Simulating the NFL Playoffs

SB 50

If you have been reading this blog at all, you will have noticed that I have been simulating the NFL season quite often.  Those past simulations were to find out where everyone would end up at the end of the regular season.  With this article, we’ll extend the simulation through the Super Bowl.

We’ll start with the AFC where there is still one playoff spot up for grabs.  The Steelers need a win on Sunday as well as a Jets loss to sneak in as the 6-seed.  The simulation shows Pittsburgh getting in 36.5% of the time with the Jets/Bills game being more of a tossup than a majority of people perceive.

Overall there are six games left that can affect the AFC playoff field, either by seed or by deciding who gets in.  With each game having two possible outcomes (ignoring ties), that produces 64 unique results of how the six games could turn out.  Those 64 results end up generating twelve playoff fields seen here:

Scenario1-Seed2-Seed3-Seed4-Seed5-Seed6-SeedOdds
1NEDENCINHOUKCNYJ38.0%
2NEDENCINHOUKCPIT25.8%
3NECINKCHOUNYJDEN7.8%
4NEDENCINHOUNYJKC6.9%
5DENNECINHOUKCNYJ6.8%
6NECINKCHOUDENPIT5.1%
7DENNECINHOUKCPIT4.6%
8NECINDENHOUNYJKC1.6%
9DENNECINHOUNYJKC1.2%
10NECINDENHOUKCPIT1.1%
11NECINKCHOUDENNYJ1.0%
12NECINDENHOUKCNYJ0.2%

Once the playoff field is set, it can easily be simulated factoring in home-field advantage and ensuring that the seedings send teams to the proper divisional game.  I simulated each of the twelve playoff fields 10,000 times and tracked the winner of the bracket each time.  Here are the projected AFC Champion results:

TeamAFC Title OddsCorresponding Moneyline
Patriots48.7%+105
Broncos15.4%+551
Bengals14.8%+576
Chiefs13.4%+646
Jets3.7%+2603
Texans2.1%+4697
Steelers2.0%`+4993

It’s essentially a coin flip (something the Patriots have had trouble with recently) that New England ends up in Santa Clara for Super Bowl 50.  Who is their most likely opponent?  Let’s take a look at the NFC next.

The six teams in the NFC playoffs have been decided, it’s now just a matter of jockeying for the best positions in the tournament.  The NFC really only has three remaining decisions left:

  1. Carolina or Arizona for the #1 seed
  2. Green Bay or Minnesota for the #3 seed
  3. Seattle or Minnesota for the #5 seed (If Green Bay wins the NFC North)

These three decisions produced six particular playoff fields seen here:

Scenario1-Seed2-Seed3-Seed4-Seed5-Seed6-SeedOdds
1CARARIMINWASGBSEA39.8%
2CARARIGBWASMINSEA36.0%
3CARARIGBWASSEAMIN15.1%
4ARICARMINWASGBSEA4.0%
5ARICARGBWASMINSEA3.6%
6ARICARGBWASSEAMIN1.5%

It may be deceiving seeing Minnesota as the 3-seed in the most likely scenario.  That doesn’t mean that Minnesota is favored to beat Green Bay in Week 17.  If you’ll notice on the chart above, there are four playoff fields that have the Packers as the 3-seed compared to the two that have the Vikings winning the division.

The real interesting part comes from the NFC simulation:

TeamNFC Title OddsCorresponding Moneyline
Cardinals48.1%+108
Panthers37.0%+170
Seahawks7.3%+1275
Vikings3.1%+3081
Packers3.1%+3087
Redskins1.3%+7426

The 14-1 Panthers are not the favorites to win the NFC according to the simulation.  This is for two reasons.  The first is that the simulation simply has the Cardinals as a better team than the Panthers although it’s very close and Carolina would still be a small favorite at home if the two met in the NFC Championship.  The second reason is the playoff schedule.  In most cases, the Panthers would face the Seahawks in the Divisional round, the toughest possible opponent they could face.  On the other side of the bracket, the Cardinals would face either the Packers/Vikings/Redskins in most instances.

(Side note: if the Packers wanted to tank Sunday’s game to ensure they play at Washington for their first game and avoid Seattle, it would actually be a good idea in my opinion)

That scheduling quirk is enough to make Arizona the favorite in the NFC.  The Seahawks are currently the fourth best team according to the simulation (Arizona, Carolina, and New England make up the top three) and having to face them AND THEN the Cardinals is a tough road for Cam Newton and the Panthers, no matter how many baseball bats they bring to the field.

Now on to the big game.  Let’s take a look at potential matchups for Super Bowl 50:

AFCNFCOddsCorresponding Moneyline
PatriotsCardinals23.4%+327
PatriotsPanthers18.0%+455
BroncosCardinals7.4%+1255
BengalsCardinals7.1%+1306
ChiefsCardinals6.4%+1452
BroncosPanthers5.7%+1659
BengalsPanthers5.5%+1725
ChiefsPanthers5.0%+1915
PatriotsSeahawks3.5%+2723
JetsCardinals1.8%+5521
PatriotsVikings1.5%+6431
PatriotsPackers1.5%+6445
JetsPanthers1.4%+7198
BroncosSeahawks1.1%+8853
BengalsSeahawks1.1%+9191
TexansCardinals1.0%+9876
ChiefsSeahawks1.0%+10155
SteelersCardinals0.9%+10492
TexansPanthers0.8%+12853
SteelersPanthers0.7%+13652
PatriotsRedskins0.6%+15354
BroncosVikings0.5%+20615
BroncosPackers0.5%+20660
BengalsVikings0.5%+21398
BengalsPackers0.5%+21444
ChiefsVikings0.4%+23629
ChiefsPackers0.4%+23680
JetsSeahawks0.3%+37052
BroncosRedskins0.2%+48917
BengalsRedskins0.2%+50768
ChiefsRedskins0.2%+56047
TexansSeahawks0.2%+65836
SteelersSeahawks0.1%+69904
JetsVikings0.1%+85865
JetsPackers0.1%+86051
TexansVikings0.1%+152468
TexansPackers0.1%+152797
SteelersVikings0.1%+161879
SteelersPackers0.1%+162229
JetsRedskins0.0%+203312
TexansRedskins0.0%+360908
SteelersRedskins0.0%+383177

And finally, who is going to win the damn thing?

TeamOddsCorresponding Moneyline
Cardinals30.9%+223
Patriots23.2%+331
Panthers20.9%+377
Bengals5.7%+1651
Chiefs5.6%+1687
Broncos4.7%+2021
Seahawks3.7%+2599
Jets1.3%+7713
Vikings1.2%+8113
Packers1.2%+8399
Steelers0.7%+14225
Texans0.5%+21812
Redskins0.4%+27174

©2016 Sports Insights Inc.

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