Exploring The Strength Of Victory Tie-Breaker

If you were playing around with ESPN’s playoff machine last night after the Pittsburgh Steelers’s win, you may have gotten scared to see that the Cincinnati Bengals have already wrapped up the division, even when you plugged in losses for the Bengals’ final two games and wins for the Steelers’ final two.

The playoff machine barks out that the Bengals win the division by virtue of a superior record in games against common opponents, but for reasons unknown, because this would be inaccurate. Assuming the Steelers win out and the Bengals lose out, both teams would finish with a 10-4 record in common games.

The Steelers would have losses to the Bengals, Ravens, Chiefs, and Seahawks, while the Bengals would have losses to the Steelers, Ravens, Cardinals, and Broncos, whom they play next week. Both teams would have victories over the Raiders, Chargers, Rams, 49ers, Browns (twice), Ravens, and each other, plus, for the Steelers, the Cardinals and Broncos, and for the Bengals, the Chiefs and Seahawks.

Thus, 10-4 records, and on to the fourth tie-breaker after breaking even in head-to-head and division games, which are the first two tiebreakers. The fourth tie-breaker is the strength of victory, which is determined by combining the winning percentages of the opponents that a team has beaten and dividing that number by the number of victories.

At the moment, the Steelers project a commanding lead in that category. The Steelers’ strength of victory is, at the moment, 0.492, while the Bengals’ strength of victory rests at just .409. Of course, these numbers will change significantly over the course of the final two weeks if the scenario in which the tie-breaker would become relevant actually plays out: the Bengals lose out and the Steelers win out.

In that event, the Steelers will be hurt by raising their own winning percentage, which gives the Bengals a better strength of victory. If the Steelers finish 11-5, factoring no other updated record, Cincinnati’s strength of schedule climbs up to .413. If the Bengals lose out, the Steelers’ victory will be less valuable, and adding victories over poor teams such as the Ravens and Browns hurts as well, dropping all the way down to .439.

As you can see, however, the Steelers still have the better strength of victory number, and the Steelers beating the Ravens and Browns would also lower the Bengals’ strength of victory by lowering their win percentage.

The teams that are now relevant for this scenario are the Chiefs, Seahawks, Cardinals, Broncos, Bills, and Colts. The first two teams plus the Bills are the victories that the Bengals have and the Steelers do not. The second two teams plus the Colts are the victories that the Steelers have that the Bengals do not.

Currently, the Broncos are 10-4 and the Cardinals are 12-2, while the Colts are 6-8. The better these teams do, the better it is for the Steelers. The Seahawks and Chiefs are both 9-5, while the Bills are 6-8. The worse these teams do, the better it is for the Steelers. Having victories against multiple 10-win teams is big for the Steelers right now, as they are +4 in the overall win column among these six teams’ records.

Common Games Steelers Bengals Wins Losses Win %
Raiders win win 6 8 0.429
Chargers win win 4 10 0.286
Chiefs loss win 9 5 0.643
Seahawks loss win 9 5 0.643
Cardinals win loss 12 2 0.857
Rams win win 6 8 0.429
49ers win win 4 10 0.286
Browns win win 3 11 0.214
Browns win win 3 11 0.214
Ravens win win 4 10 0.286
head-to-head win win 11 5 0.688
Denver win loss 10 4 0.714
Non-Common W: Colts or Bills win win 6 8 0.429
Projected 11-5 SOV 0.439123377 0.413149351
Current SOV 0.492063492 0.409090909
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