Welcome to this week's edition of playoff probabilities, in which we bastardize Bible verses and take a closer look at the NFC wild card race all in the same post! 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.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of Tebow, that we may obtain touchdowns and find victory in time of need. (Broncos 4:16)
In addition to further feuling Tebow-mania, Denver's win in last week's high-leverage game bumped the Broncos' overall playoff probability up 18 points to 36%, putting them right in the middle of things in the AFC. And no one's loving it more than this guy. On the other side of the ball, after starting the season 4-1, San Diego's sixth straight loss all but eliminated them from playoff contention, dropping them 14 percentage points to just 1%.
In the NFC, meanwhile, the Falcons were the big winner, as an Atlanta win combined with losses by both Detroit and Chicago to leave all three teams at 7-4 and tied for the lead in the NFC wild card race. Below we'll take a look at each team's remaining schedule in turn. The number in parentheses is their overall playoff probability, and, for reference, I've listed the degree of difficulty (DOD) of their remaining schedule, obtained by averaging the GWP of their remaining opponents after adjusting to reflect home-field advantage.
Chicago Bears (77%) | DOD: .438 | Mean Wins: 10.1
The Good: At home against Kansas City and Seattle and the season finale at Minnesota.
The Bad: Traveling to Green Bay in Week 16.
The Ambiguous: Week 14 against the Denver Tebows.
The Bears are currently projected to earn the most wins of the three, but Jay Cutler's broken thumb requires that we take these numbers with a large truckful of salt. It's possible though unlikely that Cutler will return during the regular season, and the -0.26 WPA posted by his replacement, Caleb Hanie, in his debut against the Raiders last week is less than heartening for Bears fans.
In many ways, the Bears' situation is similar to that of the Texans minus the cushion of a two-game division lead. But like that of the Texans, the Bears' remaining schedule is relatively easy—the degree of difficulty of .438 is is among the lowest in the league (26th). Using Brian's injury-adjusted numbers drops the Bears' GWP from .57 to .44, but they nevertheless make the playoffs 62% of the time.
Detroit Lions (57%) | DOD: .569 | Mean Wins: 9.6
The Good: Home games against the Vikings and the Chargers.
The Bad: This week at New Orleans.
The Ambiguous: Playing Green Bay in Green Bay the final week of the season.
Detroit faces the most difficult remaining schedule of the three, bookended by games on the road against the Saints and the Packers. That said, Green Bay's dominance could end up working in Detroit's favor. If we suppose that the Packers drop one game before the season ends, chances are still better than 90% that they'll have the #1 seed wrapped up before the final week. In this case, with an undefeated season no longer a possibility, Green Bay may decide to rest their starters, giving Detroit a far easier matchup to close out the season.
Atlanta Falcons (55%) | DOD: .541 | Mean Wins: 9.4
The Good: Games against Carolina, Jacksonville, and at home against Tampa Bay.
The Bad: Traveling to New Orleans in Week 16.
The Ambiguous: This week at Houston.
While Atlanta is expected to earn the fewest number of wins of the three, unlike the Bears and Lions, the Falcons retain a legitimate chance of winning their division, something well out of reach for the two teams in the North. The Falcons are only a game behind the Saints in the division with a head-to-head matchup yet to play. If they can beat the Saints in New Orleans, the Falcons make the playoffs 86% of the time even if they win only three more games. (Four wins all but ensures a postseason berth.)
While the model currently gives the Falcons only a 5% probability of winning the South, this is under the assumption that Houston is still operating at full capacity with their league-leading .82 GWP, instead of under the steerage of third-string rookie T.J. Yates. Thus their rather high degree of difficulty (10th in the league) is somewhat inflated—the DOD of their non-Houston schedule is only .457. If we adjust Houston's GWP downward to account for the injury, Atlanta's overall playoff probability rises to 63%, on par with that of the injury-adjusted Bears. (For the record, even after adjustment, Houston remains all but a sure thing at 99%.)
High-Leverage Games of the Week
In the game tables below, each team's probability of advancing to the Divisional Round of the playoffs is listed in parentheses next to their overall playoff probability. In general, this is a good summary statistic for a team's overall playoff outlook—it reflects not only a team's chances of make the playoffs, but also takes their eventual seeding into consideration—whether they will have to start with a tough game on the road or if they get to skip the first round altogether.
Detroit at New Orleans | Sunday, December 4 | 8:20 pm ET
For reasons that should be clear from the discussion above, this is a huge game for the Lions, who see a 36 percentage point swing in probability dependent on the outcome. Moreover, the Saints position atop the NFC South is far from secure. A loss here coupled with a Falcons win over Houston would drop their chances of a division title to 80%.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh | Sunday, December 4 | 1:00 pm ET
In possession of the #1 seed in the AFC as recently as three weeks ago, since that time the Bengals have seen their position in the standings steadily erode.
Pittsburgh is heavily favored to win here, making this another game with a lot of upside potential for the Bengals. While a win would only raise their probability of winning the division to 8%, it would ensure that the Bengals remain at least a full game ahead of the nearest competition for the wild card spot, giving them a 73% probability of earning a wild card berth given that they don't win the division. Overall, it would almost triple their chances of advancing into the Division Round from 8% to better than one in five.
A loss, however, would make it almost impossible for Cincinnati to come back and win the North, though they would retain a 39% probability of making the playoffs as a wild card.
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.
NFC Percent Probability Playoff SeedingTeam1st2nd3rd4th5th6thTotal GB9450000100 SF558241200>99 NO02751171298 DAL0922471381 CHI0000492977 DET0000292857 ATL0032193255 NYG001201526 PHI0003014 SEA000000<1 ARI000000<1 WAS000000<1 TB000000<1 CAR000000<1 MIN0000000 STL0000000