Week 17 NFL Playoff Odds

Kyle Orton and Nick Foles

Heading into Week 17, there's a satisfying mix of straightforward playoff scenarios and convoluted messes. Eight teams have clinched a postseason berth, but only one has clinched a first-round bye (Denver), while five of the remaining seven (New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Carolina and San Francisco) have non-zero probabilities related to three or more different seeds. The hope of overcoming Football Outsiders' current playoff odds is alive for six teams, but only two of them (Dallas and Green Bay) have a 1-in-3 chance or better, and both of those teams will likely be missing their star quarterbacks.

With all of these things in mind, this week's column focuses on the more complicated scenarios and provides more detail than before.

Here are the Week 17 playoff odds:

AFC playoff projections

(1) Denver Broncos

Current record: 12-3 | Weighted DVOA: 25.9 percent
Projected wins: 12.7
Total playoff odds: 100.0 percent | Weekly Change: 0.0 percent

(2) New England Patriots

Current record: 11-4 | Weighted DVOA: 23.7 percent
Projected wins: 11.8
Total playoff odds: 100.0 percent | Weekly Change: +0.7 percent

(3) Cincinnati Bengals

Current record: 10-5 | Weighted DVOA: 18.6 percent
Projected wins: 10.7
Total playoff odds: 100.0 percent | Weekly Change: +6.2 percent

(4) Indianapolis Colts

Current record: 10-5 | Weighted DVOA: -2.8 percent
Projected wins: 10.7
Total playoff odds: 100.0 percent | Weekly Change: +0.0 percent

We wouldn't say that the top four seeds in the AFC are "up for grabs," but only one of the current favorites has a probability of more than 70 percent (Denver at 76 percent) to stay at its current seed. To wit, New England has a non-zero chance of finishing anywhere from No. 1 to No. 4, while both Cincinnati and Indianapolis can finish anywhere from No. 2 to No. 4. Therefore, rather than detailing each team's chances of a specific seed, it's probably best to just lay out the scenarios as a group, and proceed with the discussion from there.

With four Week 17 games relevant to the situation, there are 16 possible combinations of results (excluding ties). In the table below, we've listed each combination, the probability of that combination occurring as per our simulations (rounded to the nearest whole percent) and the seeds which would result.

With all four teams being about 70 percent favorites this weekend, the most likely scenario is that they all win, hence how we have the seeds projected right now. Still, there are four other scenarios in which the seeds remain the same (three, nine, 15 and 16). Taken together then, there's a 44 percent chance that Week 17 changes nothing about the top four seeds in the AFC.

After the "everyone wins" scenario, you have a group that involves one of the four teams losing (scenarios five through nine), the most likely of which is Denver, which makes sense given that the Broncos are the only one of the four teams on the road. If that happens, then the Patriots leapfrog the Broncos for the No. 1 seed. For our money, though, the most interesting "one team loses" scenario -- although it's the least likely of the group -- is the one in which New England suffers the only upset (scenario five). In that case, the Patriots drop all the way to the No. 4 seed, and would have to host a wild-card game against the Chiefs, who currently rank ninth in weighted DVOA. Kansas City has come back to the pack a bit over the past couple of months, but it remains the case that the Chiefs are significantly better than our current favorite for the No. 6 seed -- 18.3 percentage points, to be exact.

Next up is the group of scenarios that involve two of the four teams losing (scenarios six through 11), with the most likely upsets being by Oakland and Jacksonville. Altogether, there's a 24 percent chance of a scenario in this group occurring, and (again) the least likely is the most interesting. If the Bills and Ravens pull upsets rather than the Raiders and Jaguars, then Indianapolis vaults ahead of both New England and Cincinnati for a first-round bye. Why is that interesting? Well, the Colts are one of only three teams with a negative weighted DVOA that we currently project to make the playoffs; and they would be the No. 2 seed.

Scenarios 12 to 15 are the set of results in which three teams lose, and those combine for a mere 5 percent chance of happening according to our simulations. In those, the implications are straightforward: The lone winner benefits the most unless it's Denver, in which case all seeds remain the same as they are right now.

(5) Kansas City Chiefs

Current record: 11-4 | Weighted DVOA: 18.3 percent
Projected wins: 11.5
Total playoff odds: 100.0 percent | Weekly Change: +0.0 percent

The Chiefs are locked into their spot, so there's nothing to discuss about what our simulations portend for their specific seed.

(6) Miami Dolphins

Current record: 8-7 | Weighted DVOA: 0.0 percent
Projected wins: 8.7
Total playoff odds: 58.7 percent | Weekly Change: -3.3 percent

In the hunt

Baltimore Ravens | 8-7 | Total playoff odds: 18.9 percent
San Diego Chargers | 8-7 | Total playoff odds: 13.3 percent
Pittsburgh Steelers | 7-8 | Total playoff odds: 9.1 percent

We've got four teams vying for the final AFC playoff spot, so let's do the same exercise we did earlier.

You might notice a couple of details in the table immediately. First, Pittsburgh's 9 percent chance of making the playoffs comes entirely from a single scenario: the one in which the Steelers win and everyone else loses.

Second, there's a clear dichotomy between the scenarios in which Miami makes the playoffs and those in which Baltimore makes the playoffs. Namely, the Dolphins rule the high-probability top half of the table, while the Ravens rule the low-probability bottom half. Regarding Miami, that's because only the just-mentioned-for-their-dire-circumstances Steelers are a larger Week 17 favorite than the Dolphins (67 percent) among this group. On the flip side, the Ravens are the biggest underdog to win their own game (26 percent), but are also the biggest beneficiary if Miami loses. Perhaps the best illustration of this, though, is contrasting scenarios five and 12. If all four teams win, Miami qualifies; if all four teams lose, Baltimore qualifies. And the difference separating those two results is only 6 percent in terms of likelihood.

NFC playoff projections

(1) Seattle Seahawks

Current record: 12-3 | Weighted DVOA: 39.5 percent
Projected wins: 12.8
Total playoff odds: 100.0 percent | Weekly Change: +0.0 percent

They might not be locked in like the Chiefs, but the Seahawks' seeding situation is quite polarized: They can only end up as either the No. 1 seed or the No. 5 seed, but the former is about 10 times as likely as the latter. Digging into the details, Seattle earns the No. 1 seed if it wins and San Francisco wins, which occurred in 31 percent of our simulations. The Seahawks also earn the No. 1 seed if both teams lose, which happened 13 percent of the time. The most likely result for the Seahawks and 49ers, however, is a Seattle win coupled with a San Francisco loss, which occurred in 46 percent of simulations. Add those three scenarios together, and you get a total probability of 90 percent for Seattle earning home-field advantage.

(2) Carolina Panthers

Current record: 11-4 | Weighted DVOA: 27.5 percent
Projected wins: 11.7
Total playoff odds: 100.0 percent | Weekly Change: +7.1 percent

By virtue of their comeback victory over the Saints, the Panthers have a 70 percent chance of earning the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Thanks to a victory at San Francisco in Week 10, they also have a 7 percent chance of stealing home-field advantage from Seattle, which results from a Seahawks loss, as well as wins by both the Panthers and 49ers. However, given that Carolina is about a 3-to-1 favorite for a first-round bye, and the fact the Panthers are currently the second-best team in the NFL according to weighted DVOA, it's surprising to see that their second most likely seed isn't No. 1; it's No. 6 (16 percent).

(3) Philadelphia Eagles

Current record: 9-6 | Weighted DVOA: 27.2 percent
Projected wins: 9.6
Total playoff odds: 62.8 percent | Weekly Change: -7.9 percent

(4) Chicago Bears

Current record: 8-7 | Weighted DVOA: -0.3 percent
Projected wins: 8.7
Total playoff odds: 66.8 percent | Weekly Change: +5.7 percent

Of the 12 teams currently in line for a playoff spot according to our simulations, Philadelphia is the only one playing a Week 17 game in which a win guarantees a specific seed, but a loss guarantees they miss the playoffs entirely. That's because, if Philadelphia wins, neither Chicago nor Green Bay can catch the Eagles for No. 3; but if they lose, the Eagles can't catch any of the NFC South and NFC West contenders for a wild-card spot.

Speaking of Chicago, when is a blowout loss on national television actually a win? It's when your only two competitors within the division also lose, thereby increasing your playoff chances even further above 50 percent than they were before -- and there's only one game remaining. In terms of seeding, the Bears have almost double the chance of earning No. 4 (42 percent) than No. 3 (25 percent). That's simply a by-product of the NFC East team Chicago beats in a tiebreaker (Dallas) being about a 2-to-1 underdog against the NFC East team Chicago loses to in a tiebreaker (Philadelphia).

Note that our projections are based on the current offensive ratings of Dallas and Green Bay. Kyle Orton starting for Dallas probably boosts the Eagles' odds of winning somewhere between 5 and 10 percent; if Aaron Rodgers actually is able to suit up for Green Bay, that probably drops the Bears' odds of winning somewhere between 10 and 15 percent.

(5) San Francisco 49ers

Current record: 11-4 | Weighted DVOA: 23.5 percent
Projected wins: 11.4
Total playoff odds: 100.0 percent | Weekly Change: +2.2 percent

After its loss at New Orleans in Week 11, San Francisco's chances of earning a bye were less than 1 percent. Since then, those chances have increased 15-fold; the problem is that they're still only 3.1 percent. Fans may be focusing on the likelihood of losses by Seattle and Carolina, which are two of the three ingredients for guaranteeing another game at Candlestick, but it turns out that the third ingredient may be the most elusive: Our projection model indicates that the 49ers are 60-40 underdogs in Arizona, whereas both the Seahawks and Panthers are approximately 70-30 favorites in their games.

(6) New Orleans Saints

Current record: 10-5 | Weighted DVOA: 13.5 percent
Projected wins: 10.7
Total playoff odds: 82.8 percent | Weekly Change: -14.9 percent

Consecutive losses have cut the Saints' chances of earning a week off by about two-thirds. Thankfully, however, the odds of them missing the playoffs have only increased from 0.4 percent to 17.2 percent. The likelihood of New Orleans missing the playoffs is entirely wrapped up in the Saints' game and Arizona's game, and the Saints (70 percent) are a slightly larger favorite than the Cardinals (60 percent) in Week 17. Of course, New Orleans' win probability in its game against Tampa Bay might be overstated due to the loss of standout rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro.

In the hunt

Dallas Cowboys | 8-7 | Total playoff odds: 37.2 percent
Green Bay Packers | 7-7-1 | Total playoff odds: 33.2 percent
Arizona Cardinals | 10-5 | Total playoff odds: 17.2 percent

For each of these teams, the task is straightforward. For Dallas, it's beat Philadelphia or go home. For Green Bay, it's beat Chicago or go home. For Arizona, it's beat San Francisco and root for Tampa Bay. The only thing addling the brain here is that the Cowboys will be playing a Week 17 elimination game, but Tony Romo probably won't be around when everyone's looking for an excuse for their loss.