Nov. 28, 1977

For anyone who doesn’t grasp that the NFL has always used a Rubik’s Cube to design its playoff tie-breakers, we look back to 1977.

The circumstances are very different. Back in the day in question it was a 14-game schedule. And only four teams qualified in each conference. There were two Divisional Playoffs in each conference, followed by Conference Championships and the Super Bowl.

It is amazing that Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who surely grew up making a daily search for coins hidden in seat cushions, left so much money on the table for so many years.

At any rate, at 7-4 the Patriots were third in the AFC East. Since the Broncos were 10-1 and the Raiders were 8-2, the Pats’ hopes were tied to their winning the division. The Colts (still of Baltimore) were 9-2, the Dolphins were 8-3.

First: The Patriots had to win their remaining three games. That would include wins over Baltimore and Miami.

Second: The Colts had to lose its game against the Dolphins. If the Pats and Colts were tied, New England would get in by virtue of beating Baltimore twice.

Third: if the Pats, Colts and Dolphins all finished 10-4, the tie-breaker goes to New England because it would have a better combined record against those two teams.

Fourth: If Baltimore beat Miami, they would have to lose to the Lions (even then that was a slam-dunk) and the Pats would prevail by beating Baltimore twice.

Three weeks later, the Colts were 10-4, as was Miami, but Baltimore had a better conference record.

The Patriots were 9-5, but the Raiders were 11-3.

So many tie-breakers, so little use of them.

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