The last time the Bills' obscure tiebreaker was used, that team won the Super Bowl - The Buffalo News

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The last time the Bills' obscure tiebreaker was used, that team won the Super Bowl

The Buffalo Bills have tiebreakers to thank for ending their postseason drought.

And the last time their obscure tiebreaker was needed to determine a playoff berth, the team it benefited won the Super Bowl.

The Bills finished 9-7 on two other occasions since the turn of the millennium, but neither instance was good enough to get the Bills into the playoffs.

This season, the AFC saw a rare four-way tie for both of its wild-card spots, with the Titans, Ravens, Chargers and Bills all finishing 9-7.

How exactly did the playoff positions shake out?

How many wins does it take to earn a wild-card spot?

The Chargers' head-to-head win over the Bills didn't come into to play because it wasn't a two-team tie. For groups of tied teams from different divisions, record in conference games is the first tiebreaker used. The Titans had the best record against AFC teams (8-4), so they earned the fifth seed.

In the tiebreaker for the sixth seed, the Bills and Ravens went 7-5 against conference foes while the Chargers went 6-6, so the Chargers were eliminated.

That sent the Bills and Ravens to two-team tiebreakers. They didn't play head-to-head and tied on conference record, so the next tiebreaker was record against common opponents, which requires a minimum of four games needed to apply the tiebreaker. Their common opponents were the Dolphins, Bengals, Colts and Raiders, with each team playing its division opponent twice. The Bills' Week 17 win over the Dolphins combined with the Ravens' late collapse against the Bengals moved them both to 4-1 in games against those teams.

So the Bills and Ravens had to go to the fourth tiebreaker, which is strength of victory, or the winning percentage of teams you've beaten. The teams the Bills beat posted a winning percentage of .396 while the teams the Ravens beat finished .299. That difference sent the Bills to the playoffs.

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The Bills had the edge on that tiebreaker thanks to wins over the Chiefs and Falcons, which both finished 10-6. The Ravens didn't beat any playoff teams, with their best win coming against the 9-7 Lions. They also beat the 0-16 Browns twice. (The Ravens would've needed the Browns to go at least 7-9 to have a shot at beating the Bills on this tiebreaker, or possibly 8-8 depending on which games they won.)

The strength of victory tiebreaker may be obscure, but the league has six more tiebreakers in place before a coin flip is needed.

Strength of victory was last used in 2010 and has only come into play a handful of times since the league last updated its tiebreaking procedures after realigning the divisions in 2002, when the Texans entered the league.

In 2010, strength of victory helped send the 10-6 Packers to the playoffs over the 10-6 Giants and Buccaneers; they went on to win the Super Bowl that year against the Steelers. The 2006 Giants also got a wild-card berth at 8-8 thanks to strength of victory, but lost in the wild-card round. The 2009 Patriots and 2003 Seahawks also used the tiebreaker, but those instances were to settle seeding with other playoff teams.

The Bills are lucky point differential didn't come into play, which is farther down on the list of tiebreakers. The Bills' minus-57 point differential is the worst of any playoff team since 2011, and the second-worst ever among playoff teams with nine or more wins. The 1989 Steelers qualified at 9-7 with a minus-61 point differential. The worst playoff team ever on point differential was the 2010 Seahawks, who escaped from a poor NFC West with a 7-9 record and a minus-97 point differential. They were the first team to qualify for the playoffs with a losing record while playing a 16-game schedule.

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