With 5 weeks remaining in the season, there are clear leaders in seven of the eight divisions. The NFC East division champ is very much up for grabs but in each of the other divisions there is one team that has an 80% chance or better of winning the division. The Cowboys have the inside track to the NFC East title, and even if the Eagles or Giants ultimately win that division, the Cowboys are likely to claim one of the wildcard spots. For the moment, if we designate the Patriots, Bengals, Colts, Chargers, Cowboys, Vikings, Saints, and Cardinals as division champs, we can focus on the wild card races. In this article, I will focus on the AFC wild card race.
Denver Broncos. Overall, Denver currently has a 75% chance of making the playoffs. The Broncos have games remaining against the Chiefs (twice), Raiders, Colts and Eagles. If the Broncos can reach 11 or 12 wins, they will certainly have a playoff spot as either the division champ or a wild card. At the moment, 10 wins seems very achievable by beating the Chiefs twice and the Raiders. In this case, they would have an 80% chance of making the playoffs, depending on the outcome of other games and the tiebreakers. If the Broncos only manage two more victories to finish 9 and 7 their odds of making the playoffs drop to 22%.
Pittsburgh Steelers. Overall, the Steelers currently have a 70% chance of making the playoffs. The Steelers have remaining games against Oakland, Cleveland, Green Bay, Baltimore, and Miami. If they run the table to get to 11 wins, they are in. If they lose one game, things get a little dicey depending on whom the lose to. Losing to Baltimore again drops their odds to 63%, losing only to Miami gives them an 83% chance, while a sole loss to Green Bay gives them an 87% chance. Two losses would drop their playoff odds to around 13%.
Baltimore Ravens. Overall, the Ravens currently have a 38% chance of making the playoffs. However, in terms of controlling their own destiny, the Ravens are in a slightly better situation. They have games remaining against Green Bay, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Oakland. Victories in all of those games gets them to 11 wins and a certain playoff birth. Ten wins with a sole loss to the Steelers gives them a 69% chance of making the playoffs while a single loss to Green Bay or Chicago would give them a 97% chance to make the playoffs. The winner of the second Pittsburg Ravens game will likely make the playoffs. Should be a great game. Two losses would drop the Ravens chances of making the playoffs to around 18%.
Jacksonville Jaguars. Overall, the Jaguars currently have a 16% chance of making the playoffs, yet they still control their own destiny, since victories in their remaining games against Houston, Miami, Indianapolis, New England and Cleveland would give them 11 wins. Their problem is that they have games against two of the best teams in the league. If they can split those two games, and finish with 10 wins, they have a 90% chance of making the playoffs. However if they drop both of those games and finish 9-7, their odds drop to 22% and they need a lot of help.
Intermission. There is a non-zero probability that three of the above four teams could all finish with 11 wins or more (Baltimore and Pittsburgh cannot both finish with 11 wins, since they play each other). If the division leaders dont falter, this would mean that an 11-win team would miss the playoffs. While mathematically possible, the chances of this happening are extremely low. Surprisingly, Jacksonville would have the inside track in this situation, while Denver and Pittsburgh or Baltimore would be sweating out the tiebreakers.
Houston Texans. Overall, the Texans currently have a 3.7% chance of making the playoffs. Winning the rest of their games against Jacksonville, Seattle, St. Louis, Miami and New England would give them 10 wins, but even then their odds of making the playoffs are only 59%. Dropping even one game to finish 9-7 would drop their playoff odds to around 3%.
New York Jets. Overall, the Jets currently have a 2.5% chance of making the playoffs. If the win all of their remaining games against Buffalo, Tampa, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati would give them a 10-6 record and a 64% chance of making the playoffs. A single loss to Tampa would leave them with a 13% chance to make the playoffs, but a single loss within the conference would drop their odds to 5%.
Miami Dolphins. Overall, the Dolphins have a 1.5% chance of making the playoffs. If Miami were to win all of their remaining games, against New England, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston and Pittsburgh, they would have a 10-6 record and a 94% chance of making the playoffs. A 9-7 record would drop their odds to around 15%. While these odds seem quite promising, according to Burke Team efficiency ratings, they will have a difficult time winning enough games to be a significant player in the wild card race.
Tennessee Titans. Overall, the Titans have only a 0.2% chance of making the playoffs. Even if they win all of their remaining games against the Colts, Rams, Dolphins, Chargers, and Seahawks to finish 10-6, their playoff odds are only 34%. This scenario has become a dark horse story within the media over the last couple of weeks; however, the tiebreakers are working strongly against them, even if they can deliver on the field. With a 9-7 record, their chances of making the playoffs drop below 2%.
Buffalo Bills. Overall, the Bills have only a 0.04% chance of making the playoffs. If they win the rest of their games to finish 9-7, their best chance of making the playoffs is if the Patriots falter and the Bills win the division (about 12% chance). The chances of the Bills making a wild card slot at 9-7 are less than 2%.
The Chiefs and Raiders are not yet mathematically eliminated. However, even if they win all of their remaining games to finish 8-8, their chances of making the playoffs are 1.5% and 0.5%, respectively. The Browns are the only team in the AFC that has been mathematically eliminated at this stage of the season.