Perfect NFC Playoff Projection
From Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~The playoff picture changes from week to week, from game to game.
Heck, it changes from play to play, as the Packers learned in a good way last Thursday night with the Hail Mary Miracle in Motown.
That being said, aside from the undefeated Panthers, and the 2-loss Cardinals, the most dangerous team is without a doubt the two-time defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks. They killed the Vikings last week, and aside from losing their tight end Jimmy Graham, they’re healthy everywhere on defense. All their stars on defense magically stay healthy.
But as ESPN & Football Outsiders forecast things, I couldn’t draw it up any better than what they forecast. Let’s have a look:
The Football Outsiders playoff odds simulation is all about probability. And nothing shakes up those odds like an improbable upset.
Last week, our simulation only gave the Philadelphia Eagles a 24 percent chance of beating the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Massachusetts. ESPN Stats & Information FPI had the odds even lower, at 22 percent. The Eagles’ win is even more improbable when you consider how they won the game. The Patriots’ special teams, which were the best in the league, had the worst game of any special teams unit this season. The odds of giving up a punt return touchdown and a punt block touchdown in the same game are miniscule. There have been 12 punt-return touchdowns in 192 games this season and four punt-block touchdowns. Based on those numbers, the odds of having both in the same game are roughly 1 in 768. Obviously that doesn’t consider the quality of the players involved, but there was quality on both sides here. Darren Sproles is an excellent punt returner, while the Patriots ranked sixth in Football Outsiders’ net punting metric through Week 12.
Adding to the improbability was Malcolm Jenkins‘ 99-yard pick-six. There have been 25 interceptions this season thrown within 10 yards of the end zone, and only three of those have been returned past the 20: a 29-yard return when Stephon Gilmore picked off Eli Manning in Week 4, a 42-yard return when Antwon Blake picked off Andy Dalton in Week 8, and Jenkins’ touchdown.
The Eagles’ win shook up the race for home-field advantage in the AFC, as well as the fight for the NFC East title. The Patriots’ odds of getting the No. 1 seed were cut almost in half, falling from 50.1 percent to 26.1 percent. Our new simulation has them representing the AFC in Super Bowl 50 just 22.2 percent of the time, less than Cincinnati or Denver.
Meanwhile, the Eagles’ win, combined with losses for the Giants and Redskins, made Philadelphia once again the favorite to win the NFC East. All three teams are tied at 5-7, but the Eagles win the division in 42.7 percent of our simulations — in part because they have three games left at home, while the Giants have just two and the Redskins only one.
About these odds: The Football Outsiders playoff odds simulation plays out the rest of the season 25,000 times. A random draw assigns each team a win or loss for each game. (Like Donovan McNabb, the playoff odds simulation does not believe in ties.) The probabilities are based on each team’s current weighted DVOA rating as well as home-field advantage. (DVOA is Football Outsiders’ proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric which looks at a team’s performance on every play and adjusts based on situation and opponent, explained further here. Weighted DVOA then takes that rating and adjusts it to lower the strength of games that took place more than a month ago.) Some ratings are adjusted prior the simulation because of injuries, primarily to quarterbacks. Note that our odds will be different than playoff odds you might find elsewhere on ESPN.com (or at FiveThirtyEight.com) because of each set of team ratings is computed differently.
You can find the full playoff odds report, including the odds of each team winning each of the six seeds, on FootballOutsiders.com.
NFC playoff projections
Current Record: 12-0 | Weighted DVOA: 25.7% (4)
Mean Projected Wins: 14.8
Clinched NFC South
Although the Panthers escaped from New Orleans after a fourth-quarter comeback on the road, our DVOA ratings suggest that this week’s game was a negative indicator for Carolina’s chances of winning Super Bowl 50. The Panthers had a single-game DVOA of minus-27.3 percent, by far their worst single game of the season and their first game below average since Week 3. Because of that, Carolina dropped from third to fourth in weighted DVOA, and from fourth to sixth in total DVOA (which gives full strength to early games).
That ratings drop is an even bigger problem since most of the other contenders had big wins this week, particularly Carolina’s NFC rivals in Seattle and Arizona. Therefore, while we still have Carolina as our Super Bowl favorite, the Panthers’ odds of winning it all actually dropped from 23.9 percent to 19.9 percent. Since the Panthers were already heavy favorites to beat New Orleans, their odds of finishing a 16-0 regular season only went up slightly, and now stand at 25.9 percent.
That being said, it may be that the Saints offense is just a bad matchup for the Panthers defense. According to both defensive DVOA and yards per play allowed, Carolina’s worst two games of the season have come against New Orleans in Weeks 3 and 13.
Current Record: 10-2 | Weighted DVOA: 25.5% (5)
Mean Projected Wins: 12.5
Total Playoff Odds: 99.9% | Weekly Change: +0.4%
Arizona’s odds of getting a first-round bye went up even further this week and are now at 84.8 percent. I wrote last week about how Arizona had declined in recent weeks, but the win over St. Louis was their third-best game of the year according to DVOA.
Current Record: 8-4 | Weighted DVOA: 3.3% (13)
Mean Projected Wins: 9.9
Total Playoff Odds: 87.7% | Weekly Change: +4.1%
The Packers and Vikings are still both likely to make the playoffs, but the Rodgers-to-Rodgers Hail Mary made a huge difference in the race to win the division and get a first-round home game. We now have the Packers winning the division in 61.6 percent of simulations, with the Vikings at 38.4 percent. Both teams are likely to lose in Arizona — Minnesota this week, Green Bay in Week 16 — and the division still probably comes down to the Vikings’ visit to Lambeau Field in Week 17.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
Current Record: 5-7 | Weighted DVOA: -7.6% (21)
Mean Projected Wins: 7.0
Total Playoff Odds: 42.7% | Weekly Change: +26.7%
The Sam Bradford-for-Nick Foles trade seems like a huge disappointment for both teams, but there’s no question that Bradford has been significantly better than backup Mark Sanchez this season. According to DVOA, Philadelphia’s offense was 5.5 percent worse than average in Weeks 1-9. With Sanchez at quarterback, the Eagles offense was 30.1 percent worse than average for the next three games. This week, Bradford was back, and the Eagles offense was back to being mediocre instead of terrible, with minus-5.8 percent offensive DVOA.
The return of Bradford is the biggest reason why the Eagles are now the division favorites; with him at quarterback, they’re the best team in the NFC East. The Eagles play the toughest remaining schedule based on average DVOA of opponent, but that’s balanced out by the fact that they have three of four games at home. We currently have the Eagles winning the division 42.7 percent of the time, with Washington at 31.0 percent, the Giants at 20.8 percent, and Dallas at 5.5 percent.
Although every team in the NFC East currently has a losing record, our simulations think we’re still likely to get a division champion that’s at least 8-8. The NFC East champion goes 9-7 in 16.5 percent of simulations and 8-8 in 52.2 percent of simulations. We also get a 7-9 champion 31.3 percent of the time and a 6-10 champion 1.3 percent of the time.
Current Record: 7-5 | Weighted DVOA: 37.8% (1)
Mean Projected Wins: 10.1
Total Playoff Odds: 93.8% | Weekly Change: +17.4%
Say it loud, they’re back and proud! Actually, the Seahawks never really went anywhere; despite all the close losses, they’ve been in the DVOA top 10 since Week 5. But with the huge win over Minnesota and some of their early defensive struggles now further in the rearview mirror, Seattle moved past Kansas City into the No. 1 spot in weighted DVOA this week. Yes, they’ll have to play every playoff game on the road, but this is still a dangerous team that both Carolina and Arizona need to be worried about for January.
Current Record: 8-4 | Weighted DVOA: 2.7% (14)
Mean Projected Wins: 9.9
Total Playoff Odds: 81.7% | Weekly Change: -8.5%
Minnesota’s horrible loss to Seattle was their worst game since the Week 1 loss to San Francisco, and this time the Vikings can’t use the road or the unusually late hour as an excuse. (They could cite injuries on defense, however.) And yet, it meant very little change to Minnesota’s overall playoff odds, because the Vikings (or, if Minnesota wins the division, the Packers) still have a two-game lead over any other contender for the second NFC wild card. The biggest change based on Seattle’s huge win is that it increased the chances that we’ll get Green Bay and Minnesota playing back-to-back in consecutive weeks, with the winner of the Week 17 game getting the No. 3 seed and the loser getting No. 6.
Full projections here