The Playoffs Are Getting Tighter

There were three important games last weekend, Pittsburgh-Baltimore, Jets-Pats, and Atlanta-Tampa.  Pittsburgh and the Pats should have given themselves the inside track to the postseason while Tampa may have cost themselves a spot in the end.  That’s the media version at least, but is it true?  It’s hard to evaluate without looking at team strength and the remaining games.  Hey, that’s what I do!  Let’s start with the power rankings.

The Giants are on top, just ahead of the Chargers (who may have cost themselves a playoff spot in an underrated game against Oakland).  How about those playoff predictions?

I’m going to combine the season predictions above with the ESPN playoff predictor, which will handle tie-breakers and the like for me.  As in my previous post, I’m going to assume that the team with over 50% probability to win in future games actually wins; the outcome is here.

NFC East: The predictions have the Giants with 10.1 wins, Eagles 10.1, Washington 6.5, and Dallas 6.2.  The playoff machine has it at 10, 10, 5, and 7 with the Giants getting the 3 seed and the Eagles staying home.  Obviously some important games yet to be played here with the week 15 match-up looming large.

NFC North: The predictions have the Packers at 10.4 wins, Chicago 10.8, Minnesota 6, and Detroit 3.5.  The machine has it as 11, 10, 8, and 2 with Green Bay getting the 2 seed and Chicago staying home.  You might find week 17 interesting.

NFC South: Saints 11.4, Atlanta 12.7, Tampa 9.2, Carolina 2.2; machine has it as 11, 14, 10, and 2 with the top three teams making it in.  Tampa is the important team here; they play the Saints, Seahawks, Lions, and Redskins the rest of the way (in reverse order).  Those first three games are pretty juicy and give them a good lane to the playoffs.  It would also give Tampa 8 conference wins, which is the tie-breaker if they end up at 10 wins with Chicago and Philly.  Chicago only has two conference games left, with Minnesota and Green Bay, and would have to win one.  Philly would need to win three of their remaining four games (all are in-conference).  Honestly, the tie-breakers are a bit much for me.

NFC West: The poop in the punchbowl of the playoffs.  Seattle has 7.7 projected wins, Saint Louis 7.6, San Fran 6.1, and Arizona 4.7.  The machine has 7, 7, 6, and 3 with the Seahawks getting the nod.

The wild card round would be Saints at Seahawks (Saints should win) and Tampa at Giants (Giants should win).  The divisonal round would be Saints at Atlanta (close call, edge to Atlanta) and Giants at Green Bay (really close; edge to Green Bay with home field).  This leaves the conference championship as Green Bay at Atlanta, which is on the same level as Saints at Atlanta.  I’m giving Atlanta the edge since they already beat Green Bay once, although that could be just as much a reason to pick the Packers.

AFC East: Pats 12.5, Jets 11.2, Miami 8.1, and Buffalo 3.1.  The machine says 14, 11, 8, and 2 with New England getting the number 1 seed and Jets the 5th.  Obviously yesterday’s game was important and even prompted Matt Millen to say the first intelligent thing he may have ever uttered when he said that the Jets weren’t elite and haven’t beaten anyone.  The Jets are the second-luckiest team in the league according to the season projections, behind Atlanta.

AFC North: Pittsburgh 11.7, Baltimore 10.2, Cleveland 7.1, and Cincy 3.4.  The machine has them at 13, 10, 8, and 2 with Baltimore staying home.  The loss to Pittsburgh was a tough one for the Ravens and may be their undoing.  The model has them winning their two remaining home games and losing their two road games; if they can pull out three wins they’ll be in.

AFC South: Indy 8.1, Jacksonville 9, Houston 7.1, Tennessee 6.8; the machine says 8, 9, 8, 7.  This is obviously still a really tight race and things could turn.  But the important result is that all four teams are playing spoiler; only one is likely to make the playoffs and the rest are only going to hold each other back (also, Houston plays Philly and Baltimore and Tennessee plays KC).

AFC West: Chiefs 10.5, Chargers 8.4, Oakland 8, and Denver 4.8.  The machine says 11, 10, 8, and 4 with the Chiefs and Chargers making it in.  The Chargers are the key here; they are favored in all four of their remaining games, but can they finally win some?  If not, they will stay home and Baltimore will get in.

Playoffs:  The wild card round is Jets at Jacksonville (maybe the Jets?) and Chargers at Chiefs (an interesting game; edge to KC).  That would make a divisional round of Jets at Pats: The Rematch (Pats win again) and Chiefs at Steelers (Pittsburgh).  The conference final would then be a slugfest of Steelers at Patriots, with edge to Patriots on home field.  If Baltimore makes it in instead of the Chargers, I would still give KC the win.  If the Chargers beat the Chiefs, we would have the number two team in the power rankings play at the number three team; Pittsburgh would still have the edge with home field.

Super Bowl:  If things play out this way (which is almost guaranteed not to happen), the Super Bowl would be Patriots and Falcons.  The Patriots would be a big favorite.  The real issue with the playoffs is that for the most part, teams are evenly matched and so home field is the only thing to sway your picks but outcomes are basically coin flips.  Atlanta happens to be relatively low in the power rankings, so would be disadvantaged against any team when you get to the neutral field of the Super Bowl.  Most other match-ups will likely also be coin flips.

Big games this week (games with two playoff contenders): Indy/Tennessee, Rams/Saints, Seattle/San Fran, Pats/Bears, Chiefs/Chargers, and Baltimore/Texans.  This update could look very different next week.

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