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Dolphins-Ravens Is The Biggest Game Of Week 13

We’re entering the last five weeks of the NFL season, and after this week, there are no more regular-season byes. But the two teams sitting out — the Browns and Titans — aren’t exactly huge players in the playoff hunt. So of the 15 games that will be played this week, which ones actually matter?

Last week we used the model behind our 2016 NFL predictions to calculate how much each team’s playoff chances “swing” depending on the outcome of each game. For example, we currently give the Buffalo Bills a 27 percent chance of making the playoffs. If they beat Oakland this week, we project those chances will increase to 49 percent (independent of other games). If they lose, their chances drop to 12 percent.1 That’s a 37 percentage point swing! By doing this same math for every matchup and factoring in how each team’s resulting record will affect others’ playoff odds, we can find out which games are the most impactful. Here are the top five for Week 13:

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CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF MIA WINS IF BAL WINS SWING
Miami 35% 53% 20% 34
Baltimore 34 18 48 29
Pittsburgh 67 78 58 20
Buffalo 27 21 31 10
Denver 51 46 55 9
Oakland 88 86 90 3
Kansas City 93 91 94 2
Cincinnati 3 4 2 2
1. Miami (7-4) vs. Baltimore (6-5) — 115 total ‘swing’ points

Only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome shown

With a lot of season left, the AFC Wild Card is already down to a four-way (or five-way, depending on how you’re counting) race. Denver, Miami and Buffalo are in the hunt and have very low chances of winning their respective divisions. And whichever of Oakland and Kansas City fails to win the AFC West is in line for the first wild-card slot.

If the season ended today, Miami (on a six-game winning streak) would take the second slot on tiebreak. But our projections still think they’re a much worse team than the defending-champion Broncos, who have the same 7-4 record. A minor upset at Baltimore would go a long way toward shoring up the Dolphins’ playoff odds.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF NYG WINS IF PIT WINS SWING
Pittsburgh 67% 49% 77% 28
N.Y. Giants 73 90 63 26
Baltimore 34 48 27 20
Washington 52 48 54 6
Minnesota 49 45 50 5
Cincinnati 3 6 1 4
Tampa Bay 27 25 29 4
Detroit 71 69 73 4
2. N.Y. Giants (8-3) vs. Pittsburgh (6-5) — 110 total ‘swing’ points

Only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome shown

The famous 2004 QB draft class is alive and well, as Eli Manning battles Ben Roethlisberger in Week 13 with playoffs on the line. (Fellow 2004 draftee Philip Rivers and his Chargers are donezo for the third straight season with just a 2 percent chance of making the playoffs.) The Giants are starting to look a bit like their 2007 and 2011 selves, so forward-thinking New England fans may want to root for the Steelers.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF HOU WINS IF GB WINS SWING
Houston 70% 85% 61% 24
Green Bay 17 6 24 17
Indianapolis 19 11 23 12
Tennessee 13 7 17 10
Detroit 71 76 69 7
Minnesota 49 52 46 6
3. Houston (6-5) vs. Green Bay (5-6) — 83 total ‘swing’ points

Only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome shown

Another inter-conference battle, the Texans-Packers game will go a long way to determining the winner of both the AFC South and NFC North. According to our Elo ratings, the Texans are the ninth-worst team in the NFL, but luckily for them, they’re in the NFL’s worst division. The Packers are the best team Houston will face for the rest of the year — and the Packers aren’t even that good! — so a win here brings Houston’s chances all the way up to 85 percent.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF WSH WINS IF ARI WINS SWING
Washington 52% 74% 36% 38
Arizona 5 1 9 8
N.Y. Giants 73 68 76 7
Minnesota 49 45 51 6
Tampa Bay 27 24 29 5
Detroit 71 69 73 4
Philadelphia 8 6 9 3
Atlanta 87 85 88 2
4. Washington (6-4-1) vs. Arizona (4-6-1) — 83 total ‘swing’ points

Only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome shown

Arizona’s playoff odds are down to just 5 percent, so the “swing” of this game is mostly driven by Washington.2 Basically the entire NFC is rooting for Arizona here, and this game makes a non-negligible difference to the playoff odds of the Giants, Vikings, Buccaneers, Lions, Eagles and Falcons.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF DAL WINS IF MIN WINS SWING
Minnesota 49% 31% 69% 39
Detroit 71 76 66 9
Washington 52 55 48 8
Green Bay 17 21 13 8
N.Y. Giants 73 75 71 4
Tampa Bay 27 28 26 3
5. Dallas (10-1) vs. Minnesota (6-5) — 80 total ‘swing’ points

Only teams with a playoff swing of at least 2 percentage points based on the game outcome shown

Dallas still has a lot to play for — we give them an 86 percent chance of securing a first-round bye — but at 10-1, they’ve all but clinched a playoff spot, and this game won’t really affect their chances there. But Minnesota’s playoff hopes have been in freefall. With a 5-0 record going into Week 7, we gave them a 94 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s now down to 49 percent, and would drop to 31 percent with a loss to the Cowboys. Our pre-game odds have that matchup as essentially a coin flip, but they give Dallas a slight edge.


VIDEO: Ohio State’s chances are better than most

Footnotes

  1. Our NFL predictions are based on 100,000 simulations of the rest of the season and are updated after every game ends. In the simulations in which Buffalo beats Oakland, they make the playoffs 49 percent of the time. In simulations where they lose, they make the playoffs 12 percent of the time. But it’s unlikely that Buffalo’s playoff probabilities will be exactly 49 percent or exactly 12 percent at the end of Week 13, because the team’s chances depend on the outcome of several games, not just their own.
  2. You may have noticed that Houston-Green Bay and Washington-Arizona both have a “swing” total of 83 points. That number is rounded, but we use a little more precision when we determine the rankings, and Texans-Packers is the (very slightly) more impactful game.

Reuben Fischer-Baum is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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