It's never too early to start talking about the NFL playoff race, so that's exactly what we're going to do right now. The race to the postseason should be extra exciting this year and that's because for the first time since 1990, the playoffs have been expanded.
For the 2020 season, there will be a total of 14 teams getting in, which is up from the 12 that made it from 1990 to 2019.
The beauty of the NFL playoff race right now is that all 32 teams are currently still alive, which is news that might actually come as a slight shock to some Jets fans. Although they currently have zero wins, they're still mathematically alive, so in the immortal words of Lloyd Christmas, I'm telling you there's a chance that your team could still end up in playoffs, Jets fans.
One reason every team is still alive is because of the playoff expansion. With 14 teams getting in, that means seven teams will be getting in the postseason from each conference (There's also a chance we could see 16 teams get in, but we'll touch on that later).
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To help you figure out who's going to make the playoffs this year, we're going to be publishing a projection every week for the rest of the season. These projections will be based on data from number-cruncher Stephen Oh of SportsLine.com. Each week, Oh will plug some numbers into his SportsLine computer and simulate the rest of the NFL season, and using those numbers, we'll project the 14 teams we expect to make the playoffs.
With that in mind, let's get to the projections.
AFC Playoff Projection
|1. (AFC North Champion)|
|If you thought fans in Pittsburgh loved the Steelers, just wait until you hear how much the computer loves them. According to SportsLine's numbers, not only do the Steelers have a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs, but they're also given the best chance of any team in the NFL to win the Super Bowl. Heading into Week 10, the Steelers' chances of winning the Super Bowl are at 19.93%, which is ahead of the Chiefs (17%) and Saints (16.9%), who are second and third on the list. |
|2. (AFC West Champion)|
|The Chiefs have looked like the best team in the AFC over the past few weeks, but unfortunately for them, the computer doesn't currently think they're going to end up with the AFC's top overall seed. According to SportsLine, the Chiefs are projected to finish 0.7 wins behind the Steelers in the win column. Although the computer doesn't like Kansas City's chances of getting the top seed, it does believe that the AFC West race is all but over. The Chiefs currently have an 95.3% chance of winning the division, making them the only team in the NFL that has more than a 90% chance of winning their division heading into Week 10. |
|3. (AFC East Champion)|
|The Bills haven't won a division title since 1995, but fans in Buffalo might want to get the champagne ready, because the computer believes the drought is going to end this year. Not only are the Bills being given a 79.1% chance of winning the division, but they're also being given a 95.7% chance of making the playoffs, which means the computer sees them getting to the postseason, even if they don't win the division. |
|4. (AFC South Champion)|
|According to the computer, the AFC South title is the only one in the AFC that's really still up for grabs right now. Heading into Week 10, the Titans are being given a 69.1% chance of winning the division while the Colts have a 30.8% chance of winning the division. The computer might have to spit out some new numbers on Thursday night after the Titans and Colts play each other in Tennessee. The Titans' chances of winning the division will move to over 75% if they beat Indy on Thursday. |
|5. Wild Card 1|
|The computer is expecting the Bills and Titans to duke it out for the third seed in the AFC, which is important to note, because the loser -- AKA the team that ends up with the fourth seed -- is likely going to get stuck playing the Ravens in the wild-card round. The Ravens are being projected to finish the season with the AFC's third best record at 12-4, but that won't be good enough to win the AFC North. The Ravens have a 97.5% chance of making the playoffs and are currently the only non-division leader that is being given better than a 90% chance of making the postseason. |
|6. Wild Card 2.|
|If the computer is right about the Colts, that means that Indianapolis is soon going to be headed to just its second playoff appearance in six years. According to SportsLine, the Colts have a 57.7% chance of making the playoffs. To put that in perspective, the Raiders are expected to finish as the first team out of the playoffs in the AFC and they have just a 43.3% chance of making the postseason. |
|7. Wild Card 3.|
|This is not a typo, the computer is actually projecting the Dolphins to make the playoffs, which would mark just the third time since 2002 that Miami has made the postseason. The Dolphins, who have a 60.3% chance of making the postseason, will be in a dog fight with the Raiders (43.5%) and the Browns (38.5%) for the final wild card spot in the AFC.|
First team out: Raiders (43.3% chance of getting into the playoffs)
Note: The first team out could end up making the playoffs. The NFL has approved a proposal that will expand the playoffs to 16 teams, but that will only happen if COVID-19 causes the cancellation of multiple regular season games that have a bearing on who might make the playoffs.
Here's a list of the playoff chances for all the other AFC teams (their percentage chances of getting into the playoffs is listed next to them in parentheses): Browns (38.3%), Patriots (9.6%), Chargers (2.3%), Broncos (1.9%), Texans (1.2%), Bengals (0.9%), Jaguars (0.0%), Jets (0.0%).
Note II: The Jets and Jaguars haven't been eliminated from playoff contention, but they have a zero percent chance of making it because the computer hates them. Actually, the computer doesn't love or hate, it has no feelings, it just doesn't think there's a mathematical chance for either team to make it.
NFC Playoff Projection
|1. (NFC South Champion)|
|The computer definitely has a favorite team in the NFC and spoiler alert, it's the Saints. Not only are they being given a 97.6% chance of making the playoffs, but the computer basically views them as a lock to win the NFC South as they have an 86.2% chance of winning the division (The Buccaneers have the second-best chance, but they're sitting at just 13.5%). |
|2. (NFC West Champion)|
|The computer likes the Seahawks' chances of making the playoffs (95.5%), but it isn't so sure about Seattle's chances of winning the division. If there's one division race this year that might cause the computer to malfunction, it's the one in the NFC West. Although Seattle is currently viewed as the favorite with a 55.6% chance of winning, the computer won't be surprised if the Rams (30% chance) or Cardinals (14% chance) end up stealing the division. |
|3. (NFC North Champion)|
|The Packers are one of three teams in the NFC that currently has more than a 90% chance of making the playoffs, which means the computer basically views them as a lock to get in the postseason. The Packers are also being given an 80.2% chance of winning the NFC North, which means barring a meltdown, the Packers should end the season with a second straight division title. |
|4. (NFC East Champion)|
|The Eagles only have a 1.5 game lead in the NFC East, but that might as well be a 105 game lead, because the computer is feeling pretty good about Philly's chances of winning the division title. According to SportsLine, the Eagles have a 77.9% chance of winning the NFC East, which is more than triple the chances being given to the Giants (8.9%), Washington (8%) and Cowboys (5.3%) combined. |
|5. Wild Card 1|
|Although the Buccaneers aren't being projected to win the NFC South, that might actually be a good thing, because the computer thinks they're going to get the best wild card spot. If the Buccaneers land the fifth spot, that means they'd get to open postseason play against the winner of the NFC East, which is almost like getting a bye. Overall, the Buccaneers are being given a 76.9% chance of making the playoffs.|
|6. Wild Card 2|
|Of all the 5-3 teams in the NFL, the computer loves the Rams the most. The Rams are being given an 83% chance of making the playoffs, which is an incredibly high number when you consider that the next highest number for a 5-3 team is 60.3% (There are a total of six 5-3 teams in the NFL and two of them -- Browns and Raiders -- aren't even being projected to make the playoffs).|
|7. Wild Card 3|
|The computer clearly loves the NFC West as it's projecting that three of the four teams in the division are going to make the postseason. Although the computer has the Cardinals in the playoffs, it's not by much. Arizona is being given a 59.6% chance of making it to the postseason, which is just barely ahead of the Bears, who are the first team out right now. One interesting nugget is that if the computer's projections pan out, then Arizona's opening round playoff game would be in Seattle against the Seahawks (You can see the rest of the projected wild card matchups at the bottom of the page).|
First team out: Bears (53.9% chance of getting into the playoffs)
Note: The first team out could end up making the playoffs. The NFL has approved a proposal that will expand the playoffs to 16 teams, but that will only happen if COVID-19 causes the cancellation of multiple regular season games over the final eight weeks of the season.
Here's a list of the playoff chances for all the other NFC teams (their percentage chances of getting into the playoffs is listed next to them in parentheses): Vikings (16.9%), 49ers (12.5%), Giants (8.9%), Washington (8%), Lions (6.9%), Cowboys (5.3%), Panthers (2%), Falcons (0.8%)
Note: The Giants, Cowboys and Washington have a higher percentage than several other teams because they computer believes they have a better shot of winning the NFC East than the Lions, Panthers or Falcons have of earning a wild-card berth.
Wild-card round projection
(7) Dolphins at (2) Chiefs
(6) Colts at (3) Bills
(5) Ravens at (4) Titans
Bye: Steelers (Pittsburgh would host Las Vegas in wild-card round of a 16-team playoff)
(7) Cardinals at (2) Seahawks
(6) Rams at (3) Packers
(5) Buccaneers at (4) Eagles
Bye: Saints (New Orleans would host Chicago in in wild-card round of a 16-team playoff)