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NFL playoff picture: Postseason probabilities entering Week 15 of 2023 season

The newest Next Gen Stats model simulates the remainder of the NFL season 10,000 times to provide detailed estimates of each team's playoff chances. Through the rest of the regular season, the NGS Analytics team will present the latest snapshot of the playoff picture through the lens of probability analysis.

A few notes before we dig in:

  1. All probabilities presented are current as of 5:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 13 unless otherwise noted below.
  2. Terms defined:
    • If Win: A team's chances of making the playoffs assuming a win in their upcoming game.
    • If Lose: A team's chances of making the playoffs assuming a loss in their upcoming game.
    • Playoff leverage: Refers to the quantifiable impact of a single game on a team's playoff prospects. It is calculated as the difference between a team's probability of making the playoffs if they win their upcoming game versus if they lose. This metric essentially captures the stakes of a game in terms of playoff qualification. A high playoff leverage indicates that the outcome of the game has a significant influence on the team's playoff chances, making it a critical matchup, whereas a low playoff leverage suggests that the game has a lesser impact on the team's playoff probabilities.

Playoff picture entering Week 15

Table inside Article
AFC Playoff % If Win If Lose No. 1 seed %
1. Ravens (10-3) >99% 100% 99% 56%
2. Dolphins (9-4)  95% 99% 86% 22%
3. Chiefs (8-5) 95% 98% 86% 12%
4. Jaguars (8-5) 90% 98% 86% 6%
5. Browns (8-5)    79% 89% 65% 3%
6. Steelers (7-6)  32% 54% 14% <1%
7. Colts (7-6) 47% 65% 22% <1%
  • The Ravens have a significant lead in the race for the No. 1 seed, but that could change dramatically depending on the outcome of their Week 17 battle with the Dolphins on New Year's Eve.
  • The Chiefs' loss to the Bills in Week 14 dealt a severe blow to Kanas City's chances of claiming the AFC's top seed. However, because of the quality of the Chiefs' remaining opponents (combined win percentage of .385) versus that of Miami's and Baltimore's (both more than .600), Patrick Mahomes and Co. still have an outside shot of earning home-field advantage throughout.
  • Saturday's Steelers-Colts affair is arguably the most consequential game of the entire weekend when it comes to the AFC playoff picture. Because of the logjam of teams at 7-6 (see teams on the bubble below), both Pittsburgh and Indianapolis would see their respective playoff probabilities sink with a loss this weekend. In fact, they have the two highest playoff leverages in the entire league in Week 15 (Colts, 43 percentage points; Steelers, 40 percentage points).
Table inside Article
NFC Playoff % If Win If Lose No. 1 seed %
1. 49ers (10-3) 100% 100% 100% 64%
2. Cowboys (10-3) >99% 100% >99% 12%
3. Lions (9-4) 98% >99% 94% 1%
4. Buccaneers (6-7) 45% 68% 31% 0%
5. Eagles (10-3) >99% 100% >99% 23%
6. Vikings (7-6) 72% 86% 64% 0%
7. Packers (6-7) 47% 62% 23% 0%
  • In addition to their ongoing battles for the NFC's No. 1 seed and divisional supremacy, both the Cowboys and Eagles can clinch playoff berths with wins this week.
  • Although the Vikings still have a slim chance at winning the NFC North (see below), their best shot at making the playoffs is via a wild-card berth. With a win at Cincinnati on Saturday, Minnesota would become an overwhelming favorite to clinch a spot heading into the final three weeks of the season.

Who's on the bubble?

Table inside Article
AFC Bubble teams Playoff % If Win If Lose
8. Texans (7-6) 37% 56% 22%
9. Broncos (7-6) 44% 67% 32%
10. Bengals (7-6) 37% 47% 17%
11. Bills (7-6) 39% 53% 21%
  • Jake Browning has led the Bengals to back-to-back wins against playoff contenders, keeping Cincinnati's postseason hopes alive. He'll likely need to keep this streak going over the next four weeks if the Bengals are to clinch a bid, as all four of their remaining opponents (Vikings, Steelers, Chiefs, Browns) are currently in the playoff picture.
  • The Broncos' playoff leverage (35 percentage points) this weekend is by far the most of the four bubble teams. With a win at Detroit, the Broncos' playoff chances would skyrocket in part because their next three opponents -- all within the AFC -- currently have a combined record of 13-26.
Table inside Article
NFC bubble teams Playoff % If Win If Lose
8. Rams (6-7) 33% 44% 11%
9. Seahawks (6-7) 19% 37% 7%
10. Falcons (6-7) 37% 49% 18%
11. Saints (6-7) 39% 46% 19%
  • The Seahawks, currently on a four-game skid, have the toughest road of the NFC bubble teams. They've already been knocked out of the NFC West race and lost both of their games against the Rams, who currently sit ahead of them in the conference standings. Seattle has minimal room for error and a daunting upcoming schedule that includes a Week 15 prime-time matchup with the 10-3 Eagles.
  • With a loss to the Commanders on Sunday, the Rams' playoff probability would plummet 22 percentage points -- the largest potential drop of any NFC bubble team.

So you're saying there's a chance ...

(Teams with less than 10% probability to earn a playoff spot.)

Table inside Article
AFC Fringe Teams Playoff %
12. Chargers (5-8) 2%
13. Raiders (5-8) 2%
14. Jets (5-8) <1%
15. Titans (5-8) 2%
  • Despite head-to-head losses against both the Raiders and Chargers, and a conference record that's tied for the worst (3-6), the Jets have the most favorable final four games of the fringe teams. In fact, they're tied with the Browns for the fourth most favorable remaining strength of schedule of any AFC team.

AFC teams eliminated from playoff contention:

  • New England Patriots (3-10)
Table inside Article
NFC Fringe Teams Playoff %
12. Giants (5-8) 4%
13. Bears (5-8) 6%
14. Commanders (4-9) <1%
15. Cardinals (3-10) <1%
  • Both the Bears and Giants have sprung to life over the last few weeks, with Chicago winning three of their last four games and New York on a three-game run. Although the Bears currently sit below New York in the NFC standings, they have a slightly higher shot of earning a playoff spot in part because of their remaining schedule (opponents' win %: .442 vs. .615).
  • The Commanders enter Week 15 with a 1 in 10,000 chance of making the playoffs.

NFC teams eliminated from playoff contention:

  • Carolina Panthers (1-12)

Who's most likely to win each division?

Table inside Article
AFC East Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Dolphins (9-4) 82% NYJ, DAL, at BAL, BUF
2. Bills (7-6) 18% DAL, at LAC, NE, at MIA
  • The Bills have head-to-head losses against both the Broncos and Bengals, hurting their overall postseason chances. However, Tennessee's upset of Miami on Monday night re-opened the door for Buffalo to contend for the AFC East crown. The Bills will need to stack wins and hope the Dolphins slip up again for their Week 18 matchup to have division stakes.
Table inside Article
AFC North Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Ravens (10-3) 86% at JAX, at SF, MIA, PIT
2. Browns (8-5) 10% CHI, at HOU, NYJ, at CIN
3. Steelers (7-6) 3% at IND, CIN, at SEA, at BAL
4. Bengals (7-6) <1% MIN, at PIT, at KC, CLE
  • The Ravens have the hardest final four games of any team in the league based on their opponents' combined win percentage (.654), so despite their two-game lead over the Browns, they still have work to do to take the North. All four teams are technically still in this race, though the Bengals are hanging on by a thread: Cincinnati currently has just a 28 in 10,000 chance of completing the division three-peat.
Table inside Article
AFC South Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Jaguars (8-5) >79% BAL, at TB, CAR, at TEN
2. Colts (7-6) 12% PIT, at ATL, LV, HOU
3. Texans (7-6) 8% at TEN, CLE, TEN, at IND
4. Titans (5-8) <1% HOU, SEA, at HOU, at JAX
  • With only one game separating the Jaguars, Colts and Texans in the standings, this race won't be decided for at least another week. However, Jacksonville's 4-1 record in the division -- including a season sweep of the Colts -- gives them a healthy advantage down the stretch. That, plus only one game left against a team with a winning record -- Baltimore in Week 15 -- has the Jaguars in line to win back-to-back AFC South titles for the first time in the (relatively) short history of the team and the division.
  • The Titans' odds of taking the division might be slim, but they have a ton of spoiler potential. Among their final four games: two against the Texans and what could be a very meaningful Week 18 bout with the Jags.
Table inside Article
AFC West Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Chiefs (8-5) 86% at NE, LV, CIN, at LAC
2. Broncos (7-6) 13% at DET, NE, LAC, at LV
3. Chargers (5-8) <1% at LV, BUF, at DEN, KC
4. Raiders (5-8) <1% LAC, at KC, at IND, DEN
  • The Chiefs' multiple heart-breaking losses this season might have hindered their shot at the No. 1 seed, but they haven't significantly jeopardized the team's chances of winning an eighth straight AFC West title. The model currently has Kansas City with the third-best odds among the eight current leaders to maintain its division lead.
  • The Chargers and Raiders, who meet on Thursday night, both currently have about an 80 out of 10,000 chance of overtaking the Chiefs atop the West.
Table inside Article
NFC East Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Cowboys (10-3) 40% at BUF, at MIA, DET, at WAS
2. Eagles (10-3) 60% at SEA, NYG, ARI, at NYG
  • While the Cowboys currently hold the division lead, the Eagles are projected to reclaim the top spot in part because their schedule is significantly more favorable: The Eagles enter Week 15 tied for the easiest remaining strength of schedule (.365), while the Cowboys rank 23rd (.558).
Table inside Article
NFC North Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Lions (9-4) 76% DEN, at MIN, at DAL, MIN
2. Vikings (7-6) 21% at CIN, DET, GB, at DET
3. Packers (6-7) 3% TB, at CAR, at MIN, CHI
  • Although the Bears have been eliminated from division contention, their upset over the Lions in Week 14 gave the Vikings a chance to control this race entering the season's final quarter: With two of their final four games against Detroit, the Vikings can clinch back-to-back NFC titles by winning out.
Table inside Article
NFC South Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) 37% at GB, JAX, NO, at CAR
2. Atlanta Falcons (6-7) 32% at CAR, IND, at CHI, at NO
3. New Orleans Saints (6-7) 31% NYG, at LAR, at TB, ATL
  • As open-ended a division race as we've seen in recent years, the NFC South could easily come down to the wire. All three teams still in contention rank among the top 10 in terms of most favorable remaining schedules, with Atlanta tied for first (.365). And while the Saints currently have the lowest probability for winning the South, they also arguably have the most control -- with games against both Atlanta and Tampa remaining on their calendar.
Table inside Article
NFC West Division % Remaining Opponents
1. 49ers (10-3) >99% at ARI, BAL, at WAS, LAR
2. Rams (6-7) <1% WAS, NO, at NYG, at SF
  • The Rams win the NFC West in just 11 of 10,000 simulations. For one of those 11 scenarios to come to fruition, San Francisco would have to lose out, and the Rams would have to win out -- which would include beating the 49ers on the road in Week 18.

Mike Band, Ali Bhanpuri and Tom Blair contributed to this story.

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