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Broncos-Titans Is The Biggest Game Of Week 14

The NFL has its first playoff team! While the 11-1 Cowboys don’t quite have a lock on the NFC East title, they will at least make it as a wild card. They’ll now be playing for a bye and home-field advantage while the rest of the league fights for the remaining playoff spots.

For the last couple weeks, we’ve been using 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 Pittsburgh Steelers a 67 percent chance of making the playoffs. If they beat Buffalo this week, we project those chances will increase to 84 percent (independent of other games). If they lose, their chances drop to 53 percent.1 That’s a 31 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 14:

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF DEN WINS IF TEN WINS SWING
Denver 70% 82% 43% 39
Tennessee 11 4 28 25
Houston 52 55 43 12
Miami 15 12 24 12
Buffalo 10 6 17 10
Indianapolis 39 41 34 7
Baltimore 39 37 43 6
Pittsburgh 67 66 69 3
1. Denver (8-4) vs. Tennessee (6-6) — 119 total ‘swing’ points

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

The Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos all won last week, and we now think it’s pretty likely that the West will take both AFC wild card slots. Tennessee has had a commendable bounceback season, but they’re in a tough playoff situation. The AFC West’s success means that even if the Titans run the table to end the season at 10-6, that might not be enough to make it as a wild card, and their 0-3 record against the Texans and Colts makes it unlikely that they’d win a division tiebreaker. We give them just an 11 percent chance of making the playoffs, much lower than the chances of Green Bay, Minnesota, Indianapolis and Houston, who all share the same 6-6 record.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF HOU WINS IF IND WINS SWING
Houston 52% 87% 32% 55
Indianapolis 39 4 59 55
2. Houston (6-6) vs. Indianapolis (6-6) — 117 total ‘swing’ points

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

As straightforward as it gets. Whichever team wins takes control of the AFC South and gets a big playoff boost. The Titans have an outside chance at the division but don’t really care who wins here.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF NO WINS IF TB WINS SWING
Tampa Bay 55% 24% 70% 46
New Orleans 5 12 1 12
Minnesota 28 33 25 8
N.Y. Giants 65 71 63 8
Washington 39 43 37 6
Green Bay 22 25 21 3
Atlanta 86 88 85 3
Detroit 90 91 89 3
3. New Orleans (5-7) vs. Tampa Bay (7-5) — 95 total ‘swing’ points

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

Tampa Bay is playing meaningful December football! The Buccaneers haven’t had a winning season since 2010, and they’ve come in last in the NFC South for five straight years. But a four-game win streak with upsets against the Chiefs and Seahawks has sent their Elo rating skyrocketing, and they’re now contenders for both the division title (25 percent chance of winning) and an NFC wild card (30 percent chance).

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF WSH WINS IF PHI WINS SWING
Washington 39% 61% 21% 40
Tampa Bay 55 51 58 7
N.Y. Giants 65 62 69 7
Minnesota 28 25 30 6
Green Bay 22 20 25 5
Philadelphia 2 <1 4 4
Atlanta 86 84 87 4
Detroit 90 88 91 3
Arizona 8 7 9 2
4. Washington (6-5-1) vs. Philadelphia (5-7) — 81 total ‘swing’ points

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

Philadelphia has blown a promising season and now has just a 2 percent chance of making the playoffs. Washington is in danger of similar collapse, narrowly falling the last two weeks in winnable games against the Cowboys and Cardinals. They’d be out of the playoffs if the season ended today, and this week Philadelphia has the opportunity to play spoiler and knock another 18 percentage points or so off their rival’s chances.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF BAL WINS IF NE WINS SWING
Baltimore 39% 66% 32% 35
Pittsburgh 67 49 72 23
Denver 70 65 71 6
Miami 15 17 15 2
5. Baltimore (7-5) vs. New England (10-2) — 77 total ‘swing’ points

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

One of the NFL’s best rivalries is heating up again! The Ravens and Steelers both won last week to improve to 7-5. With the AFC West bogarting the wild cards, it’s looking like only one of the two will make the playoffs as AFC North champ. So why do we give the Ravens, who would make the playoffs if the season ended today, just a 39 percent chance of advancing? For one, we have them as nine-point underdogs in Foxborough this week. For another the Steelers still have a game to play against the lowly Browns, plus an opportunity to tie up the season series at home against the Ravens in Week 16.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

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 Pittsburgh beats Buffalo, they make the playoffs 84 percent of the time. In simulations where they lose, they make the playoffs 53 percent of the time. But it’s unlikely that Pittsburgh’s playoff probabilities will be exactly 84 percent or exactly 53 percent at the end of Week 14, because the team’s chances depend on the outcome of several games (most notably Baltimore’s), not just their own.

Reuben Fischer-Baum is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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