Predicting the picture of the NFL playoffs

There are only 32 games left in the 2021 NFL season, and only six playoff spots were secured. Surprisingly, the postseason hopes of 24 teams remain mathematically alive. And even with the remaining two weeks, there are endless permutations of how the rest of the regular season might unfold and how the playoff field might improve. But today, we are predicting what will happen with only one scenario: chalk.

We use simulations from ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) to determine the playoff field and the most likely seeds. Based on our numbers, there is a 7% chance that the following prediction will catch every team and all the seeds in the NFC, and a 5% chance of doing the same in the AFC. The probability that both conferences line up exactly as follows is only 0.5%. That may seem low for a best guess prediction, but that’s the uncertainty that remains. These were the final positions that produced the most in our FPI simulations. And we’re going to explain how we got there, with the game’s projected scores for weeks 17 and 18.

So let’s take a look at the final two weeks of the 2021 season and the resulting playoff field if the most likely scenario occurs via ESPN’s FPI. Who clinched a 14-team field spot, who clinched a No. 1 seed or division title, and who was left out of the postseason altogether? Plus, we take a quick look at the playoffs and what to expect there. Let’s delve into.

Jump to:
Scores: Week 17 | Week 18
Final classification: AFC | NFC

Week 17 Projected Scores

LAR-BAL: Rams 27, Ravens 7
ATL-BUF: Bills 38, Falcons 14
NYG-CHI: Bears 34, Giants 27
KC-CIN: Chiefs 10, Bengals 6
LV-IND: Colts 26, Raiders 10
JAX-NE: Patriots 31, Jaguars 13
TB-NYJ: Buccaneers 34, Jets 14
MIA-TEN: Titans 27, Dolphins 10
PHI-WSH: Aguilas 41, Washington 21
DEN-LAC: Chargers 16, Broncos 8
HOU-SF: 49ers 34, jeans 7
ARI-DAL: Cardinals 17, Cowboys 16
CAR NO: Santos 23, Panteras 17
DET-SEA: Lions 18, Seahawks 17
MIN-GB: Packers 27, Vikings 26
CLE-PIT: Steelers 30, Browns 27

The Story of Week 17: Most of the contenders battling for playoff spots took care of the matter. The Chargers earned a crucial 16-8 victory over division foe Denver. Jonathan Taylor led a Colts team without Carson Wentz to a 26-10 victory over the Raiders. Trey Lance and the 49ers swept the Texans. And the Saints, now with quarterback Taysom Hill back, managed to scratch a 23-17 victory over the Panthers. The Packers maintained their serve for the No. 1 seed with a one-point victory over the Vikings, while one of their main rivals, Dallas, lost by the same margin to Arizona.

However, not all the playoff hopefuls won. Cleveland, which started out so hopeful, was eliminated with a 30-27 loss to the Steelers. Like Washington in a landslide loss to the Eagles.


Week 18 Projected Scores

NO-ATL: Santos 30, Falcons 22
PIT-BAL: Ravens 33, Steelers 20
NYJ-BUF: Bills 37, Jets 21
CIN-CLE: Bengals 27, Browns 21
GB-DET: Lions 24, Packers 21
TEN-HOU: Titans 31, Texans 28
IND-JAX: Colts 33, Jaguars 13
CAR-TB: Buccaneers 36, Panthers 26
NE-MIA: Dolphins 10, Patriots 3
CHI-MIN: Bears 17, Vikings 14
WSH-NYG: Washington 54, Giants 31
DAL-PHI: Águilas 28, Vaqueros 30
KC-DEN: Chiefs 34, Broncos 7
LAC-LV: Raiders 20, Chargers 19
SF-LAR: 49ers 42, Rams 7
SEA-ARI: Seahawks 34, Cardinals 27

In week 18, some underdogs ruined a party for their division rivals. Most notably, the Seahawks, at the end of a lost season and a week after losing to the Lions, toppled the Cardinals to ruin their chance to come back late for the NFC West title. The Patriots struggled in Miami as they fell in a sleepy 10-3 game to the Dolphins, although their wild-card bid had already closed the week before. And the Packers played Jordan Love at QB with the No. 1 seed secured and lost to the Lions.


Projecting how AFC develops

1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-4)
2. Tennessee Titans (12-5)
3. Buffalo Bills (11-6)
4. Cincinnati Bengals (10-7)
5. Indianapolis Colts (11-6)
6. New England Patriots (10-7)
7. Los Angeles Chargers (9-8)

8. Las Vegas Raiders (9-8)
9. Miami Dolphins (9-8)
10. Baltimore Ravens (9-8)
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8-1)
12. Cleveland Browns (7-10)
13. Denver Broncos (7-10)
14. New York Jets (4-13)
15. Houston Texans (4-13)
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-15)

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Marcus Spears says Mac Jones and the Patriots will not make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

Kansas City Secures First Seed: The Chiefs controlled their destiny for the No. 1 seed and took care of business. KC first scored a bizarre 10-6 defensive victory over the Bengals before beating the Broncos in Week 18. The Titans held the tiebreaker over the Chiefs, and did their part to keep up the pressure, beating the Dolphins and Texans. But because the Chiefs won twice and finished 13-4, Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid took the top seed, giving them the coveted goodbye. The Chiefs haven’t had to play a wild card game since 2017 even though they last missed the playoffs in 2014.

The Bills top the Pats in the AFC East: Buffalo was already a huge favorite after beating the Patriots in Week 16, but closed the deal by closing the season with two wins, while the Patriots stumbled in Week 18 against the Dolphins. Our projection gives the Bills 75 points combined over the past two weeks, which means the offense could enter the playoffs humming. And luckily, this scenario gives us a third meeting between the Bills and the Patriots in the wild card round.

Bengals win tight AFC North race: The Bengals had a big win in Week 16 – Joe Burrow hung 525 yards and four touchdowns over the Ravens – in an offensive disappointment in Week 17. Cincinnati had just six points in a loss to the Chiefs. But the Baltimore loss helped ease the pain. The division title was still on the line in Week 18, but the Bengals were able to defeat the Browns 27-21 to do so. Cincinnati last won the AFC North in 2015, and has not won a playoff game since 1990.

Titans keep Colts at bay in AFC South: The Colts won their last two games here, but it didn’t end up mattering in this case. The Titans, currently a game up in the standings, also won against their easy remaining schedule.

The playoffs give the Chargers No. 7 spot: The Colts and Patriots are virtual locks to get to the postseason, and they both do it in this prediction. But that seventh seed? That’s where things get interesting. And in this case, it’s the Chargers who take it, winning a four-way tie at 9-8 with the Raiders, Dolphins and Ravens. Ultimately, the tiebreaker of strength to victory seals the spot for Los Angeles. The painful part for the Raiders, Dolphins and Ravens is that they all missed the playoffs at 9-8 after going 1-1 in their last two games. If any of them had won their last two games, they would have earned a spot.

Jaguars take top draft pick: You can say this about Jacksonville: This team loses its mind. For the second year in a row, the Jaguars earned the No. 1 pick in the draft. It’s an unfavorable honor, although one that could still make Jacksonville a pass-rusher star or a bevy of picks in a trade. The Jaguars’ 31-13 and 33-13 losses to the Patriots and Colts, respectively, ended a miserable year that led to the No. 1 pick.


Project how the NFC develops

1. Green Bay Packers (13-4)
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4)
3. Dallas Cowboys (12-5)
4. Los Angeles Rams (12-5)
5. Arizona Cardinals (11-6)
6. San Francisco 49ers (10-7)
7. Philadelphia Eagles (9-8)

8. New Orleans Saints (9-8)
9. Washington soccer team (7-10)
10. Minnesota Vikings (7-10)
11. Chicago Bears (7-10)
12. Atlanta Falcons (7-10)
13. Seattle Seahawks (6-10)
14. Carolina Panthers (5-12)
15. Detroit Lions (4-12-1)
16. New York Giants (4-13)

Green Bay secures seed number 1 early: The Packers really finished this in Week 17 here, beating the Vikings by a single point while the Cowboys lost to the Cardinals by the same margin. Even though the Packers lost to the Lions in Week 18 – let’s work under the assumption that they rested as starters – and ended up with the same record as the Buccaneers, Green Bay had the best record in the conference and was therefore won. the pass. The NFC playoffs pass through Lambeau Field for the second year in a row.

The Rams take the NFC West: This one stayed interesting until the end, because both the Rams and Cardinals won in Week 17. The Rams were defeated by the 49ers in Week 18, which opened the door for Arizona if they could beat Seattle, but couldn’t. ‘t. The Cardinals lost, handing the division over to Los Angeles. The result established an NFC West rematch between the Rams and the 49ers in the wild-card round.

The Eagles beat the Saints for last spot: The Cardinals are in, so it’s just a matter of the bottom two places. And in this case, ESPN’s FPI predicts that the 49ers and Eagles will win. San Francisco did it convincingly, crushing the Texans and Rams. The Eagles actually dropped out of their Week 18 game against the Cowboys, but stayed ahead of the Saints, who won twice, due to a head-to-head tiebreaker with New Orleans after beating the Saints 40-29 earlier. of this year. The Saints came up short despite doing their best over the past two weeks, and the Vikings squandered their little opportunity by losing twice.


What to expect in the playoffs

Projected Wild Card Round Duels
(7) Chargers in (2) Titans
(6) Patriots on (3) Banknotes
(5) Colts in (4) Bengals
(7) Eagles in (2) Buccaneers
(6) 49ers in (3) Cowboys
(5) Cardinals in (4) Rams

Super Bowl aspirations: Chiefs-Packers would certainly be the most likely matchup in the Super Bowl, with those two teams earning the byes. But who could spoil the party? ESPN’s FPI truly believes that the Bills and Buccaneers are the best teams in their respective conferences.

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