Playoff Probabilities: Week 14

This week's edition of playoff probabilities debuts new tables indicating each team's probability of advancing to a given round of the playoffs. As always, these numbers come courtesy of Chris Cox at NFL-forecast.com and are generated with the help of his NFL-Forecast software app, which uses the win probabilities generated by the team efficiency model to simulate the NFL season 5,000 times. And if you don't buy the game probabilities from Advanced NFL Stats, you can tweak them as much as you like to generate your own playoff projections. I encourage everyone to download the app and test out your own scenarios.

The Broncos continue their upward climb toward the postseason. Their win last week (coupled with a Raiders' loss) increased Denver's overall playoff probability 25 points to 61%, including a 55% chance to win their division and open the postseason at home.

With four games left to play, pretty much every game is a high-leverage game for teams in contention. Cincinnati has an opportunity for a big win against the Texans; Detroit is playing a game against the Vikings they do not want to lose; and if Baltimore wants to win the race for the AFC South, they certainly don't want to drop a game to the Colts. But two games in particular stand out as especially important this week.

High Leverage Games of the Week

Chicago at Denver | Sunday, December 11 | 4:05 pm ET

Playoff Prob. DEN WinCHI Win
CHI 3870
DEN 7746

In general, out-of-conference games are relatively low-leverage affairs. The teams aren't going to be competing for the same playoff spot, and there are few ramifications in terms of tiebreakers. But for Denver, a win here could be huge—their playoff probability would rise to 77% overall, including a 71% chance of winning their division.

After playing the Patriots next week, the Broncos will travel to Buffalo to face a Bills team that has lost five straight before hosting the Chiefs to close out the season. If the Broncos follow a win on Sunday with wins in two of their three final games, they are almost certain to make the playoffs. Not bad for a team that started the season 1-4.

The Bears, meanwhile, are in trouble. After losing Matt Forte to a sprained right knee early in the first quarter of last week's game, Chicago could only muster 3 points against the #20-ranked Chiefs defense, and, as a result, the Bears, Lions, and Falcons remain all tied-up at 7 wins apiece in the race for the NFC wild card spots. A loss in Denver would drop the Bears' probability of securing a place in the postseason to 38% (a number which falls to 30% if you include an adjustment for the injury to Jay Cutler).

New York Giants at Dallas | Sunday, December 11 | 8:20 pm ET

Playoff Prob. DAL WinNYG Win
NYG 1266
DAL 9041

In terms of playoff leverage, this looks to be the most pivotal game of the season by far, with each team seeing a swing of around 50 percentage points dependent on the outcome. Neither New York nor Dallas has a very easy path to a wild card berth and the Eagles are long shots to win the division, so it really just comes down to these two teams fighting over the NFC East title.

A Dallas win on Sunday would put the Cowboys up by two games with three left to play, leaving the Giants only a 10% chance to come back and win the division. A Giant win, on the other hand, though giving New York and Dallas the same record, would actually make the Giants roughly 2:1 favorites to win the East. Note this is a home game for the Cowboys, so their second meeting the final week of the season is in New York—the model gives the Giants a 65% probability to win that game, and New York takes the division in 95% of scenarios in which they win both meetings against the Cowboys.

News & Notes

  • The Packers and 49ers both clinched their respective division titles last week, while the Jaguars were eliminated from contention.
  • Having beaten out the Lions and the Giants, the Packers cleared the largest hurdles in their path toward an undefeated season. The model now puts the probability of an undefeated season at 35% (including an 8% probability to cap it off with a Super Bowl win).

The probabilities below are the result of simulating the season 50,000 times using the game-win probabilities from the team efficiency model. They may not add up to 100 (in percent form) due to rounding. Enjoy.

AFC EAST
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
NE9-311.899100
NYJ7-59.119540
BUF5-76.9026632
MIA4-85.7023068
AFC NORTH
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
PIT9-312.2485100
BAL9-311.7524810
CIN7-59.001990
CLE4-84.9000>99
AFC SOUTH
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
HOU9-312.4>99000
TEN7-58.709910
JAC3-94.901991
IND0-121.000199
AFC WEST
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
DEN7-58.8554051
OAK7-59.04145113
SD5-76.82105632
KC5-76.1252964
NFC EAST
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
DAL7-59.2643150
NYG6-68.43551122
PHI4-86.21146520
WAS4-85.5041977
NFC NORTH
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
GB12-015.1100000
DET7-59.3064360
CHI7-59.1036640
MIN2-103.1000100
NFC SOUTH
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
NO9-312.098200
ATL7-59.329610
CAR4-85.4006039
TB4-85.2013961
NFC WEST
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
SF10-212.1100000
SEA5-76.7055450
ARI5-77.0045550
STL2-103.2000>99


AFC Percent Probability Playoff Seeding
Team1st2nd3rd4th5th6thTotal
PIT1622100510>99
HOU353727100>99
NE212748400>99
BAL28159045299
DEN004510661
OAK001410951
CIN000013233
NYJ000012830
TEN000012122
SD0002012
KC0002002
BUF000000<1
MIA000000<1
CLE000000<1
IND0000000
JAC0000000

NFC Percent Probability Playoff Seeding
Team1st2nd3rd4th5th6thTotal
GB9820000100
SF26629300100
NO03164320>99
DAL016581369
ATL0020392768
DET0000283665
CHI0000272755
NYG000350136
SEA0000134
ARI0000123
PHI0001001
WAS000000<1
TB000000<1
MIN000000<1
CAR0000000
STL0000000


AFC Percent Probability to Reach
TeamDivision RoundConference GameSuper BowlSup Bowl Champion
HOU96694630
PIT82472213
NE8640189
BAL7632125
OAK20510
NYJ8210
DEN19300
CIN7100
TEN5100
SD1000
BUF0000
KC0000
CLE0000
MIA0000
IND0000
JAC0000

NFC Percent Probability to Reach
TeamDivision RoundConference GameSuper BowlSup Bowl Champion
GB>99714822
NO80492410
SF8737124
DAL431562
NYG25942
DET25831
ATL22621
CHI16410
PHI1000
SEA1000
ARI0000
WAS0000
TB0000
CAR0000
MIN0000
STL0000


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13 Responses to “Playoff Probabilities: Week 14”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I'm curious as to why Green Bay's chances of winning the super bowl are so much lower than Houston's (22 v 30 percent). It doesn't seem like GB's potential opponents are so much stronger than Houston's. And your model gives GB a slightly better chance to play in the super bowl.

    Am I missing something, or does the model not take account of Houston's recent injury woes?

  2. Josh Katz says:

    No, you're right--the model does not account for injuries. If you adjust Houston's team strength downward to account for their situation at QB, they're still a good bet to make the playoffs, but how they perform once they get there is a different story.

    But there's also the fact that San Francisco is given a 12% chance to be representing the NFC, and the model sees them as significantly weaker competition than, say, the Steelers or Patriots.

  3. Josh Katz says:

    Using Houston's injury-adjusted GWP would give the Texans a conditional probability of 41% to win the Super Bowl given that they're playing in it (compared to their current 66%).

  4. Jan Suchanek says:

    Those Houston numbers still don't seem right to me. If they have a 46% chance to reach SB and 30% chance to win it, that implies they would be a 2 to 1 favourite against whatever NFC they would face. That can't be right.

  5. Josh Katz says:

    Jan--That's right... Houston's unadjusted GWP is the highest in the league right now, and it's not close:
    http://www.advancednflstats.com/2011/12/team-rankings-week-fourteen.html

    That makes them fairly strong favorites to win even against teams like the Packers and Saints, and even stronger favorites against the 49ers.

    On an unrelated note, has the Super Bowl ever been held at the home stadium of a winless team before? That just seems cruel.

  6. Brian Burke says:

    HOU is a unique case. They obviously are not the team they were a few weeks ago without Schaub and with A. Johnson a Q every week. They are the #1 because they are one of the top offenses that also happen to have a very good defense.

  7. Anonymous says:

    As a Texans fan I marvel at these stats and I can't even begin to understand them. I trust them 100% though. Good job and always exiting reads coming from here :)

  8. Anonymous says:

    I've noticed that you and others simulate the season some large number of times to get results like these. But I think, to figure out the probability of team A getting seed X, you can figure out which scenarios give that result, multiply the individual game probabilities that lead to each scenario, then add up the results for each scenario. What does the Monte Carlo approach bring to the table?

  9. Chris says:

    I am unaware of any implementable way to figure out which of the possible 1.8e19 possible season-ending scenarios result in Detroit taking the 5 seed in the NFC east. Currently, at least 11 of of the 16 teams in the NFC East are still mathematically eligible for the 5th seed, so it isn't like you can eliminate large chunks of the scenario space by doing a little clever analysis. The two main problems are that the parameter space is huge and the rules for seeding are very complex.

  10. Chris says:

    That should read "5 seed in the NFC" instead of "5 seed in the NFC east".

  11. Anonymous says:

    Am I missing something or do you actually think the Texans have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl than the Packers?

  12. Jonathan says:

    They don't.

    The model still thinks the Texans have Schaub under center, so this is why they are being rated ahead of the Packers. Furthermore, many statheads would argue that the Packer defense isn't quite as poor as the numbers indicate--they have been playing a lot of garbage time in the 4th quarter, so they are probably mediocre as opposed to augh-rotten.

  13. Anonymous says:

    So your model is saying 71% that the Packers win a home game, at Lambeau, against the lowest seed, that just played a wild card game, against the Packers after their bye week. Shouldn't this be higher? I'd think at least 80%.

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