With two weeks left in the NFL regular season, the playoff picture is gaining clarity.  The simulations and Markov chains are becoming increasingly easier to decipher and the number of possible outcomes is dwindling.  With all that being said, let’s put some math to the AFC playoff scenarios to see what the possibilities are for each team.

However, the best way to do well at math is to cheat, always has been.  In this case, we are going to assume some things.  Every game that the simulation puts as a 75% chance or higher, we are going to assume they are the winner.  That means the Chiefs are assumed to beat the Browns and Raiders.  The Steelers are assumed to beat the Ravens and Browns.  What we are essentially doing, is getting down to the key remaining games that are going to alter the AFC playoff bracket.

A Couple of Locks

The Patriots will be the #1 seed in the AFC.  Technically they are 95.1% to win the 1-seed but we are going to go ahead and pencil them in.

The AFC South winner will be the #4 seed.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s the Texans (86.3%), the Colts (10.5%), or even the Jaguars (3.2%).  The winner of this division is going to be slotted in at #4.

The Games that Matter

This is going to sound crazy but there are really only three games remaining in the final two weeks that will matter unless there is a major upset.  The three games are:

Bengals at Broncos  –  Week 16

Patriots at Jets  –  Week 16

Jets at Bills  –  Week 17

Sure, the Dolphins could shock the Patriots in Miami, or the Chiefs stumble over the last two weeks but we are assuming those games as wins.  The outcomes of those three games end up producing three possible playoff fields.  We’ll look at all three in order of probability:

Outcome 1: Denver gets the bye  (45%)


To put it simply, if Denver beats Cincinnati on Sunday, this is the likely playoff field that we will see.

Outcome 2: Cincy gets the bye  (42.2%)


If Cincinnati beats Denver, then they are on the fast track to getting a bye in the playoffs.  The loss would also drop Denver down to the 6th seed and they would have to face the Chiefs for the third time this season.  Pittsburgh would get the easier road thanks to beating Denver on Sunday as going to Houston is a much easier road than through Arrowhead Stadium.  However, there is still another scenario where Cincinnati still gets the bye…

Outcome 3: The Jets Sneak In  (12.8%)


If Cincinnati wins in Denver AND the Jets are able to beat both the Patriots and Bills, then they would get in as the final playoff team and the Broncos would be left wondering what the hell happened for the rest of the winter.  While the Jets fans and media have been grouping them together with the Chiefs and Steelers as wildcard contenders, the team they should be focusing on (and rooting against) the most is Denver.

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