboys, the head-to-head tiebreaker would come in handy. However, if they finished in a tie with one of those two teams plus the Packers and/or Lions, it would not matter since they will not play either of them.

Here is how the playoff standings currently stand. If Minnesota, Chicago or New Orleans wins some games, I'll add them back to the wild card mix, but for now, it is these top seven (plus Atlanta). You'll notice a tiebreaker mentioned after a few teams. That is meant to explain what gives them the tiebreaker edge over various teams. I'm open to suggestions for better ways to list this.

1. Arizona Cardinals (9-3) - over Green Bay based on conference record, over Philadelphia based on head-to-head
2. Green Bay Packers (9-3) - over Philadelphia due to conference record
3. Philadelphia Eagles (9-3) - 
4. Atlanta Falcons (5-7) - over New Orleans due to head-to-head

5. Seattle Seahawks (8-4) - over Detroit based on record against common opponents, over Dallas based on conference record
6. Detroit Lions (8-4) - over Dallas based on conference record

7. Dallas Cowboys (8-4)
8. San Francisco 49ers (7-5)