NFL Playoff Probabilities (Week 17)

And with one week, many teams fall out of playoff contention… The Detroit Lions (9-6) are unable to stamp a Wild Card berth against the Dallas Cowboys (13-2) and find themselves with a real possibility of losing out to the Green Bay Packers (9-6), the Washington Redskins (8-6-1), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7).

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers find themselves on life support after a loss to the New Orleans Saints (7-8) after a Redskins win; pinning them a 0.5 game out with one to go, and that’s not even for a playoff spot. Meanwhile the Packers and Lions are hanging onto a full game lead over Tamp Bay. This means that the nine team race for spot #6 just three days ago is now down to four teams: Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, the Washington Redskins, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And two of them are getting in.

Over in the AFC, the nine team race completely filled in and every team in playoff contention is guaranteed in. All that’s left is divisional seedings and an unresolved AFC West title; leading to a number two seed.

In this edition, we review the probabilities of each team making the playoffs as well as the potential match-ups for the playoffs. Hopefully, helping you identify best paths for your team of choice to make and potentially win the NFL playoffs.

NFC: Four Teams In, Two Left To Find

Currently, the NFC has four teams guaranteed in. The Dallas Cowboys are already the number one seed and have home-field advantage to the Super Bowl. Let’s walk through each teams chances of making the playoffs via division crown and wild card, and their ensuing chances to win in the playoffs.

1. Dallas Cowboys (13-2): NFC East Champion

  • NFC East Champion: 100.0000%
  • NFC Wild Card: 0.0000% (Division Crown secured)
  • Number 1 Seed: 100.0000% (Number One Seed secured)

The Cowboys already have the number one seed secured and will either play the Four seed team (most likely Detroit/Green Bay) or a Wild Card Team. There are currently 6 teams that are potential match-ups for this game; which we will walk through in a post tonight.

2. Atlanta Falcons (10-5): NFC South Champion

  • NFC South Champion: 100.0000%
  • NFC Wild Card: 0.0000% (Division Crown Secured)
  • Number 2 Seed: 60.6767%
  • Number 3 Seed: 22.5103%
  • Number 4 Seed: 16.8130%

The Falcons control the second seed in the NFC, but can easily lose it due to a string of three games. These three games are:

  • Atlanta vs. New Orleans
  • Green Bay vs. Detroit
  • Seattle (9-5-1) vs. San Francisco (2-13)

The probability of Atlanta losing their match up is .435847. That is a mere 43% chance of losing. Losing doesn’t ensure the Falcons lose their spot, but rather a loss combined with a  Seattle or Detroit/Green Bay win. Let’s walk through Atlanta’s scenarios if they lose.

Scenario 1: Seattle Wins, Detroit Wins. (.168130; 16.8130%)

At this point, the records will be Atlanta 10-6, Seattle 10-5-1, and Detroit 10-6. Both the Lions and Falcons would be 8-4 in conference. And they would have to identify the common games record, for which the Lions are 4-1 (Split with Green Bay, Wins over New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles) while the Falcons are 3-2 (Wins over Green Bay, Los Angeles, Split with New Orleans, and loss to Philadelphia). This drops the Falcons to fourth overall. 

Scenario 2: Seattle Wins, Green Bay Wins. (.186735; 18.6735%)

The Falcons have an easier road if the Packers win the NFC North. With a 33-32 victory over the Packers in Week Eight, the Falcons secure the three seed. 

Scenario 3: Seattle Loses, Detroit Wins. (.038368; 3.8368%)

In this case both the Falcons and Seahawks lose. Here the Falcons finish 10-6 with Seattle landing at 9-6-1. Due to this the Falcons secure the third seed due to the Lions common games split as the Seahawks drop to fourth.

Scenario 4: Seattle Loses, Green Bay Wins. (.042614; 4.2614%)

In this final scenario, the Packers finish third due to the head-to-head match-up, securing the Bye Week for the Falcons. 

3. Seattle Seahawks (9-5-1): NFC West Champion

  • NFC West Champion: 100.0000%
  • NFC Wild Card: 0.0000% (Division Crown Secured)
  • Number 2 Seed: 35.4965%
  • Number 3 Seed: 45.9332%
  • Number 4 Seed: 18.5803%

Here, the Seahawks have also won their division and it comes down to where they fall between 2nd and 4th in the playoffs. Queueing off the scenarios above, we can work out the eight ways they can finish the season. First, the Falcons control second. So if the Falcons win, the Seahawks cannot finish second. This is a probability of .564153.

Next, if the Seahawks lose, since there is a Green Bay / Detroit winners, the Seahawks are guaranteed fourth. This is a mere .185803 probability, thanks to playing the 49ers. So let’s walk through Seattle’s scenarios when they win:

Scenario 1: Atlanta wins. (.564153; 56.4153%)

In this case, Seattle finished third. Half a game behind Seattle, Half a game ahead of Green Bay / Detroit winner.

Scenario 2: Atlanta Loses. (.435847; 43.5847%)

In this case, the Seahawks finish half a game ahead of Seattle for the number two spot. Pretty simple, really.

4. Green Bay Packers (9-6): NFC North Champion / NFC Wild Card #6

  • NFC North Champion: 52.6214%
  • NFC Wild Card: 0.0000%
  • Number 2 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 3 Seed: 9.7772%
  • Number 4 Seed: 42.8442%
  • Number 5 Seed: 0.0000% (Giants secured fifth place)
  • Number 6 Seed: 24.5047%
  • Miss the Playoffs: 22.8739%

The Packers currently hold the NFC North crown, but like last year they may lose it on the final game of the year. In this case, they may be a Wild Card; depending on a Redskins win/loss versus the new York Giants (10-5).

The Packers cannot catch the Falcons due to the head to head loss in Week Eight. The Packers can secure third place with a Seattle loss and a Packers win. Otherwise they secure fourth. So let’s look at the scenario where the Packers lose and fight for a wild card berth.

If the Packers lose, they require a Redskins loss. This has a probability of .517210. Hence the Packers have a 24.5047% chance of taking the sixth spot. The remaining probability The chance of the Packers missing out of the playoffs due to a Redskins win.

5. New York Giants (10-5): Wild Card #5

  • NFC East Champion: 0.0000%
  • NFC Wild Card: 100.0000%
  • Number 2 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 3 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 4 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 5 Seed: 100.0000% (Giants secured fifth place)
  • Number 6 Seed: 0.0000%

The New York Giants don’t any room for improvement. With the Cowboys already securing the top spot in the East Division, the Giants cannot finish in the top four. Conversely, the Giants can lose and tie the winner of the Packers, Lions game; but that winner gains the division crown. Hence the Giants have nowhere to go!

6. Detroit Lions (9-6): NFC North Champion / NFC Wild Card #6

  • NFC North Champion: 47.3786%
  • NFC Wild Card: 0.0000%
  • Number 2 Seed: 3.8368%
  • Number 3 Seed: 21.7793%
  • Number 4 Seed: 21.7625%
  • Number 5 Seed: 0.0000% (Giants secured fifth place)
  • Number 6 Seed: 27.2163%
  • Miss the Playoffs: 25.4051%

The Lions follow the exact same path as the Green Bay Packers. Exact same path; with exception of holding the tie breaker over the Falcons due to common games. Hence, the Lions can actually finish with a Bye Week in hand; provided the Seahawks and the Falcons both lose!

7. Washington Redskins (8-6-1): Wild Card #6

  • NFC East Champion: 0.0000%
  • NFC Wild Card: 48.2790%
  • Number 2 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 3 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 4 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 5 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 6 Seed: 48.2790%
  • Miss the Playoffs: 51.7210%

The Redskins have a peculiar scenario for making the playoffs. If they win over the Giants in Week 17, they can finish a half game ahead of the loser of the Lions / Packers game. However, if the Lions and Packers tie, the Redskins are out. In this case, we only look when the Redskins win and there is a loser in the Lions / Packers game.

8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7): Wild Card #6

  • NFC East Champion: 0.0000%
  • NFC Wild Card: 1.6916%
  • Number 2 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 3 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 4 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 5 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 6 Seed: 1.6916%
  • Miss the Playoffs: 98.3084%

The Buccaneers are on life support. The only way they get in are through a win in Week 17 over the Carolina Panthers (6-9), coupled with losses by the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins. Notice we said Packers, and not the Detroit Lions.

Why not the Lions? Well… if the Lions and Buccaneers finish at 9-7, then we head into tie-breakers. There is no head-to-head between the teams so we take a look at common games. In this case, the Lions went 3-1 in games against the Bears, Rams, and Saints; while the Buccaneers went 2-2 against the same teams. Due to this, the Lions own the tie breaker.

For the Packers, there is no head-to-head. In common games, the Buccaneers went 2-2 against the Falcons, Cowboys, and Bears. Same for the Packers. Both teams will also finish with a 7-5 conference record in a tying scenario. This takes us to strength of victory…

In this case, the Buccaneers have wins over Atlanta (10+1), Carolina x2 (6), San Francisco (2+1), Bears (3+1), Chiefs (11+1), Seahawks (9.5+1), Chargers (5+1), and Saints (7). That’s a total of 59.5 with a possibility of gaining 6 victories. For the Packers, they have wins over Jacksonville (3+1), Detroit (10), New York (10+1), Chicago x2 (3+1), Philadelphia (6+1), Houston (8+1), Seattle (9.5+1), Minnesota (7+1). That’s a total of 59.5 with a possibility of gaining 7 victories. In this case, the Buccaneers are rooting for Minnesota, Tennessee, and San Diego. 

ESPN might have their chances at 0.016; which means they are rating the Packers and Redskins with high probabilities for wins and a low probability for a Buccaneers loss to the Panthers (or that the Chiefs will lose to the Chargers as a near surety). However, this calculated probability is only 1.6916%. Still effectively the same result.

AFC: Everyone’s In… But Where?

In the AFC, we already know which six teams are in the playoffs. However, we still need to find out the AFC West champion, the second bye week team, and how fifth and sixth fills in.

1. New England Patriots (13-2): AFC East Champion

  • AFC East Champion: 100.0000%
  • AFC Wild Card: 0.0000% (Division Crown secured)
  • Number 1 Seed: 75.2715%
  • Number 2 Seed: 24.7285%

The Patriots, combined with a David Carr broken leg, have effectively secured the number one seed with a 13-2 record. However, it is not quite clinched. A Patriots win over the Dolphins (10-5) or a Raiders loss to the Broncos will seal the fate of the number one seed. Otherwise, the a Raiders win and a Patriots tie will set up a common games tie-breaker. In this case, the Raiders would be 5-0 in common games to New England’s 4-1 (loss to Buffalo in Week Four). Hence the Patriots are not quite there yet.

2. Oakland Raiders (12-3): AFC West Champion / AFC Wild Card #5

  • AFC West Champion: 73.5298%
  • AFC Wild Card: 26.4702%
  • Number 1 Seed: 24.7285%
  • Number 2 Seed: 48.8013%
  • Number 3 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 4 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 5 Seed: 26.4702%
  • Number 6 Seed: 0.0000%

The Raiders will either have a Bye Week or be on the road. Talk about a big Week 17 game. With a 12-3 record, the only team that can catch them is their own division rival, the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4), who also hold the head-to-head tie-breaker. It’s simple really. If the Chiefs lose, the Raiders are the two-seed. If the Raiders win, they may sneak into the top spot (see the Patriots) or hold their two-seed spot. Otherwise… the Raiders are traveling to Houston for the Wild Card week.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-5): AFC North Champion

  • AFC North Champion: 100.0000%
  • AFC Wild Card: 0.0000% (Division Crown Secured)
  • Number 1 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 2 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 3 Seed: 94.7814%
  • Number 4 Seed: 5.2186%

The Steelers are the AFC Champions after an exhilarating home win over the rival Baltimore Ravens (8-7) on Christmas Day. The win secures the third spot with no hope of earning a Bye Week (two games out with one to go). Thus a win will keep their three-spot.

Now, if the Steelers lose and the Houston Texans win, then both teams finish at 10-6. With no head-to-head, a 4-1 record in common games (New England, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Indianapolis), and an 8-4 conference record; the teams must use a strength of victory to determining the three and four seeds. In this case, the Texans will have a 65.5 win total with another 5 wins that up for grabs in Week 17. The Steelers will have a 68.5 win total with another 6 wins that are up for grabs. This gives a strong edge to the Steelers for securing the third spot.

4. Houston Texans (9-6): AFC South Champion

  • AFC South Champion: 100.0000%
  • AFC Wild Card: 0.0000% (Division Crown Secured)
  • Number 1 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 2 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 3 Seed: 5.2186%
  • Number 4 Seed: 94.7814%

If you just read the Steelers scenarios, then you completely know the Texans scenarios. It comes down to holding fourth seed except for a Steelers loss to the Cleveland Browns (1-14) coupled with a Texans win over the Tennessee Titans (8-7). At that point, it comes down to how well teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars play for the strength of victory to be fleshed out.

5. Kansas City Chiefs (10-5): AFC West Champion / AFC Wild Card #5

  • AFC West Champion: 26.4702%
  • AFC Wild Card: 73.5298%
  • Number 1 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 2 Seed: 26.4702%
  • Number 3 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 4 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 5 Seed: 58.8379%
  • Number 6 Seed: 14.6919%

The Chiefs are in. And given the condition of the Raiders heading into their match-up with the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs had a strong chance of winning the division, thanks to a 2-0 tie breaker over the Raiders.

However, if this scenario does not happen, then the Chiefs fall into the wild card. With a Raiders and Chiefs win, the Chiefs are the five seed. However, with a Chiefs loss, they fall to 10-6 and run the risk of tying the Miami Dolphins at 10-6. In this case, there is no head-to-head match up between these two teams.

At that point, we look at common games. Both teams played San Diego, New York Jets, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee. The Chiefs would finish with a common games record of 2-3 while the Dolphins would be 4-1; giving the Dolphins the five seed.

6. Miami Dolphins (9-6): AFC Wild Card #6 / AFC Wild Card #6

  • AFC East Champion: 0.0000%
  • AFC Wild Card: 100.0000%
  • Number 1 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 2 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 3 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 4 Seed: 0.0000%
  • Number 5 Seed: 14.6919%
  • Number 6 Seed: 85.3081%

The Dolphins are already in and will be a wild card. Currently sitting in the sixth position, they can only move to fifth with a Kansas City loss and a Miami win over New England, thanks to a common games tie-breaker.


Super Bowl Bound!

In our next installment, look for it LATE TONIGHT / EARLY TOMORROW for break downs of the different ways the playoff field can be set. We know the probabilities above, but we will break out the resulting probabilities of each team winning the Super Bowl.

More importantly, how to root for your team to have the best shot at winning the Super Bowl!





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