AFC Playoff Picture: Wildcards

Chris from NFL-Forecast.com has done an excellent break down of the AFC playoff picture. Enjoy.

With 5 weeks remaining in the season, there are clear leaders in seven of the eight divisions. The NFC East division champ is very much up for grabs but in each of the other divisions there is one team that has an 80% chance or better of winning the division. The Cowboys have the inside track to the NFC East title, and even if the Eagles or Giants ultimately win that division, the Cowboys are likely to claim one of the wildcard spots. For the moment, if we designate the Patriots, Bengals, Colts, Chargers, Cowboys, Vikings, Saints, and Cardinals as division champs, we can focus on the wild card races. In this article, I will focus on the AFC wild card race.

Denver Broncos

Overall, Denver currently has a 75% chance of making the playoffs. The Broncos have games remaining against the Chiefs (twice), Raiders, Colts and Eagles. If the Broncos can reach 11 or 12 wins, they will certainly have a playoff spot as either the division champ or a wild card. At the moment, 10 wins seems very achievable by beating the Chiefs twice and the Raiders. In this case, they would have an 80% chance of making the playoffs, depending on the outcome of other games and the tiebreakers. If the Broncos only manage two more victories to finish 9 and 7 their odds of making the playoffs drop to 22%.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Overall, the Steelers currently have a 70% chance of making the playoffs. The Steelers have remaining games against Oakland, Cleveland, Green Bay, Baltimore, and Miami. If they run the table to get to 11 wins, they are in. If they lose one game, things get a little dicey depending on whom the lose to. Losing to Baltimore again drops their odds to 63%, losing only to Miami gives them an 83% chance, while a sole loss to Green Bay gives them an 87% chance. Two losses would drop their playoff odds to around 13%.

Baltimore Ravens

Overall, the Ravens currently have a 38% chance of making the playoffs. However, in terms of controlling their own destiny, the Ravens are in a slightly better situation. They have games remaining against Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Oakland. Victories in all of those games gets them to 11 wins and a certain playoff birth. Ten wins with a sole loss to the Steelers gives them a 69% chance of making the playoffs while a single loss to Green Bay or Chicago would give them a 97% chance to make the playoffs. The winner of the second Pittsburg Ravens game will likely make the playoffs. Should be a great game. Two losses would drop the Ravens chances of making the playoffs to around 18%.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Overall, the Jaguars currently have a 16% chance of making the playoffs, yet they still control their own destiny, since victories in their remaining games against Houston, Miami, Indianapolis, New England and Cleveland would give them 11 wins. Their problem is that they have games against two of the best teams in the league. If they can split those two games, and finish with 10 wins, they have a 90% chance of making the playoffs. However if they drop both of those games and finish 9-7, their odds drop to 22% and they need a lot of help.


Intermission

There is a non-zero probability that three of the above four teams could all finish with 11 wins or more (Baltimore and Pittsburgh cannot both finish with 11 wins, since they play each other). If the division leaders don’t falter, this would mean that an 11-win team would miss the playoffs. While mathematically possible, the chances of this happening are extremely low. Surprisingly, Jacksonville would have the inside track in this situation, while Denver and Pittsburgh or Baltimore would be sweating out the tiebreakers.

Houston Texans

Overall, the Texans currently have a 3.7% chance of making the playoffs. Winning the rest of their games against Jacksonville, Seattle, St. Louis, Miami and New England would give them 10 wins, but even then their odds of making the playoffs are only 59%. Dropping even one game to finish 9-7 would drop their playoff odds to around 3%.

New York Jets

Overall, the Jets currently have a 2.5% chance of making the playoffs. If the win all of their remaining games against Buffalo, Tampa, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati would give them a 10-6 record and a 64% chance of making the playoffs. A single loss to Tampa would leave them with a 13% chance to make the playoffs, but a single loss within the conference would drop their odds to 5%.

Miami Dolphins

Overall, the Dolphins have a 1.5% chance of making the playoffs. If Miami were to win all of their remaining games, against New England, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston and Pittsburgh, they would have a 10-6 record and a 94% chance of making the playoffs. A 9-7 record would drop their odds to around 15%. While these odds seem quite promising, according to Burke Team efficiency ratings, they will have a difficult time winning enough games to be a significant player in the wild card race.


Tennessee Titans

Overall, the Titans have only a 0.2% chance of making the playoffs. Even if they win all of their remaining games against the Colts, Rams, Dolphins, Chargers, and Seahawks to finish 10-6, their playoff odds are only 34%. This scenario has become a dark horse story within the media over the last couple of weeks; however, the tiebreakers are working strongly against them, even if they can deliver on the field. With a 9-7 record, their chances of making the playoffs drop below 2%.

Buffalo Bills


Overall, the Bills have only a 0.04% chance of making the playoffs. If they win the rest of their games to finish 9-7, their best chance of making the playoffs is if the Patriots falter and the Bills win the division (about 12% chance). The chances of the Bills making a wild card slot at 9-7 are less than 2%.

The Chiefs and Raiders are not yet mathematically eliminated. However, even if they win all of their remaining games to finish 8-8, their chances of making the playoffs are 1.5% and 0.5%, respectively. The Browns are the only team in the AFC that has been mathematically eliminated at this stage of the season.

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12 Responses to “AFC Playoff Picture: Wildcards”

  1. scapistron says:

    The Patriots managed to pull off the 11-5 record without a playoff birth just last season.

  2. Jeff Clarke says:

    Thanks for outlining a little more of the detail. I admit that the Titans number surprised me. I wasn't buying into them having an enormous shot, but I thought it was at least 3 or 4 percent.

    A closer look at the tiebreakers does indicate a problem. If they ran the table, they'd finish the season 4-0 against the NFC West and 2-6 against the AFC.

  3. Neoplatonist Bolthead says:

    "Surprisingly, Jacksonville would have the inside track in this situation, while Denver and Pittsburgh or Baltimore would be sweating out the tiebreakers." So Denver is the only team that has any chance of winning 11 and still missing the playoffs. 'Cause Denver lost HtH vs. Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

  4. James says:

    This is really good work. If/When you take a look at the NFC, I'm assuming you'll include all the NFC East teams as the Cowboys certainly haven't locked up the division yet. From what I've seen using your forecaster, as long as they win two of their three remaining East games, they should make the playoffs in some form.

  5. Chris says:

    Neoplatonist -- Your analysis of the tie breaker isn't correct -- the three way tiebreakers are kind of tricky. In the case where Jacksonville, Denver, and Pittsburgh (for example) are all tied at 11-5, you would ignore the fact that Denver lost to Pittsburgh head-to-head since Jacksonville did not play either Denver or Pittsburgh.

    In a 3-way tie, head-to-head is "Applicable only if one club has defeated each of the others or if one club has lost to each of the others."

    You should use my software (available on my site) if you want to analyze scenarios with ties.

  6. Chris says:

    Hi James --

    NFC is now posted on my site. As always, Brian is free to post it here too.

    I didn't include the Cowboys, but you are correct. If they beat the NYG and Washington and dropped the rest of their games they would still have about a 95% chance of making the playoffs. Same result if they beat the Eagles and Washington.

  7. Brian Burke says:

    Great. You the man, Chris.

  8. Eiad says:

    I'll start by saying that I really like the work Brian is doing on this website. But I have to think the Titans have a greater than 0.2% chance of making the postseason.

    Your data suggests that the Titans only have a 0.6% chance of winning their remaining games (0.02/0.34). I know they don't have the same chance of winning all of their remaining games, but if they did, their chance of winning each game would be only 36% (0.06^(1/5)). Given that the moneyline for their upcoming game against the Colts (their most difficult game) gives them about a 28% chance of winning (taking the vig into account), I would say their chances of winning out are much higher than 0.6% and consequently their chances of making the playoffs are greater than 0.2%.

  9. Chris says:

    Hi Eiad --

    I checked it again. 0.2% chance is actually a little low due to a small number of simulations (5000). It is closer to 0.27% chance.

    Chances of winning out: (0.3/0.34) = 0.8%.

    Individual game odds (based on last weeks team efficiency ratings):

    0.13 against Indy
    0.76 against St Louis
    0.62 against Miami
    0.27 against SD
    0.48 against Seattle

    0.13*0.76*0.62*0.27*0.48 = 0.008

    After updating with this weeks' team efficiencies, the overall chance of the Titans making the playoffs increases to about 0.9%.

    Individual game odds:

    0.17 against Indy
    0.81 against St Louis
    0.71 against Miami
    0.34 against SD
    0.42 against Seattle

    Incidentally, Football Outsiders gives the Titans a 1.4% chance to make the playoffs.

  10. Eiad says:

    I guess part of the issue is that you are using the same efficiency numbers for all the games. If the Titans win their next three games you have to think their chance of winning against SD is higher than 0.34 and their chance of winning against Seattle is higher than 0.42. It would be cool to construct a simulation that took into account the team's simulated wins when deciding how good the team is.

  11. Brian Burke says:

    True, but we can't assume the result in calculating how likely the result will be.

  12. Eiad says:

    I don't think you would be assuming the result, you would just adjust the team strength component as the simulation goes on. For example, if a team wins a game in the simulation you can adjust their strength as if they won the game in real life, if they lose in the simulation you can adjust it downwards. I think doing this would more accurately reflect the fact that the initial power ranking might be wrong or that the team improves over a course of a few games.

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