Every year in the NFL we hear about parity. Any team can go from worst to first. Every team has a chance at a playoff run if they get hot at the right time. The latest simulation paints a very different picture. It’s the Patriots and the Vikings, and then everybody else.
Let’s start with the Patriots, because that is the easier pill to swallow. Surprise, surprise, they are great again and the clear favorites in the AFC. The simulation has them reaching the Super Bowl 38.8% of the time and hoisting their fifth championship trophy 21.7% of the time. They still have Belichick and Brady, so no real surprises here. Everyone expects them to compete for the Lombardi trophy every season.
On the other hand are the surprising 5-0 Minnesota Vikings. They have Sam Bradford at quarterback who simply isn’t Tom Brady and people have a hard time associating him with a Super Bowl contender. So when I say the simulation has the Vikings reaching the Super Bowl 42.7% of the time and winning it 26.0% of the time, it’s a little jarring (at least it was for me). Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, after all we just saw a team last season who won the Super Bowl with questionable quarterback play but had an elite defense to carry them.
So why are these two teams so high according to the simulation? Because of playoff seeding. In the last ten years, 55% of teams to make the Super Bowl were 1-seeds. 70% of teams to make the Super Bowl received a bye in the first round of the playoffs. This isn’t rocket science, getting a bye and having home field advantage both increase your odds of advancing in the playoffs. The Patriots and Vikings are expected to have these advantages more than any other teams. The Patriots get a bye in 75.3% of simulations and get the 1-seed 65.1% of the time. The Vikings receive a bye a whopping 86.8% of the time and home field advantage 68.2% of the time.
The combination of the wins that these teams have already banked and their projected team strength over the remainder of the season gives them a better chance than all others to advance in each round. In the last ten years, we’ve had exactly two wildcard teams reach the Super Bowl; the Packers in 2010-11 and the Giants in 2007-08. Those playoff runs were very memorable and perhaps that’s why they stick out in our mind more so than the fact that the last three Super Bowls have all been played between two 1-seeds.
3 Up & 3 Down
Three teams that saw their playoff chances increase were the Cowboys, Chiefs, and Cardinals. The Cowboys got a big win on the road against the Packers coupled with an Eagles loss to put their playoff odds at 91% as of now. The Chiefs had a similar situation as the Broncos fell early in the week on Thursday and they parlayed that with a divisional win in Oakland. Kansas City’s playoff odds currently sit at 53%. Arizona’s win over the Jets was expected but their playoff chances rose regardless and now sit at 57% for the Cardinals.
The Steelers, Packers, and Raiders all had opportunities slip away in Week 6. The Steelers not only looked terrible against Miami, but they also lost Ben Roethlisberger against the Patriots for Week 7 which of course lowers their odds of winning that game and possibly holding a tiebreaker over the Patriots if it were to come to that. The Packers fell to the Cowboys as mentioned above and saw their playoff odds sink to 35%. The Chiefs gain was the Raiders loss as Oakland’s playoff odds dropped to 35%.
The most likely AFC playoff teams are: Patriots, Bills, Steelers, Broncos, Texans, and Chiefs
The most likely NFC playoff teams are: Vikings, Cowboys, Falcons, Seahawks, Eagles, Cardinals
Below is the full table for all 32 teams.