by Scott Benson

The early playoff field was completely reshuffled on Sunday, as five of the six slots changed hands. Only the first seed remained unchanged.

Pittsburgh gained the most, rising to 2nd seed (and a possible first round bye) due to their comeback win over the Browns and San Diego’s upset of the Colts. Indy dropped to 3rd with their second straight loss. If the playoffs began today, the Colts would be playing on Wild Card Weekend.

Though idle, the Patriots actually had their lot improved as they gained even firmer control of the top seed. At minimum, they have a two-game lead over the Steelers and Colts for home field advantage through the playoffs.

With their special teams and defense taking down Indy, the Chargers leapt over the Chiefs to take control of the AFC West, at least for this week. That makes them the division leader with the 4th best record.

In the wildcard race, Jacksonville upset Tennessee in Nashville and took over the 5th seed, previously held by the now 6th seeded Titans. So if the playoffs began today, the Titans would visit Indy, and the Jags would travel to San Diego in first round action.

Too soon to call anything yet, though: the Bills and Browns lurk nearby, hoping to land a punch somehow, each just a game back and a heartbeat away. In the distance, Denver and Kansas City harbor hopes in the West.

Let’s give the big wheel a spin.

Okay, we’ll review what we’re looking at here: the top six seeds if the playoffs started today, and a few other teams that could/will/most likely become a factor over the next seven weeks. The columns represent the various NFL tiebreakers used for seeding the playoff bracket. First is WIN%, or won/lost record.

The next series of columns – all marked H2H – indicate the head-to-head advantages currently enjoyed by each team, in case of tie. Two things: I limited the H2H’s just to playoff contenders, meaning you won’t find a ‘NYJ’ in the Patriots’ row. Second, the asterisks mean there is still another game to be played between the teams.

After the head-to-head tiebreaker, there’s DIV% and CONF%, the divisional and conference winning percentages. Following that are record in common games (CG% here), which I’m not bothering with until I need to. I draw the line at SOV% and SOS%, or strength of victory (total W/L of teams they beat) and strength of schedule (total W/L% of all scheduled teams).

So with the sheet you can quickly see that, at the moment, Pittsburgh gets ahead of Indy because of a better conference record. The same is true of the Jaguars, who moved past the Titans on the same tiebreaker.

The boys from the South are alternatively threatening the Colts and tying up the two wild card spots. Buffalo and Cleveland are in the mix with five wins, and the Browns have a particularly favorable schedule going forward (that’s the green column, REM%, or W/L percentage of remaining opponents).

Let’s see what the schedule looks like for this weekend.

New England at Buffalo – Great story, the Bills. They’ve emerged from the ashes and now they’re soaring. The whole city is going crazy, kind of like the way Cleveland did in Major League, even though the Indians played all their games at County Stadium in Milwaukee. Anyway, the Bills have overcome a lot, played hard, won 4 in a row, and maybe now a little hope does reside in Buffalo. On cue, they have a nationally televised game against the best team in the league. Great excitement, great feelings, great story. You hate to crush something like that. But, that’s the job.

Pittsburgh at NY Jets – So the Steelers get a big comeback win last week and now they have a truck delivering them enough cupcakes to last a month. Combined winning percentage of their next three opponents? .148.

Kansas City at Indianapolis – Are the Colts playing badly enough to lose to the Chiefs at home? They may be slumping, but this seems like a stretch.

San Diego at Jacksonville – How good is San Diego, really? Good enough to cross the country the week after an emotional win and beat the Jags in Jacksonville? With that head coach-quarterback combo? A Chargers win here might say more about Jacksonville than it would about San Diego.

Tennessee at Denver – I don’t trust Denver, hanging around in the West. I think that’s a Shanahan reflex more than anything, because it dawns on me that Denver wouldn’t get out of the first round even with dynamite strapped to their chests.

Cleveland at Baltimore – Speaking of dynamite, look out for those Ravens! One of these weeks, attacking each other on the radio after bitter losses is going to inspire them to greatness. The Browns took a tough loss in Pittsburgh last Sunday, precisely the kind of game improving young teams seem to lose, until they don’t. Now they have a chance to kick a reeling division rival out the door. Let’s see what they’re made of.

New Orleans at Houston – I really don’t know why I’m even listing the Texans here anymore, because there’s no way they’re coming out of that division with a playoff spot. Maybe by this time next week, this list will be a little shorter.