Skip to main content

NFL playoff picture: Postseason probabilities entering Week 16 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.

What separates the Next Gen Stats playoff probability model from the rest? During live games, playoff probabilities are dynamically updated every five minutes, incorporating the latest win probabilities from NGS for all ongoing games in every simulation.

A few notes before we dig in:

  1. All probabilities presented are current as of 3:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 19 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.

Jump to:

Playoff picture entering Week 16

Table inside Article
AFC Playoff % If Win If Lose No. 1 seed %
1. Ravens (11-3)  100% 100% 100% 65%
2. Dolphins (10-4)  99% 100% 97% 24%
3. Chiefs (9-5)  98% 100% 93% 9%
4. Jaguars (8-6)  69% 90% 56% 0%
5. Browns (9-5)  86% 99% 78% 2%
6. Bengals (8-6)  47% 66% 20% 0%
7. Colts (8-6) 56% 72% 43% <1%
  • The AFC's No. 1 seed is, for all intents and purposes, a three-team race, with Week 17's Dolphins-Ravens gem potentially deciding the fate of the conference's coveted first-round bye. However, the seventh-seeded Colts, improbably, still have a narrow path -- and we mean two in 10,000 narrow -- to the summit. If the Colts win out, the Ravens lose out, and the Browns, Chiefs and Dolphins all finish 1-2 over their final three games -- with Miami's lone win coming against Baltimore on New Year's Eve -- there'd be a three-way tie for first place. The Colts emerge from that tie on top because they'd have a better conference record than the Ravens (8-4 vs. 7-5) and a better common-games mark than the Dolphins (6-0 vs. 4-2). So while highly unlikely, an (overzealous) examination of the schedule reveals a sliver of hope for Shane Steichen's squad:
    • Dolphins: vs. Cowboys, at Ravens, vs. Bills (Toughest based on SOS)
    • Ravens: at 49ers, vs. Dolphins, vs Steelers (third)
    • Browns: at Texans, vs. Jets, at Bengals (T-17th)
    • Colts: at Falcons, vs. Raiders, vs. Texans (T-19th)
    • Chiefs: vs. Raiders, vs. Bengals, at Chargers (23rd)
Table inside Article
NFC Playoff % If Win If Lose No. 1 seed %
1. 49ers (11-3) 100% 100% 100% 89%
2. Cowboys (10-4) 100% 100% 100% 2%
3. Lions (10-4) >99% 100% >99% 3%
4. Buccaneers (7-7) 73% 84% 59% 0%
5. Eagles (10-4) 100% 100% 100% 6%
6. Vikings (7-7) 54% 78% 39% 0%
7. Rams (7-7)  52% 73% 15% 0%
  • Although three of the seven spots have already been claimed, every team currently in the picture still has something at stake down the stretch. Three division titles, two wild-card spots and the conference's No. 1 seed are still up for grabs; though, the race to the top has become far less enticing after the Eagles' loss to the Seahawks.
  • Week 16 kicks off with a banger on Thursday night, when the seventh-seeded Rams host the ninth-seeded Saints in one of the most consequential matchups of the entire 16-game slate. Although both teams would see their respective playoff probability soar into the 70% range with a win, a loss for the Rams would deal a devastating blow to their playoff chances. In fact, no team comes even close to L.A.'s 58-point playoff leverage this week.

Who's on the bubble?

Table inside Article
AFC Bubble teams Playoff % If Win If Lose
8. Texans (8-6) 53% 72% 30%
9. Bills (8-6) 60% 68% 26%
11. Broncos (7-7) 24% 32% 3%
  • The Bills are as hot as any team in the league right now, but their early-season stumbles (losses to Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Denver) are catching up with them. They're currently fifth among the AFC's five eight-win teams, and thus, will need help to qualify for the tournament. But with games against the reeling Chargers and Patriots on deck, Buffalo has a legitimate opportunity to enter Week 18 seeking its 11th win, a wild-card spot and even a shot at the AFC East title (more on that below).
  • The Broncos, despite being the 11th seed, have a higher playoff percentage than the 10th-seeded Steelers in part because their remaining schedule (Patriots, Chargers, Raiders) is tied for the second-easiest and offers an opportunity to pad their conference record (currently 4-5). Also, they have wins over Cleveland and Buffalo, and they're still technically in play for the AFC West title. All of that said, a loss to New England on Sunday night all but ends Denver's season.
Table inside Article
NFC bubble teams Playoff % If Win If Lose
8. Seahawks (7-7) 51% 64% 29%
9. Saints (7-7) 41% 70% 24%
10. Falcons (6-8) 11% 16% 4%
11. Packers (6-8) 18% 25% 5%
  • Seattle's season-saving fourth-quarter comeback against the Eagles on Monday night altered the entire NFC wild-card race. The 'Hawks entered the weekend with roughly a one in five chance of earning a playoff berth; after improving to 7-7, they're now more than twice as likely to earn a bid. Bad news for the other bubble teams, all of whom saw their playoff probability drop multiple points in the immediate aftermath of the Seahawks' upset.
  • The Packers' inability to protect their house on Sunday dropped them from the NFC's seventh seed to No. 11 in the standings. Their nearly 50-50 playoff probability from a week ago has dwindled to just 18%. Fortunately for Matt LaFleur's club, there's still some hope. The Packers have a comparable conference record with the teams directly ahead of them in the standings, with three NFC opponents -- including the sixth-seeded Vikings -- still on the docket. Plus, Green Bay beat both the Saints and Rams earlier this season, giving the Pack an edge over those two squads IF they end up drawing even with either over the next few weeks.

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 % If Win If Lose
10. Steelers (7-7) 7% 15% <1%
12. Raiders (6-8) 2% 7% 0%
13. Chargers (5-9) 0% 0% 0%
  • Saturday's loss to the Colts crippled the Steelers' postseason outlook, eliminating any semblance of control they once had over their future. Pittsburgh, whose playoff probability is down 26 points since last week, will need several games to break just right to earn a ticket to the dance, starting with a win over the Bengals on Saturday afternoon. From there, Steelers fans will need to throw their support behind the Chargers (against the Bills), the Falcons (against the Colts), the Patriots (against the Broncos) and -- as difficult as it might be to stomach -- the Browns (against the Texans).
  • With three games against teams ahead of them in the AFC standings (at Chiefs, at Colts, Broncos), the Raiders actually have a ton of influence on how the conference's playoff field shakes out. The bevy of eight-win teams leaves Vegas with basically no room for error and in need of a lot of help. But, if it can score an upset at Arrowhead on Christmas, who knows what other holiday miracles could follow.
  • Even with a projected win this weekend, the Chargers didn't earn a playoff berth in any of the 10,000 simulations. Same result when we bumped it up to 100,000. So while L.A. is technically still in it, the model says there isn't a chance.

AFC teams eliminated from playoff contention:

  • Tennessee Titans (5-9)
  • New York Jets (5-9)
  • New England Patriots (3-11)
Table inside Article
NFC Fringe Teams Playoff % If Win If Lose
12. Giants (5-9) <1% 2% 0%
13. Bears (5-9) 1% 2% 0%
  • Although the model hasn't completely ruled out a Giants playoff bid (0.60% isn't zero!), the team's biggest contribution to this season's playoff picture is more likely as a massive spoiler. With two games against the struggling Eagles sandwiched around a matchup with the Rams, the Giants could influence three different postseason races over the final few weeks: the NFC East, NFC Wild Card and the NFC's No. 1 seed.

NFC teams eliminated from playoff contention:

  • Washington Commanders (4-10)
  • Arizona Cardinals (3-11)
  • Carolina Panthers (2-12)

Who's most likely to win each division?

Table inside Article
AFC East Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Dolphins (10-4) 73% DAL, at BAL, BUF
2. Bills (8-6) 27% at LAC, NE, at MIA
  • The Bills took care of business on Sunday, routing the Cowboys to stay alive in both the wild-card and division races. Buffalo has to hope the number it did on Dallas drives the NFC contender to show out in South Beach on Sunday, as Josh Allen & Co. still need Miami to drop at least one of its next two games to have a shot at the AFC East crown in the season finale.
Table inside Article
AFC North Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Ravens (11-3) 93% at SF, MIA, PIT
2. Browns (9-5) 7% at HOU, NYJ, at CIN
  • Baltimore's win on Sunday night knocked out both the Steelers and and Bengals from division contention, but the Browns preserved a modicum of hope with their comeback win against Chicago. They will need a lot of help down the stretch to overtake Baltimore ... and they just might get it: The Ravens have the league's third-toughest remaining strength of schedule (.667). If Cleveland deals a double dose of pain to the Texans on Sunday, and Baltimore loses to the NFC-leading 49ers on Monday, this race could get very interesting.
Table inside Article
AFC South Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Jaguars (8-6) 51% at TB, CAR, at TEN
2. Colts (8-6) 26% at ATL, LV, HOU
3. Texans (8-6) 23% CLE, TEN, at IND
  • The complexion of this race changed dramatically in Week 15, with the Jags dropping their third straight, both the Colts and Texans drawing evening at 8-6, and Trevor Lawrence entering the concussion protocol. Jacksonville still owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Indy and boasts a better division record than Houston (4-1 to 2-2), but Lawrence's availability (and C.J. Stroud's, for that matter) now hang over this race. And while the Jags will likely be favored in their final two games, their Week 16 opponent -- Tampa Bay -- has won three in a row and is in the midst of its own division battle. Jacksonville's grip on the South is as tenuous as it's been in weeks.
Table inside Article
AFC West Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Chiefs (9-5) 97% LV, CIN, at LAC
2. Broncos (7-7) 2% NE, LAC, at LV
4. Raiders (6-8) 1% at KC, at IND, DEN
  • With a two-game lead and just three to play, the Chiefs are overwhelming favorites to win their eighth consecutive division title. A win against the Raiders on Christmas ends this race early.
  • The third-place Raiders can still dethrone Andy Reid's group before the season wraps, but that improbable scenario requires Vegas to close the campaign with three straight wins -- including at Kansas City on Monday and at home against Denver in Week 18 -- and the Chiefs to then also lose in Weeks 17 and 18.
  • Denver's best shot at a playoff berth remains via a wild-card spot. But if the Broncos have any hope of taking the AFC West, they'll have to do the unthinkable in the coming days -- root for the Raiders.
Table inside Article
NFC East Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Cowboys (10-4) 36% at MIA, DET, at WAS
2. Eagles (10-4) 64% NYG, ARI, at NYG
  • Despite Monday's back-breaking last-second loss to the Seahawks, the Eagles are still 2:1 favorites to win the NFC East, mainly because they have the most favorable remaining schedule of any team in the league.
Table inside Article
NFC North Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Lions (10-4) 93% at MIN, at DAL, MIN
2. Vikings (7-7) 7% DET, GB, at DET

The Vikings' overtime loss to the Bengals on Saturday crushed their chances of repeating as NFC North champs. Now, unless they win out and the Lions lose out, Detroit will secure its first division title in 30 years.

Table inside Article
NFC South Division % Remaining Opponents
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7) 64% JAX, NO, at CAR
2. New Orleans Saints (7-7) 29% at LAR, at TB, ATL
3. Atlanta Falcons (6-8) 7% IND, at CHI, at NO
  • With a win this week, the Bucs -- who have already beaten the Saints once this year -- will have the opportunity to lock up the division when they host New Orleans on New Year's Eve.
  • Atlanta, who held the division lead as recently as Week 13, saw its dreams of a home playoff game fizzle when Eddy Pineiro's last-second kick split the uprights last Sunday afternoon. The Falcons' division probability has plummeted 24 percentage points since last week -- the second-most of any team that hasn't yet been eliminated. For a chance to play for the division in Week 18, Atlanta will likely need to win its next two games and see the Saints beat the Bucs in Week 17.


San Francisco 49ers
11-3 · NFC West

Jack Andrade, Mike Band and Ali Bhanpuri contributed to this story.

Related Content