By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

We know that Monday night’s Patriots/Jets game means a ton in terms of playoff and division positioning. Even radio talk show hosts who don’t have the slightest idea of the actual tiebreakers involved know that this is a very important game for both teams. One says it gives him an ice cream headache. Let’s look at some possibilities.

To review, here are the official NFL Tiebreaker rules in play here:

TO BREAK A TIE WITHIN A DIVISION

If, at the end of the regular season, two or more clubs in the same division finish with identical won-lost-tied percentages, the following steps will be taken until a champion is determined.
Two Clubs

1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
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

If we start with the first tiebreaker, it is easy to see that this game is much more important to New England. If they win, they will tie the season series with the Jets. A Jet victory means they have swept the two regular season games, and the Patriots will need to finish a game ahead of them in order to win the division and a probable first-round bye. A Patriots loss puts them a game behind the Jets, meaning they’d have to make up two games over the last four in order to win the division. Very tough.

Moving on to the second tiebreaker. At the moment, the Jets are 3-0 in the division, while the Patriots are 2-1. A Patriots win ties them in terms of divisional record. Each team has a game with the Bills and Dolphins remaining on their schedule – the Jets have both of those games at home, while the Patriots still have to go to Buffalo and host Miami in the season finale. A win by the Patriots on Monday night does not help them all that much if they end up losing one of those remaining AFC East games.

If the Patriots win on Monday night, the season could come down to the third tiebreaker, which is common games. Here are the games the two teams have in common:

Buffalo – both teams have beaten the Bills once, and have one more game to play with them.

Miami – both teams have beaten the Dolphins once and have one more game to play with them.

Baltimore – The Jets lost to the Ravens, while the Patriots beat the Ravens.

Pittsburgh – The Patriots have beaten the Steelers, while the Jets play them on December 19th in Pittsburgh.

Green Bay – The Jets have lost to the Packers, while the Patriots play the Packers at home on December 19.

Minnesota – Both teams have beaten the Vikings.

Detroit – Both teams have beaten the Lions.

Chicago – Both teams have yet to play the Bears, The Patriots on December 12th and the Bears on December 26th, both at Soldier Field.

Cleveland – The Patriots lost to the Browns while the Jets beat the Browns.

Cincinnati – Both teams have beaten the Bengals.

Patriots 7 wins, 1 loss.

Jets 6 wins, 2 losses.

Remaining to play:

Patriots – Bears, Packers, Bills, Dolphins

Jets – Dolphins, Steelers, Bears, Bills.

So even though the Patriots have a slight edge at the moment in common games, every game remaining on the schedule for each team is also a common opponent game.

Could they end up tied through that? If the Patriots win on Monday, and the both the Patriots and Jets win their remaining divisional games, and the Patriots lose to the Packers (Rodgers is gonna hang on that D, bro) while the Jets sweep their remaining games, the teams would both be 13-3 and tied in the division and in common games. That would lead to the fourth tiebreaker – conference record. Other scenarios could happen, of course, if the Jets lose to the Steelers while the Patriots lose to Bills, the Patriots win with a 10-2 common opponents record to the Jets 9-3.

In the first scenario in the previous paragraph, both teams would then be 10-2 in the AFC.

That brings us to the 5th tiebreaker – strength of victory. That would take some figuring. Remember, this isn’t strength of schedule, that’s #6, this is strength of victory. So that means margin of victory? No. (See the first comment below for a good explanation of strength of victory vs strength of schedule. ) The remaining games will have a lot to say in determining strength of victory.

Confused yet? Let’s just say Monday night is a pretty big game, and then we’ll go week-by-week from there.