NFL Draft Tiebreaker Procedures: Strength of Schedule, Head-to-Head, and More

What are the current NFL Draft tiebreakers that are in place to determine the selection order for team's tied with the same regular-season record?

The NFL Draft tiebreaking procedures are a set of simple but effective rules that help determine the NFL Draft order each season. On the surface, things are simple — with the worst team getting the top pick and the team that wins the Super Bowl getting the 32nd pick. However, when two or more teams are tied with the same record, we have to use the tiebreaking procedures to determine who picks where.

What Are the NFL Draft Tiebreakers?

First and foremost, strength of schedule (SOS) is the primary tiebreaker for teams with identical records when determining the NFL Draft order. The team with the lower SOS will receive the higher pick, as they are deemed to have faced the weaker set of opponents to achieve the same record.

SOS is the aggregate winning percentage of the team’s opponents. This is a simple process of summating all of the wins, losses, and ties that each team’s opponents have accumulated and dividing it by the total games played.

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Often SOS is enough to break the majority of ties, but that’s not always the case. When two teams are tied on record and SOS, then we have to go deeper to determine the draft order. This is where things get complicated as the tiebreaking procedure applied varies based on circumstances.

The process applied depends on whether teams are in the same division or conference, with a third set of rules for breaking any ties that occur between teams in separate conferences. Divisional ties are broken first, then conference ties, before breaking non-conference ties.

Division NFL Draft Tiebreakers

When two teams from the same division are tied by both record and SOS, we have to use the following procedures to break any ties:

  1. Head-to-head record: The team with the worse record in games played against each other gets the higher pick in the draft order.
  2. Winning percentage in games played within the division: The team with the lower winning percentage gets the higher pick.
  3. Win percentage in common games: The team with the lower winning percentage gets the higher pick.
  4. Winning percentage in games played within the conference: The team with the lower winning percentage gets the higher pick.
  5. Strength of victory: The aggregate winning percentage for opponents each team defeated is calculated, and the team with the lower strength of victory is awarded the higher pick.
  6. Combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in conference games: For example, if Team A is ranked 10th in points scored and eighth in points allowed, Team A’s combined ranking would be 18. If Team B is ranked fifth in points scored and 14th in points allowed, Team B’s combined ranking would be 19. Team A’s combined ranking is better, so Team B would be awarded the higher pick.
  7. Combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games
  8. Best net points in common games: The difference between points scored and points allowed is compared for both teams, with the team with the worst net getting the higher pick.
  9. Best net points in all games
  10. Best net touchdowns in all games: The difference in the number of touchdowns scored and allowed is compared. The team with the lower net touchdowns gets the higher pick.
  11. Coin toss: If all other tiebreakers have been exhausted and teams still cannot be separated, a coin toss is used to determine the final NFL Draft order of those two or more teams.

Conference NFL Draft Tiebreakers

If teams within the same conference but not the same division are tied, the conference tiebreaking procedure is enacted. The only difference between divisional and conference procedures is that the step of looking at their divisional record is skipped.

  1. Head-to-head record: The team with the worse record in games played against each other gets the higher pick in the NFL Draft order.
  2. Winning percentage in games played within the conference: The team with the lower winning percentage gets the higher pick.
  3. Winning percentage in common games (minimum of four common opponents): The team with the lower winning percentage gets the higher pick.
  4. Strength of victory: The aggregate winning percentage for opponents each team defeated is calculated, and the team with the lower strength of victory is awarded the higher pick.
  5. Combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in conference games
  6. Combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games
  7. Best net points in common games
  8. Best net points in all games
  9. Best net touchdowns in all games
  10. Coin toss

Non-Conference Tiebreaking Procedures

If two teams from separate conferences are tied in terms of record and strength of schedule, then a third set of tiebreaking procedures needs to be used. The main difference here is that conference records are disposed of, moving up the common games tiebreaker to No. 2.

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There is also an additional tiebreaker using the team’s points scored and points allowed rankings for the season.

Here are the full tiebreaking procedures when teams in separate conferences are tied:

  1. Head-to-head record: The team with the worse record in games played against each other gets the higher pick in the NFL Draft order.
  2. Winning percentage in common games (minimum of four common opponents): The team with the lower winning percentage gets the higher pick.
  3. Strength of victory: The aggregate winning percentage for opponents each team defeated is calculated, and the team with the lower strength of victory is awarded the higher pick.
  4. Combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games
  5. Best net points in all games
  6. Best net touchdowns in all games
  7. Coin toss

For any teams where tiebreakers have to be used based on a tied record, teams will alternate draft positions in the following rounds. For example, if Team A and Team B were tied at 1-17 and tiebreakers granted Team A the first pick in Round 1, Team B would have the first pick in Round 2, before Team A in Round 3, and so on.

When three or more teams are tied on the same record, the pick order rotates through the round. For example, if Team A, Team B, and Team C are all tied at 1-17, and Team A is determined to have the top pick after applying the tiebreakers, they will then pick third in Round 2. In Round 3, they pick second, before picking first again in Round 4. This rotation would continue through the draft.

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