The NFL Playoff bracket is set and fans want to know which team is the most likely to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. You got to give the people what they want, so we simulated the postseason 10,000 times using player and team statistics adjusted for strength of schedule to determine the most likely champion. Let’s jump straight to the results, starting with the AFC:
The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC goes through Foxborough after the Patriots secured the top seed by beating the Jets last Sunday. Brady is 16-3 straight up at home in the playoffs since 2003 and has won nine of the last 10 games since 2012. The simulations give the team a 75.4% chance of reaching the conference championship and a 47.6% chance of advancing to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in the Brady-Belichick era.
If it’s not the Pats, the Steelers (27.0% chance) are the next most-likely AFC Champs. Pittsburgh has been a playoff fixture in the Ben Roethlisberger era but the team’s big three (Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell) has never been on the field together in the postseason. Here’s hoping Brown makes a full recovery from his calf injury and we get a Patriots-Steelers rematch from Week 15.
We’ve been high on the Jags all season and despite a recent losing streak, Jacksonville is a team that can make a deep playoff run thanks to a strong rushing attack and a great defense (4th in weighted DVOA and No. 1 in defensive passing efficiency). The x-factor is Blake Bortles as playing from ahead could be the difference between a Super Bowl appearance and an early exit.
Wild Card Matchups:
- Chiefs (74.7%) vs. Titans (25.3%)
- Jaguars (83.0%) vs. Bills (17.0%)
In the AFC, the most likely champions are the two teams that enjoy a first-round bye. That is not the case in the NFC. The numbers favor the Rams who have a 75.0% chance of winning their Wild Card matchup against the Falcons. Even after resting many of their starters and scoring 13 points in a meaningless Week 17 matchup vs. the 49ers, L.A. leads the league in scoring (29.9 points per game), Todd Gurley has accumulated the most yards from scrimmage (2,093), the defense is 6th by DVOA and the special teams rank 2nd.
The Rams are the model’s favorite with the Eagles and Vikings just a notch below in terms of conference win probability. Minnesota is in the best position to capitalize on the Carson Wentz injury. If Foles lays an egg in the divisional round and Philly gets bounced early, the Vikes would get to play every game in Minneapolis, including the Super Bowl. The team has a championship-caliber defense (1st in yards per game and points per game allowed) and would be confident in a potential NFC divisional round game against the Rams after beating L.A., 24-7, in Week 11 at home.
Wild Card Matchups:
- Rams (75.0%) vs. Falcons (25.0%)
- Saints (59.8%) vs. Panthers (40.2%)
The Patriots have been the betting favorites all season and entering the playoffs are the most likely team to win the championship. There is a 26.7% chance that Brady and Belichick repeat and win a sixth ring.
While New England is the odds-on favorite, there is a 73.3% chance that they don’t win. The Rams (15.1%), Steelers (14.1%), Vikings (12.5%) and Eagles (10.7%) are the only other teams with double-digit win probability. While the old adage is that anything can happen in the playoffs, the simulations give the top two seeds in each conference, plus the Rams, a 79.1% chance of becoming champions.
On Saturday the postseason starts, will our computer simulation be correct (another Patriots title) or will a longshot make an improbable playoff run?
Photo Courtesy of Winslow Townson – USA Today Sports