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NFL playoffs: Which AFC/NFC teams are most likely to hit Super Bowl LVIII? Who'll lift Lombardi Trophy?

NFL franchises use contextualized data to create competitive advantages. In order to realize an edge, teams need to employ the right data in the right way at the right time. This means distilling, interpreting and applying only the most influential data in a framework that accounts for personnel, opponents and evolving game situations. My goal is to be YOUR analytics department. I want to work for you by providing a peek into which numbers flag in my models as the most impactful ... or the most misunderstood.

As always, let me know if your eye test is picking up on something interesting, or if there's a stat/trend you'd like me to take a deeper look at. You can hit me up on X @CFrelund. As with any great analytics department, the more collaborative this is, the more value we can create.

Once again, it's time to wish you a happy postseason!

As I've done in previous years, I'm projecting which of the 14 teams in the 2023 NFL playoffs are most likely to appear in -- and win -- Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas on Feb. 11. Before we get to the projections, though, here are some of my key takeaways:

  1. In the AFC, three teams have at least an 18.4% chance of making the conference title game, and the difference between them is about 20 percentage points (38.5% for the Ravens, 25.4% for the Bills and 18.4% for the Chiefs). In the NFC, the Niners have set themselves further apart from the field, holding an advantage of about 20 percentage points over the second most likely team (40.4% for the Niners and 20.5% for the Cowboys).
  2. For fun, I modeled out what would happen to the NFC if the 49ers were to lose their first playoff game. In that case, the Cowboys only edge out the Lions in 2.1% of simulations. I did the same for the Ravens, to see how a Divisional Round loss for Baltimore would affect the AFC field, and the Bills' odds increased the most, by about 11 percentage points. The impact of home-field advantage drives some of that.

What else do my models project? See Super Bowl odds -- along with some interesting data points -- for each of the 14 dance participants:

NOTE: The odds cited below are provided by Caesars Sportsbook and current as of 12:35 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Win SB:
San Francisco 49ers
Win NFC: 40.4%

NFC NO. 1 SEED | 12-5

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +205
  • Odds to win NFC: -140

The 49ers' balanced, complementary and exceptional profile drives their league-high odds to both reach and win the Super Bowl. The defense is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks, having logged the second-most QB pressures (274) in the NFL in 2023, per Next Gen Stats. The pass rush just got home, whether it took a long time (the Niners had 122 extended pressures, seventh-most in the NFL) or a little (they posted a league-best 25 quick pressures). This helps explain why the Niners also had the third-best mark in pass EPA in the league (-120.9). On offense, not only did Christian McCaffrey pace the NFL field in rushing yards over expectation (349), but he finished with 70 more than the next-closest player. OK, I need to save a few great Niners stats for next week's Divisional Round, when they are actually going to play. Suffice to say, the list is long.

Win SB:
Baltimore Ravens
Win AFC: 38.5%

AFC NO. 1 SEED | 13-4

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +330
  • Odds to win AFC: +130

As with the Niners, the Ravens succeeded in many facets of the game in 2023 -- and I need to save some observations for next week. In the meantime, here are some of my favorites: 

  • Baltimore boasted the NFL's third-best defensive success rate against the pass (61.5%). 
  • Lamar Jackson recorded a career-high scramble rate (13.2%, highest among all QBs) while also completing more passes than expected (+0.7 percent) inside the tackle box for the first time in his career.
Win SB:
Buffalo Bills
Win AFC: 25.4%

AFC NO. 2 SEED | 11-6

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +650
  • Odds to win AFC: +270

The Bills finished the season with the NFL's highest run-success rate (46.9%). Rookie Dalton Kincaid, meanwhile, became the first Bills player to rank in the top 10 among tight ends in yards after the catch (326) since the Josh Allen era began in 2018. On defense, injuries hit hard in 2023 -- but DaQuan Jones made a well-timed return to the lineup in Week 17. Overall, Buffalo's 54 sacks ranked fourth in the NFL, while the team's 18 interceptions tied for third most. One player note: Ed Oliver's 60 pressures ranked eighth among DTs, with 9.5 of those resulting in sacks. 

Win SB:
Kansas City Chiefs
Win AFC: 18.4%

AFC NO. 3 SEED | 11-6

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +1000
  • Odds to win conference: +480

The Chiefs' defense was a real bright spot this season, finishing with the fourth-best success rate against the pass (59.9%) and allowing just 2 measly yards after the catch over expected, which was the best mark in the NFL. Between Weeks 1 and 17 (because many starters didn't play in Week 18, I'm taking out the muddy data produced by that game), Kansas City recorded a defensive pass EPA of -107.3, fourth-best in the league. In that same span, K.C. had the most unblocked pressures (73) and the second-most sacks (54). Over the entire season, Chris Jones' average get-off time of 0.81 seconds was the fastest among DTs with 600-plus defensive snaps. Last one: L'Jarius Sneed has not allowed a TD as the nearest defender since Week 15 ... of 2022.

Win SB:
Dallas Cowboys
Win NFC: 20.5%

NFC NO. 2 SEED | 12-5

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +700
  • Odds to win NFC: +300

On throws that traveled past the sticks this season, Dak Prescott led the league in passing TDs (30) and total EPA (+145.4) and ranked second in completion percentage over expected (+8.9%). It’s helpful that the Cowboys' offensive line and their scheme appear to have held up; Prescott was pressured at the second-lowest rate (28.4 percent) among those with 500-plus pass attempts. As for the defense, the Cowboys ranked second in the NFL in quick pressures (144), with Micah Parsons accounting for a league-best 62 of those. Parsons also led the NFL in overall pressures (99) despite being double-teamed at the highest rate (21.4%) among edge rushers with 70-plus pressures. 

Win SB:
Detroit Lions
Win NFC: 16.5%

NFC NO. 3 SEED | 12-5

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +2200
  • Odds to win NFC: +950

The story of this team is one of explosive plays: The Lions will succeed for however long the offense can rack 'em up faster than the defense hands them out. In the regular season, Detroit gave up more explosive pass plays (103 passes of 16-plus yards) than anyone else (no other team topped 100). That said, the offense ranked fourth in passer rating on downfield passes (116.7 on throws of 10-plus air yards). Rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs also tied for the third-most rushes of 10-plus yards (13) in the league, despite being eased into his workload early on. 

Win SB:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Win NFC: 11.1%

NFC NO. 4 SEED | 9-8

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +8000
  • Odds to win NFC: +4000

It's not an advanced stat, but let's take a moment to remember Baker Mayfield recording a perfect passer rating at Lambeau Field in Week 15 -- a very fun moment that was not on my 2023 season bingo card. My favorite NGS note related to this team: Devin White generated a league-high 20 unblocked QB pressures this season. In other words, look out on Monday, Jalen Hurts!

Win SB:
Cleveland Browns
Win AFC: 8.2%

AFC NO. 5 SEED | 11-6

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +2800
  • Odds to win AFC: +1300

First the fun stuff on offense: Amari Cooper generated +235 receiving yards over expected on deep routes this season, the most in the NFL. David Njoku led all NFL tight ends with 618 yards after contact. And soon-to-be 39-year-old Joe Flacco threw for the third-most yards (234) and tied for the most TD passes (three) on the run between Week 13 and Week 17. Now for the stats that bear a stronger relation to wins: The pass defense leads the NFL with -195 EPA and a 66.1% defensive success rate. I will touch on this more in the Eagles blurb below, but defensive efficiencies have become more important this season, and the Browns have exemplified this. 

Win SB:
Miami Dolphins
Win AFC: 5%

AFC NO. 6 SEED | 11-6

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +1700
  • Odds to win AFC: +800

There were promising signs for the Dolphins in 2023. Tua Tagovailoa was pressured at the lowest rate in the league (25.4%), which had a lot to do with how fast he got the ball out of his hands. Tagovailoa racked up 1,199 yds on quick (under 2.5 seconds) passes of 10-plus air yards this season, which is the most in the NGS era. On defense, Miami finished the regular season with the third-most pressures (266). So what's with the low probability that they'll escape the AFC, let alone reach the Super Bowl? I'm going to put this in bold: Injuries drove their chances of winning the conference down. When I run the model presuming a fully healthy squad for Miami, the figure more than triples. The Dolphins might simply be dealing with more injuries than they can overcome at this point. 

Win SB:
Philadelphia Eagles
Win NFC: 4.9%

NFC NO. 5 SEED | 11-6

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +1800
  • Odds to win NFC: +800

In my model, defensive efficiencies correlated more strongly to wins in 2023 than in any of the previous three seasons. So if the Eagles want to make a deep postseason run, they will have to improve against the pass. Philly allowed the fourth-highest passer rating (97.6), the second-most passing TDs (35) and the fourth-most explosive pass plays (96 passes of 16-plus yards allowed) this season. The good news is that NGS shows the Eagles having some success in the quick-passing game on offense, with a 78.7% completion rate (second-best) and 6.6 yards per attempt (tied for fourth-best) on such throws. If the offense can be effective in that realm and the defense tamps down on the explosive pass plays, they will give themselves the best chance to succeed.

Win SB:
Los Angeles Rams
Win NFC: 4.8%

NFC NO. 6 SEED | 10-7

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +5000
  • Odds to win NFC: +2200

It's hard to overstate the impact that rookies have had on the Rams in their return to the postseason. Puka Nacua, of course, had a debut for the ages, breaking rookie receiving records and proving himself to be a potent running mate for Cooper Kupp. And there is a pretty legitimate case to be made for at least considering Kobie Turner as the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Turner led all rookies in sacks (nine) despite carrying a double-team rate of 54.1%.

Win SB:
Houston Texans
Win AFC: 2.8%

AFC NO. 4 SEED | 10-7

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +5000
  • Odds to win AFC: +2200

Houston's turnaround happened a lot faster than I'd forecasted for a team that picked second and third overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, but hats off to the coaching staff -- as well as to probable Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud (drafted with that second pick) and to my pick for Defensive Rookie of the Year, Will Anderson Jr. (drafted with the third). Oh, and I'm looking forward to happily drafting Nico Collins high in my fantasy drafts next season. In terms of NGS figures, I want to point out that the Texans defense ranks No. 4 in rushing success rate (64.1%), which is a massive change from last season, when they ranked 28th (53.2%).

Win SB:
Green Bay Packers
Win NFC: 1.8%

NFC NO. 7 SEED | 9-8

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +10000
  • Odds to win NFC: +4500

Green Bay fans have got to be feeling pretty good about a playoff appearance that offers nothing but upside, even if the team doesn't make a deep run. Given that the Packers have the youngest receiving corps in the NFL, it would have been fair to assume they wouldn't pull it together in time to earn a postseason berth in 2023. Instead, Jordan Love broke out; he threw the second-most TD passes beyond the sticks (24). Whatever happens going forward, the defense could use some help this offseason. The Packers ranked 28th in defensive success rate against the pass (53.3%), proving especially vulnerable against first-down passes (43.7% success rate, worst in the NFL).

Win SB:
Pittsburgh Steelers
Win AFC: 1.7%

AFC NO. 7 SEED | 10-7

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +12500
  • Odds to win AFC: +6000

The absence of NFL sack leader T.J. Watt (19 sacks) will be massive as Pittsburgh faces Buffalo on Super Wild Card weekend. But there are bright spots to consider: Over the three games that Mason Rudolph started to close out the regular season, Najee Harris went on a heater. In Week 18, Harris logged 112 yards and a TD with +14 rushing yards over expected, capping off three straight games with positive RYOE.

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