Playoff Probabilities: Week 16

With just two weeks left to play, it's crunch time for the teams on the playoff bubble. 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 thousands of 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.

Amazingly, 22 teams are still eligible for a playoff spot. Seven have clinched. Five "control their own destiny." The remaining ten—most of which sit on the brink of elimination this week—need various degrees of help to get into the postseason.

High Leverage Games of the Week

New York Giants at New York Jets | Saturday, December 24 | 1:00 pm ET
Philadelphia at Dallas | Saturday, December 24 | 4:15 pm ET

The seasons of all four of these teams hang in the balance of these two games. The Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles all remain in contention for the division title in the NFC East, and the Jets are currently holding on to the last wild card spot in the AFC (the Ravens/Steelers have the #5 seed locked up between them). As far as the NFC East goes, the results of these two games are so inextricably linked that it only makes sense to look at them together. The table below lists each team's respective probability of making the playoffs given each of the four possible combinations of game outcomes.


NYG WinNYJ Win
PHI WinDAL WinPHI WinDAL Win
PHI 00440
DAL 414641100
NYG 5959150
NYJ 19195960

As you can see, the result of the Eagles-Cowboys game won't have much of an impact if the Giants win—the Eagles will be eliminated and the NFC East will come down to the final showdown between the Giants and Cowboys in Week 17. (Though if the Cowboys beat the Eagles, Dallas gets a bit of an insurance policy, retaining an 8% probability of sneaking into a wild card berth if they end up losing the division.)

If the Giants lose, however, the division race shifts dramatically, and the Eagles-Cowboys game becomes the determinative factor. If Dallas wins, the Cowboys would clinch the division, but an Eagles win would actually make Philadelphia the slight favorite over the Cowboys to win the East, with the Giants needing both a win and an Eagles loss to the Redskins in Week 17 in order to make it into the playoffs—a probability of only 15%.

While the Eagles' chances at a playoff berth are slim, if they do make it into the playoffs they have a fairly decent shot at putting together a run, with a 30% chance of making it to the NFC Championship game (including a 6% probability of their first ever Super Bowl win.)

Of course, the Jets have their own playoff race to think about, as they now must scramble to defend the #6 spot from the Bengals (38% probability), Titans (3%), and three-quarters of the AFC West (everyone but Kansas City), which collectively have a 21% probability of claiming the wild card. Let us all now pause and register our collective shock at the prospect of the AFC West sending two teams to the playoffs.

The Jets don't quite control their destiny—if they win out, they'd be almost certain to get the wild card, but not quite. (For all you tiebreaker nerds out there, if the Jets and Bengals both win out, the final wild card team would be determined by the strength-of-victory tiebreaker, which the Jets have a greater than 99% probability of winning.)

To state the obvious, if the Jets lose this game, they can finish no better than 9-7, and given the various tiebreaker scenarios it may not be so easy for the Jets to get into the playoffs with nine wins. Thus if the Jets lose, their playoff probability drops to just 19%. Even if they followed up with a win in Miami, they would still have only a 44% probability of making the postseason. It is also possible, though extremely unlikely, for the Jets to lose both their remaining games and still manage to stumble into the playoffs at 8-8.

News & Notes

  • It bears noting that the #6 spot could provide an easier road through the playoffs this year in the AFC, with the winner probably opening the postseason against a diminished Texans team while the #4 seed will have to play either the Steelers or the Ravens. (That said, the #4 seed also comes with home-field advantage, so it may be a wash.)
  • The tables put the probability at 97% that the AFC Champion will be one of Baltimore, New England, Pittsburgh, and Houston. But between Houston's quarterback troubles, Baltimore's at-times erratic play, and Ben Roethlisberger's hobbled ankle, the AFC could be more wide open than the numbers suggest.
  • If you're the Steelers, do you rest Ben Roethlisberger? The Steelers have already clinched, and if they enter as a wild card they'll play the #4 seed—almost certainly the winner of the West. Overall, if the Steelers win their next two games, they have a 38% probability of advancing to the AFC Championship Game. If they lose their next two, this drops to 27%. Tough call.
  • I can't decide what's more surprising: the 80% probability that either Green Bay, New Orleans, or San Francisco will make it to the Super Bowl or the 20% probability that none of them will.

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
NE11-312.5100000
NYJ8-68.9010000
MIA5-95.8006931
BUF5-95.9003169
AFC NORTH
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
BAL10-411.3604000
PIT10-411.7406000
CIN8-69.1001000
CLE4-104.4000100
AFC SOUTH
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
HOU10-411.7100000
TEN7-77.9010000
JAC4-104.9001000
IND1-131.5000100
AFC WEST
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
DEN8-69.0772040
OAK7-78.112373318
SD7-77.94383523
KC6-86.8862859
NFC EAST
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
DAL8-69.05625190
NYG7-78.13540242
PHI6-87.29324514
WAS5-96.0041284
NFC NORTH
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
GB13-114.4100000
DET9-59.909640
CHI7-77.904960
MIN2-122.6000100
NFC SOUTH
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
NO11-312.595500
ATL9-510.159500
CAR5-95.9007624
TB4-104.5002476
NFC WEST
TeamRecWins1st2nd3rd4th
SF11-312.2100000
SEA7-77.9059410
ARI7-77.9041590
STL2-122.5000100


AFC Percent Probability Playoff Seeding
Team1st2nd3rd4th5th6thTotal
NE631324000100
HOU272844100100
BAL642120400100
DEN001760379
PIT417190600100
NYJ000003838
CIN000003838
OAK0001201123
SD00040711
KC0008008
TEN0000033
BUF0000000
IND0000000
JAC0000000
MIA0000000
CLE0000000

NFC Percent Probability Playoff Seeding
Team1st2nd3rd4th5th6thTotal
GB9820000100
SF25146000100
NO04649050100
DAL000560158
ATL0050721895
DET0000216586
NYG000350035
PHI0009009
ARI0000167
SEA0000156
CHI0000044
MIN0000000
TB0000000
CAR0000000
WAS0000000
STL0000000


AFC Percent Probability to Advance
TeamDivision RoundConference GameSuper BowlSup Bowl Champion
HOU92623925
NE94593016
PIT7634158
BAL8033136
DEN26410
NYJ8210
OAK8210
CIN9200
SD4100
KC2000
TEN1000
BUF0000
CLE0000
IND0000
JAC0000
MIA0000


NFC Percent Probability to Advance
TeamDivision RoundConference GameSuper BowlSup Bowl Champion
GB100674320
NO84542713
SF8031114
DAL381563
NYG22942
ATL351141
DET311041
PHI6210
ARI2000
SEA2000
CHI1000
CAR0000
MIN0000
STL0000
TB0000
WAS0000


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10 Responses to “Playoff Probabilities: Week 16”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ray Lewis is a Steeler now?

  2. Josh Katz says:

    Haha--oh, wow, need more sleep. Thanks.

  3. Tayster says:

    Thank you for all the work that went into this. Much appreciated.

    -Tayster

  4. Anonymous says:

    At my house we're all surprised that Houston has a 25% chance of winning the Super Bowl compared to Green Bay's 20%. It's certainly against "common sense." Any idea what's driving that?

  5. slushhead says:

    Along the same lines, it looks like Denver is worse than 5:1 against getting to the conference championship given that they get to the division round...could there be some mistake in these numbers?

  6. Unknown says:

    I think the answer to both the above comments has to do with the fact that Houston has played very well all year but had some devastating injuries lately that haven't totally shown up yet in the stats.

  7. Josh Katz says:

    Tayster--Anything to make the ANS reader a smarter, better informed, and more attractive football fan. (And, yes, reading ANS will do all of these things.)

    Anon & slushhead--Unknown has it right. All of these numbers are derived from our team rankings:
    http://www.advancednflstats.com/2011/12/team-rankings-week-sixteen.html
    And despite losing their starting QB (and backup) Houston has been at the top of the rankings for some time now.

    Also, keep in mind, there is a 15% probability that the representative from the NFC will be a team outside the top 10. Overall, the model is projecting the average Super Bowl competitor coming out of the NFC to be somewhat weaker than their counterpart from the AFC...

    AFC Champion Expected GWP: .705
    NFC Champion Expected GWP: .670

    As for Denver, with their .39 GWP, they are by far the lowest-ranked team to have a significant chance of making it to the Division Round.

  8. Anonymous says:

    There just seems to be a disconnect in the NFC east scenarios with the overall predictions below.

    For instance, Cowboys are 56% likely to win NFC east, however if you look at the The NYG win/ NYJ win table basically shows the Giants and Eagles as favorites over the cowboys.

    Add the GWP of the weekend and none of it adds up to me.

  9. Chris says:

    Anon about the NFC East --

    The big advantage for Dallas is that they are a game up on NYG and 2 up on PHI. Here are the projected number of wins for each team:

    Dallas 10 (23%); 9 (52%); 8 (20%)
    NYG 9 (32%); 8 (49%); 7 (19%)
    PHI 8 (33%); 7 (53%); 6 (14%)

    So the break down of NFC East champions goes like this:

    Dallas wins the NFC East with 10 wins: 23%
    Dallas wins the NFC East with 9 wins: 35%
    NYG wins the NFC East with 9 wins: 32%
    NYG wins the NFC East with 8 wins: 2%
    PHI wins the NFC east with 8 wins: 8%

    So hopefully it makes a little more sense when you look at the details.

  10. Josh Katz says:

    Anon--I think you're misreading the table. Each column in the table represents a separate outcome--the first column is NYG and PHI both winning, the second is NYG and DAL winning, etc...

    In one scenario, the Cowboys' probability of making the playoffs is 100% (they clinch), in another it's 46%, and in the other two it's 41%.

    Multiply each of these numbers by the likelihood of that outcome and add all these numbers up and you'll get the total probability of Dallas making the playoffs: 58%.

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