NFL Week 11 Playoff Predictions

There weren’t too many big moves in the rankings after this week, at least by rank.  Chicago took a hit, obviously, as they stunk up the joint against the 49ers on Monday night.  Perhaps more notable is that the Patriots stayed number one but got a big jump in terms of their actual rating.  Last week they were roughly tied with Denver, but after shellacking the Colts they moved well ahead.  Let’s take a look.

So there are the Patriots in first, as I mentioned.  But now they’re two-tenths ahead of Houston/Denver instead of four-hundredths, like last week.  The numbers aren’t especially intuitive, but you can see that two tenths is the distance from second to fifth, roughly the distance that the model sees between Houston/Denver and Tampa Bay.  It’s a decent chunk of real estate.

But at this point of the season, power rankings start to take a back seat to playoff probabilities.  Power rankings are nice early in the year when the future is still blurry, and they make a comeback for the playoffs when you want to know specifically about a few teams.  But now we’re solidly into the race for the playoffs, so let’s start with the season predictions and then roll into some slightly harder numbers.

There are your predictions for the season.  Some obvious things jump out, like everyone at the top from Houston to San Fran is pretty much guaranteed a playoff spot by being a division winner.  It gets a little hazier after that with teams like Tampa who are predicted to have less than double-digit wins and would have to catch Atlanta to lock a spot, and in the NFC East where no one wants to declare themselves to be really good (except for Philly, who is doing so enthusiastically).  So to try and be a little more concrete, I’m going to use nfl-forecast with Luigi’s predictions for the remaining games to put some probabilities on things.  Obviously these numbers have error bars given the current injuries to some particularly important positions, and there’s no way to foresee future injuries or the like, but let’s see what shakes out.

Let’s start in the AFC East.  I have the Patriots as a virtual lock for the division win, as you might expect given their position in the rankings.  I then have Buffalo with a slightly better chance at second than the Jets, with Miami coming in fourth half the time.  Moving to the North, I give Baltimore a 90% chance of winning the division.  The Bengals have about a 25% chance of getting to first or second, but will probably end up in third while the Browns are a near lock for last.  The AFC South is particularly uninteresting, as the Texans have a 97% chance of getting first and the Colts have a 83% chance of getting second, while the Jaguars have a 93% chance at last.  The West is nearly as boring, with Denver virtually assured of winning and the Chargers, Raiders, and Chiefs very likely finishing in that order.

If we put that all together, I give the Texans the best shot at the AFC 1 seed followed by the Patriots, although interestingly the Ravens are more likely to end up 2nd than the Patriots.  Denver has the three or four seed as a likely destination.  In any event, those four teams are all 99% or better to get some playoff spot.  The next best chance after that goes to Pittsburgh with a 65% chance at a spot, virtually all of it coming from being the 5 or 6 seed.  The Colts are next with 58%, similarly all coming from the wild card.  Other potential contenders are the Bengals (25%), Chargers (23%), and Bills (12%).  No one else has more than 10% of a chance at the playoffs.

Moving to the NFC, things are a little hazy in the East but the Giants have a 63% chance of winning the division.  The Cowboys are next favorite, winning or coming in third each with about a 25% chance but most likely (44%) coming in second.  The Redskins follow up with a 10% chance at winning the division, a 25% chance at coming in second, and a 50% chance at third.  The North is also up for grabs.  The Packers actually have the inside track but only with a 49% chance at first; the Bears get it 33% of the time and the Vikings sneak in 18% of the time.  The Bears can’t get Cutler back fast enough.  Chicago has the edge for second, and the Vikings take third 48% of the time.  The model doesn’t like Detroit’s chances, as they come in fourth 86% of the time.  They have a brutal schedule the rest of the way and have lost too many division games.  Stupid Lions.

The NFC South and West look more the the AFC in that things are pretty well defined.  Atlanta wins the division 91% of the time followed by Tampa, who takes second 58% of the time.  The Panthers come in last 95% of the time.  The Saints are making quite a run, but they’re four games behind Atlanta and the model still likes Tampa more.  The Saints also have to play the 49ers, at Atlanta, and at the Giants.  San Fran wins the West 82% of the time, while Seattle apparently still has almost a 18% chance at taking it.  Otherwise they’ll get second and the real fight is between Arizona in third (57%) or the Rams (33%).

With two divisions somewhat up for grabs, the NFC playoff picture is murkier.  Atlanta will make the playoffs virtually for certain; they also have a 65% chance at the 1 seed.  San Fran will also likely make the playoffs (93%) in either the second or third seed.  Then we have a bit of a drop to Green Bay at 76%, probably in 2nd, 3rd, or 5th, and the Giants at 71%, most likely in the 4 spot.  Chicago has a 68% chance, mostly for the 5 seed but also 2, 3, or 6.  Seattle is next with a 52% chance, probably as the wild card.  Tampa, Minnesota, Dallas, and New Orleans fill out the crowd with probabilities ranging from 20 to 41%; Washington also breaks the 10% barrier.  Obviously the NFC playoff race will be more interesting than the AFC’s.

Once you get into the playoffs, I think the most interesting thing is that the forecast says the Broncos have the best chance of any team for winning the Super Bowl.  I’m not sure why that’s the case; it’s possible the forecast uses Brian Burke’s team ratings for the playoffs even if you change the game probabilities.  In that case, what you’re seeing is Brian’s high rating for the Broncos overcoming their likely 4 seed position, since they’ll have to play one more game than the 1 and 2 seeds and then play the 1 seed (likely Houston) and the 2 seed on the road.  Otherwise, given my ratings, I have to imagine that the Patriots would be the favorite even as a 3 seed.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Chiefs will get the number 1 draft choice over half the time while the Jaguars have a good shot at number 2.  Things are noisy from there, but it looks like the rest of the top 10 will be Cleveland, Carolina, Philly, Oakland, St. Louis, Miami, Arizona, and the Jets.  Start planning your picks now, guys.

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