Sunday, December 18, 2011

Detailed NFL Playoff Scenarios and Chances as of Christmas Eve

As of right now, before the Sunday and Monday night games, my computer projects the following teams to make the playoffs.

AFC: Patriots (13-3), Pittsburgh (12-4), Houston (11-5), Denver (9-7), Baltimore (11-5), Cincinnati (10-6).  There would be no ties for any positions.

NFC: Green Bay (15-1), San Francisco (13-3), New Orleans (13-3), NY Giants (9-7), Atlanta (10-6), Detroit (10-6).  San Francisco gets the bye based on conference record and Atlanta gets the #5 seed on head to head over Detroit.

But a lot can happen and these aren't necessarily the teams that will make it.  Let's look at a few scenarios.

AFC West

Denver and Oakland are tied with Denver having the advantage on common opponents.  They get the division with a win or Oakland loss.  My computer sets the chances of that at 79% and Oakland's chances of winning the division at 21%.

AFC North

Baltimore and Pittsburgh are tied at 11-4 and both are in the playoffs.  Baltimore wins the division if they win or Pittsburgh loses, and even though Baltimore's most likely record is 11-5 and Pittsburgh's 12-4, Baltimore's chances of winning the division are 62% and Pittsburgh's is 38%.

NFC East

Dallas and the Giants are tied, so the winner of their game next week wins the division.  The Giants have a 59% chance, Dallas a 41% chance.

NFC South

New Orleans has a 2 game lead over Atlanta with 2 games to play for each team.  The only way Atlanta wins the division is by winning out while New Orleans loses out, only a 7% chance meaning New Orleans has a 93% chance of the division.

The wildcards are a bit more complicated with more teams still in it.

AFC Wildcards

Whomever doesn't win the AFC North will be one wildcard.  The other one will be one of Cincinnati, Oakland, Tennessee or the Jets if Denver wins the AFC West.  Cincinnati wins the wildcard if they win regardless of the other results.  The other teams are more complicated but shown in the table below.

ScenarioCincinnatiOaklandTennesseeNY JetsTie-breaker
1W (10-6)W or LW or LW or LNone
2L (9-7)W (9-7)W (9-7)W (9-7)Oakland, strength of victory*
3L (9-7)L (8-8)W (9-7)W (9-7)Tennessee, common opponents
4L (9-7)W (9-7)L (8-8)W (9-7)Oakland, head to head over Jets
5L (9-7)L (8-8)L (8-8)W (9-7)Jets, conference record
6L (9-7)W (9-7)W (9-7)L (8-8)Tennessee, common opponents
7L (9-7)L (8-8)W (9-7)L (8-8)Cincinnati, head to head over Tennessee
8L (9-7)W (9-7)L (8-8)L (8-8)Oakland, conference record
9L (9-7)L (8-8)L (8-8)L (8-8)None

A summary:
  • Cincinnati - They win the wildcard with a win or if they lose, they win a tie-breaker with Tennessee (head to head) if Tennessee wins, the Jets lose, and Oakland loses, or the tie-breaker isn't necessary if Tennessee loses.  All together they have a 58% of getting the wildcard.
  • Oakland - They need to win and need a Cincinnati loss, then also need either a Tennessee loss or a Jets win.  Note that should the 4-way tie occur, they win the tie-breaker on strength of victory and this is unlikely to change with so few games left.  This gives them a 28% chance of getting the wildcard.
  • Tennessee - They need a Cincinnati loss and then either an Oakland loss and Jets win, or Oakland win and Jets loss.  They just can't have a 4 way tie or a 2 way tie with Cincinnati.  This gives them an 8% chance of the wildcard.
  • Jets - They only win the wildcard in one scenario, where they win and are only in a 2 way tie with Cincinnati.  This has a 6% chance.
If Oakland wins and Denver loses, giving Oakland the AFC West, then the table is as follows:

ScenarioCincinnatiTennesseeNY JetsTie-breaker
1W (10-6)W or LW or LNone
2L (9-7)W (9-7)W (9-7)Tennessee, common opponents over Jets
3L (9-7)L (8-8)W (9-7)Jets, conference record
4L (9-7)W (9-7)L (8-8)Cincinnati, head to head over Tennessee
5L (9-7)L (8-8)L (8-8)None

A summary:
  • Cincinnati - They win the wildcard with a win or if they lose, they win if the Jets lose.  This is an 80% chance.
  • Tennessee - They win the wildcard with a win, Cincy loss, and Jets win.  This is a 7% chance.
  • Jets - They win if they win, Cincy loses, and Tennessee loses.  This is a 13% chance.

NFC Wildcards

Atlanta or New Orleans will be one wildcard unless Atlanta loses out and Chicago wins out in which case Chicago wins the head-to-head tie-breaker.  But there is only a 1% chance of this occurring given Chicago plays Green Bay and Atlanta plays Tampa Bay.

There you have it. All the scenarios and the chances of each occurring.