NFL Playoff Picture

A look at the NFL playoff picture updated with Week 15 complete. Percentages based on 25,000 simulations with expected point spreads for the remaining games:

AFC East:

New England (12-2): Clinched division and first-round bye. 88% chance of top seed.
Miami (9-5): 54% chance of wild card. While the Dolphins enjoy a one-game lead for the final wild-card spot, Denver holds the tie-breakers over Miami at 10-6. Still, while Miami does finish against New England and won’t be favored in that game, the Patriots are likely to have sewn up that top seed and usually do not bring their A-game in Week 17.
Buffalo (7-7): 1% chance of wild card. The Bills have some favorable 9-7 tie-breakers, enough to reach the playoffs in 228 of the 25,000 simulations.

AFC North:

Pittsburgh (9-5): 87% chance of winning division, 5% chance of first-round bye, 7% chance of wild card. The Steelers host Baltimore next week and will be strongly favored. They also have an easier Week 17 game. But the Ravens hold the tie-breaker.
Baltimore (8-6): 13% chance of winning division, 13% chance of wild card. The Ravens hold every possible tie-breaker advantage, so if they lose to the Steelers next week, while they’d need a lot of help they’re still in it at 9-7.

AFC South:

Houston (8-6): 36% chance of winning division, 3% chance of wild card. Houston visits Tennessee in Week 17 for what’s likely the division title. Houston holds all divisional tie-breakers.
Tennessee (8-6): 63% chance of winning division, 2% chance of wild card.
Indianapolis (7-7): 1% chance of winning division, +0% chance of wild card. The Colts need to thread a needle to get in a tie with Tennessee at 9-7, where they would hold an advantage.

AFC West:

Oakland (11-3): 70% chance of winning division, 69% chance of first-round bye, 12% chance of top seed, clinched playoff berth. The Raiders have a one-game edge over the Chiefs, but a tougher remaining schedule. The Chiefs also hold the tie-breaker. Should New England falter, the Raiders almost certainly hold the tie-breaker for that top seed.
Kansas City (10-4): 30% chance of winning division, 27% chance of first-round bye, 69% chance of wild card. The Chiefs are almost certainly in the playoffs, even holding the tie-breaker over Denver. The only risk is with two losses, the Chiefs lose tie-breakers at 10-6 to Pittsburgh and Miami.
Denver (8-6): 21% chance of wild card. The Broncos still have games with Oakland and Kansas City, and only win a tie-breaker with Miami, Houston and Indianapolis. However – and this could be important given expected point spreads for remaining games – in a three-way tie with Houston and an AFC East team, Houston would win the tie-breaker.

NFC East:

Dallas (12-2): 98% chance of winning division, 98% chance of top seed, clinched playoff berth. The Giants hold the tie-breaker, though it’s fairly unlikely they’ll win two while Dallas loses two.
New York Giants (10-4): 2% chance of winning division, 2% chance of top seed, 97% chance of wild card. The Giants do not fare well in 10-6 tie-breakers, except with Detroit. But they missed the playoffs in only 16 of 25,000 simulations.
Washington (7-6-1): 15% chance of wild card. The tie makes tie-breaker math pretty much moot. Monday’s loss to Carolina took 48% off of the Redskins’ playoff chances.

NFC North:

Detroit (9-5): 69% chance of winning division, 4% chance of first-round bye, 15% chance of wild card. Since Detroit hosts Green Bay in Week 17, the Packers hold the tie-breaker. Next week’s game at Dallas is surprisingly irrelevant – irrelevant enough that the Lions should consider a vanilla game plan and resting Stafford early next Monday should Green Bay beat Minnesota on Saturday.
Green Bay (8-6): 31% chance of winning division, 21% chance of wild card, +0% chance of first-round bye. If it does come down to a battle of the Bays for the final wild card at 9-7, it will come down to strength-of-victory, where the Packers hold only a slight edge.
Minnesota (7-7): 4% chance of wild card. In that tiny scenario where they tie teams at 9-7, they do not hold tie-breakers.

NFC South:

Atlanta (9-5): 81% chance of division, 17% chance of first-round bye, 17% chance of wild card. The Falcons lose the divisional tie-breaker to Tampa Bay. They hold almost every possible out-of-division tie-breaker.
Tampa Bay (8-6): 19% chance of division, 28% chance of wild card, 1% chance of first-round bye. The Buccaneers need help from someone. And even in the very unlikely scenario that Detroit beats Dallas then loses to Green Bay, the Lions would hold the tie-breaker at 10-6. In the slightly more likely scenario that Tampa Bay and Detroit tie for the final wild card at 9-7, it matters which game Tampa Bay lost – a Week 16 loss is more harmful than a Week 17 loss.

NFC West:

Seattle (9-4-1): won division, 78% chance of first-round bye (but no chance of top seed).

Projected playoff matchups, based on remaining games and expected point spreads:


6. Baltimore (9-7) at 3. Pittsburgh (11-5)
5. Oakland (12-4) at 4. Tennessee (10-6)
1. New England (14-2)
2. Kansas City (12-4)


6. Green Bay (9-7) at 3. Atlanta (11-5)
5. New York Giants (12-4) at 4. Detroit (10-6)
1. Dallas (14-2)
2. Seattle (11-4-1)

Brief Draft Order Discussion:

If teams all “lose out” and things go as expected, keeping in mind that Los Angeles hosts San Francisco in Week 16:

1. Cleveland, 2. San Francisco, 3. Jacksonville, 4. Chicago, 5. New York Jets, 6. Los Angeles.

What if San Francisco beats Los Angeles, which is entirely possible given how bad the Rams are on offense lately and that the 49ers’ lone win this season was 28-0 over the Rams in Week 1?

Los Angeles would probably switch places at 5/6 with the Jets. The 49ers would still pick #2.

What if Cleveland wins a game and ties San Francisco at 1-15?

San Francisco would almost certainly take the #1 pick.

And Jacksonville/Chicago at 3/4, should they both finish at 3-13?

Chicago would very likely pick #3.

What about Chicago/Jets at 4/5, both at 4-12?

Far too close to call.

Who had the toughest and easiest schedules this season, based on projections for the last two weeks?

Toughest – Philadelphia (.582). Easiest – Seattle (.414). It looks like both will very likely hold on to these rankings.

Author: Jim Gindin

Founder and Lead Developer, Solecismic Software