With a record-tying 20 teams still in playoff contention entering the final week of the NFL’s regular season, Joe Ferreira has been plenty busy the past two months. The broadcast and digital media executive is wrapping up his 32nd year figuring out NFL playoff scenarios and tiebreakers, an expertise he developed as the league’s senior director of broadcasting and scheduling for most of the 1990s.
“It’s more of a passion project and a hobby at this point,” said the 62-year-old Ferreira, who, despite no longer being employed by the NFL, has spent six to eight hours of his spare time every week since mid-November updating playoff clinching and elimination scenarios and sharing them with his followers on social media.
What we already know re NFC: * SF is #1 seed w/bye * DET is NFC North Champ and will be #2 or #3 seed * DAL-PHI are in playoffs and division winner will be #2 or #3 seed and 2nd place NFC East team will be #5 seed playing at NFC South… pic.twitter.com/UrGJux7IlB
Ferreira inherited love for the New York Giants from his father, and while Brian Daboll’s squad is among the 12 teams already eliminated from the postseason, Ferreira will keep a close eye on Week 18 from his home in Florida. He will update his spreadsheets as the muddled postseason picture gradually comes into focus throughout the weekend, beginning with a pair of Saturday games with major playoff implications. Ferreira uses a computer program to help project the common opponents tiebreaker, but otherwise generates his scenarios manually.
“Once we get to the last week, my job is mostly done,” Ferreira said. “I’ve laid out not only all the clinching scenarios, but the elimination scenarios, too. I share the possible seeding grids, which allows fans to kind of follow along as the games happen.”
Number-crunching has always come naturally to Ferreira, who envisioned a career as a play-by-play announcer before being introduced to the business side of sports as a ratings analyst and researcher at NBC and CBS after pursuing a graduate degree in telecommunications at Indiana University.
The NFL hired Ferreira in 1992 to help develop the league’s schedule, which was done manually using peg boards at the time, and to serve as the primary liaison with its TV and radio broadcast partners. Ferreira was also tasked with managing the NFL’s playoff scenarios based on the tiebreaking procedures first introduced in 1967.
During his time in the league office, Ferreira worked closely with Santo Labombarda of the Elias Sports Bureau, the NFL’s statistics partner, to project playoff scenarios without the aid of a computer. When the NFL began including clinching scenarios in its weekly release toward the end of the season, Ferreira handled inquiries from team PR directors, who would relay questions from coaches about what their teams needed to do to make the postseason.
Ferreira recalled the final weekend of the 1997 season, when the fifth tiebreaker at the time — net division points — was required to determine the AFC Central Division champion between 11-5 Pittsburgh and 11-5 Jacksonville. That matched the most number of steps required to break a tie in the final division standings in league history. The NFL’s current tiebreaking procedures feature 12 steps to break a tie between two or more teams within a division, the last of which is a coin toss.
In 2000, Ferreira left the NFL to become the executive producer at CBS SportsLine.com, which produced SuperBowl.com for the league. While overseeing the launch of “March Madness on Demand” and other non-football projects, Ferreira maintained his passion for NFL playoff scenarios. He created a blog that laid out clinching and elimination possibilities and answered readers’ questions as the season progressed, and he continued to consult with Labombarda on the NFL’s official playoff scenarios.
These days, the NFL generates its own clinching scenarios internally and has them independently verified by the Elias Sports Bureau. As the postseason nears, Ferreira said broadcasters still contact him with questions about various scenarios and tiebreakers.
“I like being a resource for those people to make sure they’re getting information out there that’s accurate,” said Ferreira, who co-hosted a weekly playoff scenario segment during his two years as VP of content strategy at NBC Sports Washington from 2016 to 2018. “The biggest fear you have doing this is making a mistake.”
In addition to presenting regularly updated — and accurate — scenarios, Ferreira is an endless source of playoff-related factoids and minutiae, thanks to the extensive database he built with NFL researcher Ivan Urena, who wrote a book about the history of pro football schedules. The league will sometimes reach out to Ferreira with historical questions pertaining to playoff scenarios and when certain teams clinched.
Ferreira recently posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, that this is the first year since 2009 that the No. 1 seeds in the NFC and AFC were both determined before the final week of the season. Of potential interest to fans of teams that could clinch a playoff spot with a win or tie this weekend, Ferreira points out that, while the Chargers and Raiders came close in a wild regular season finale two years ago, there has never been a tie in the final two weeks of the regular season since the NFL added an overtime period in 1974.
NFL PLAYOFF HISTORY:
*** With BALTIMORE and SAN FRANCISCO clinching the #1 seed in their respective conferences on week 17, this is the first time both #1 seeds were clinched with one week to play since 2009 (NO and IND).
*** We have two divisions that have three teams in title…
“I’m not an NFL historian, but I kind of play that role as it relates to the playoffs and playoff scenarios,” said Ferreira, whose information is fodder for those who cover the league. “I like to throw those nuggets out because I think it’s interesting for fans.”
Ferreira doesn’t plan to give up his labor of love anytime soon, and is delighted by the proliferation in individuals and sites dedicated to tracking playoff-clinching scenarios in the season’s final weeks.
“It’s great,” he said. “The more interest there is, the more demand there is for factual data versus just speculation.”