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NFL playoffs: Which remaining AFC/NFC teams are most likely to win Super Bowl LVIII?

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.

I'd like to offer a quick personal note after the conclusion of Super Wild Card Weekend, if I may. The Detroit Lions' first home playoff victory in 32 years -- which also snapped what had been the NFL's longest drought for a franchise between playoff wins -- had a very personal impact on me and my heart, given my upbringing in Michigan and lifelong love of the Lions. It reminded me that analytics isn't about removing heart or grit from the equation -- it's about augmenting that human element. Analytics provide a framework to get the best and most out of players, play-calls, clock-management decisions and personnel strategy. No, you can't measure will or heart, but you can help create a system that emphasizes strengths and minimizes weaknesses.

OK, getting off my soapbox. I just wanted to make sure we all are on the same page. Using data is both a form of heart and art, and I cried big ol' tears and laughed with my whole belly and my heart felt joy when the clock went to 0:00 and the score read Lions 24-23.

With all that being said, we're on to the Divisional Round. I just finished my first round of 1,000,000 simulations for each of this weekend's four Divisional Round games, which helps show the most probable outcome in terms of which teams will win as well as help outline what it would take for upsets to occur.

I've also updated my Super Bowl probabilities for the eight remaining teams and provided my assessment of a few key areas and tendencies that forecast to impact this weekend's games the most. Let's dig in!

What else do my models project? See Super Bowl odds -- along with some interesting data points -- for each of the eight teams still remaining:

NOTE: The odds cited below are provided by Caesars Sportsbook and current as of 2:45 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

Win SB:
San Francisco 49ers
Win NFC: 49.1%

NFC NO. 1 SEED | 12-5

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +170
  • Odds to win NFC: -200

Niners fans, you are sitting pretty, with your team's odds of winning the Super Bowl increasing by 7.6 percentage points from last week, even while San Francisco enjoyed a week off. That is the biggest jump between the beginning of the playoffs and the Divisional Round in the eight seasons I am patient enough to check. 


One thing to note for San Francisco's matchup with Green Bay: The Niners ranked 18th in yards allowed after the catch over expectation (259) in the regular season. Shoring up the pass defense will be key against a youthful Packers attack that ranked 13th in the NFL in that category (292).

Win SB:
Baltimore Ravens
Win AFC: 40.4%

AFC NO. 1 SEED | 13-4

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +290
  • Odds to win AFC: +115

While the Ravens were resting, their playoff path became easier, thanks to losses by AFC North rivals Cleveland and Pittsburgh, with the Browns' exit specifically increasing Baltimore's odds to win the AFC. Add in the return of tight end Mark Andrews from an ankle injury that kept him sidelined over the team's final six games, and things get even better for the Ravens. 


One thing to note about the Texans, whom Baltimore will face in the Divisional Round: They are great at limiting yards after the catch over expectation. Next Gen Stats shows that in the regular season, Houston allowed just 130 YACOE, which ranked fourth. For context, the 16th-ranked team (the Eagles) allowed 233.

Win SB:
Buffalo Bills
Win AFC: 28.8%

AFC NO. 2 SEED | 12-6

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +500
  • Odds to win AFC: +230

Against the Steelers on Monday, the Bills defense logged a pressure rate of 57.1%, which was the highest rate by any team on Super Wild Card Weekend and a significant increase over Buffalo's regular-season mark (35.8%, 15th-best in the NFL). Perhaps even more impactful, though, was Josh Allen's performance despite being under pressure on 41.2% of his dropbacks (the third-highest rate faced by any QB on the weekend, and also an uptick from Allen's regular-season rate of 31.4%); Allen still managed to throw for three TDs against zero interceptions. Since Joe Brady took over as offensive coordinator in November, the Bills' use of heavier formations (more offensive linemen) and an increase in rushing efficiency has created fewer opportunities for turnovers, with Allen committing just eight (seven picks, one fumble lost) in that eight-game span, compared to 14 (11 picks, three fumbles lost) in his 10 previous games this season. 

Allen's 52-yard TD run -- the longest rush of his career and the longest rush in Bills postseason history, carrying a tiny (0.2%) chance of resulting in a touchdown -- was really fun. But there were even better signs for Buffalo's success moving forward in the playoffs: The team totaled 179 rushing yards and four more rushes of 10-plus yards, while all three ball carriers earned positive RYOE. 


In Sunday's upcoming matchup with the Chiefs, the health at the linebacker level of Buffalo's defense is going to be extremely important. Terrel Bernard, (ankle injury), Baylon Spector (back injury) and corner Christian Benford (knee injury) all exited the win over Pittsburgh, and Matt Milano (knee injury) last played in Week 5. Given the problems that Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce can cause, plus the challenge of containing Isiah Pacheco, that middle level will be a huge key to this matchup (as will the ability of the cornerbacks to handled Rashee Rice).

Win SB:
Kansas City Chiefs
Win AFC: 25.7%

AFC NO. 3 SEED | 12-6

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +700
  • Odds to win conference: +310

In the frigid cold against the Dolphins, Chiefs receiver Rashee Rice became the first rookie in NFL history to have eight-plus receptions and 130-plus yards in a playoff game. (He added a TD.) Isiah Pacheco was also very effective, logging 75-plus scrimmage yards for the fifth time in his past six games, while Travis Kelce extended his streak of playoff games with at least 70 yards to 10. 

Patrick Mahomes faced Cover 0 on 41.9% of his dropbacks on Saturday, the highest rate in a game in his career, and his performance took a notable hit: Mahomes completed seven of 18 passes for 74 yards with a passer rating of 51.6 against Cover 0, while being pressured 10 times. On all other dropbacks, Mahomes completed 16 of 23 passes for 188 yards with a passer rating of 108.6, while being pressured five times. The absence of Miami's top three edge rushers likely drove this strategy. But it's worth wondering if others will learn something about the effectiveness of the approach taken by the Dolphins, who logged a blitz rate of 48.8% after Mahomes was blitzed in the regular season at a league-low rate of 20.3%. 


The Chiefs defense has been the team's strong suit all season, and Super Wild Card Weekend was no exception. Of their 13 total pressures, six were classified as quick pressures, which goes to show that they knew their assignment versus the Dolphins' quick-passing QB, Tua Tagovailoa, and executed well. 


One area Kansas City must account for heading into the Divisional Round matchup with Buffalo is the run game, on both sides. The Bills ranked first in rushing EPA in the regular season with a robust mark of 33.3, while the Chiefs ranked fifth, but with a relatively paltry figure of -0.7 (only four teams had positive rushing EPA in the regular season). As unsexy as it may sound, it's possible that the team that runs best wins. 

Win SB:
Detroit Lions
Win NFC: 29.5%

NFC NO. 3 SEED | 13-5

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +850
  • Odds to win NFC: +330

Jared Goff went a perfect 21 for 21 on passes when he wasn’t under pressure against the Rams, throwing for 266 yards and a touchdown. He had a 1 in 372 chance of completing all 21 of those throws, per NGS. When Goff was pressured, though, he was just 1 for 6 for 11 yards and took three sacks. His performance on Sunday was consistent with what we saw during the regular season, when he had a 52.2-point difference in passer rating while pressured versus not pressured (115.1 to 62.9). The Lions O-line did post the second-best win-share of any unit during the regular season, with RT Penei Sewell ranking No. 1 in run-blocking win-share. So how that unit holds up against a blitz-heavy Bucs squad will definitely be something to watch this weekend.

On defense, second-year pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson generated a game-high seven pressures against the Rams, and he now has a league-best 15 games with five or more pressures this season. 

If the Lions want to advance to Championship Sunday, they need to patch up their pass defense -- and fast. Detroit allowed a league-worst 103 explosive passes (16+ yards) during the regular season -- five more than the next closest team -- and ranked 28th in passing EPA allowed (9.4). Consistent pressure from Hutchinson will surely help the Lions' secondary, but Aaron Glenn and Co. will likely need to implement a few other solutions, as well.

Win SB:
Green Bay Packers
Win NFC: 9.9%

NFC NO. 7 SEED | 10-8

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +3000
  • Odds to win NFC: +1000

How many people expected Jordan Love to become the first player since at least 1950 to post a passer rating of 150-plus (157.2) in a road playoff game while playing in Dallas? Another shocker: This was the first game since Dan Quinn became coordinator in 2021 in which no Cowboys defender managed multiple pressures, and that was after a regular season in which Micah Parsons paced the NFL with 99 pressures! Credit the Packers' QB, his coach and the surrounding cast for pulling off that incredible feat. The Packers defense also did its part, turning to a split-safety shell look at a rate of 72.5% (up from a regular-season rate of 35.9%), stifling Dak Prescott with an approach he was vulnerable to in the regular season. Yes, one of the Packers' two picks came in man, but changing their tendencies surely interfered with Prescott's rhythm, especially early on. 


Against the Niners, the Packers have to keep the pressures coming (they had 21 against Dallas, with four sacks), and they must keep pressure off of Love (he was pressured four times total Sunday).

Win SB:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Win NFC: 11.5%

NFC NO. 4 SEED | 10-8

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +3000
  • Odds to win NFC: +1000

The Bucs blitzed at the third highest rate the NFL in the regular season, and they apparently recognized blitzing as a sound strategy against Jalen Hurts, because they deployed the highest blitz rate (53.8%) of Super Wild Card Weekend in their win over Philly. In addition to disrupting the pass game, the defense contacted Eagles ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage on 64.3% of designed runs, easily the highest mark by any Philadelphia opponent in 2023 (no one in the regular season was able to do this at a rate above 47.4%). Oh, and not for nothing, the Bucs stopped the tush push, which felt symbolic. 

On offense, Baker Mayfield completed 17 of 22 passes of less than 10 air yards for 233 yards and two TDs, and he completed five of 13 attempts of 10-plus air yards, for 104 yards and a TD. All three of his TDs came against the Eagles' man coverage. The Bucs also had 219 YAC, which was more than they managed in any regular-season game. David Moore earned 36 of those on his 44-yard TD, and Cade Otton picked up 56 on his eight reception for the night. 

Tampa's upcoming Divisional Round opponent, the Lions, played man on around one third of their defensive snaps in the regular season, ranking 18th in YAC allowed in man coverage, giving up 22 TDs against just three INTs. They were much better in zone, which they were in (played that about 66 percent of the time) with only six TDs allowed and 13 INTs, ranking eighth in YAC allowed. 


One area the Bucs could address in this matchup is the run game. This isn't news, but rushing success is quite strongly correlated with wins. In the regular season, Tampa ranked 32nd in RYOE (-237), logging 10-plus RYOE on just eight rushes (also 32nd).

Win SB:
Houston Texans
Win AFC: 5.1%

AFC NO. 4 SEED | 11-7

  • Odds to win Super Bowl: +3000
  • Odds to win AFC: +1300

NGS shows that C.J. Stroud generated +14.4 passing EPA on 21 dropbacks in his playoff debut, the second-highest mark by any rookie QB in the NGS era. Remember, Stroud accomplished that against a Browns defense that ranked first against the pass in the regular season. Cleveland also featured three of the NFL's top five cornerbacks, as measured by regular-season coverage success (minimum of 40 targets): Denzel Ward (second in the NFL with a success rate of 68.3%), Greg Newsome II (third, 67.2%) and Martin Emerson (fourth, 67.1%). 

Dealing with the pressure brought by the Ravens, who topped the NFL in both pressures (283) and sacks (60) in the regular season, is going to be one of the biggest keys of the Houston's Divisional Round matchup with Baltimore. To that end, it's worth noting that Stroud was 4 of 7 passing for 109 yards with two TDs on the run in Saturday's win over Cleveland. As for Houston's ground game, Devin Singletary recorded +23 rush yards over expected (more than he did in any regular-season game) on 13 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, with a per-carry mark of 5.1 yards. And that was against a Browns defense ranked fourth-best in EPA allowed against the run in the regular season.


One note on the Texans' defense: Houston generated 21 pressures against Cleveland, more than any team on Super Wild Card Weekend besides the Bills. Will Anderson Jr. was responsible for seven of those, tying him for the second-most by a rookie in a playoff game since 2016. If there's one thing Houston must address in the matchup with the Ravens, it's a lack of performance against play-action passes; the Texans allowed the most yards per attempt (10.4) on play-action passes in the NFL in the regular season, exactly the same as the Ravens' league-best average on play-action passes when on offense (10.4). 

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