Skip to main content
Menu
Dolphins-Bills Is The Game To Watch In Week 16

Week 16 is a multicultural NFL blowout, with 12 games scheduled for the 24th — the first night of Hanukkah1 — two games scheduled for Christmas Day, and Monday Night Football scheduled for the first night of Kwanzaa. But which of these festive games actually matter?

For the last month, 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 Washington a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs. If they beat Chicago this week, we project those chances will increase to 40 percent (independent of other games). If they lose, their chances drop to 1 percent.2 That’s a 39 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.

But before we get to this week’s key matchups, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the Carolina Panthers’ preposterous playoff path. At 6-8, the defending NFC champions are still technically alive. Using the game-selection feature in our NFL predictions, we figured out what they need to have happen to snag a wild-card slot:

fischerbaum-week16impact-1

That’s right, Carolina’s path to the playoffs requires a tie. It could happen in either Week 16 or 17, but a final record of 7-7-2 for Washington is the same as 8-8 for standings purposes, and a five-way tie between Carolina, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Washington would break to the Panthers due to their 7-5 NFC record.3 A four-way tie where Washington finishes 7-8-1 would eliminate Carolina, as would a six-way tie where the Saints also go 8-8 or a five-way tie that included the New Orleans but not Washington.

So there’s a chance! The Colts, Vikings, Bills and Saints are also near elimination but still have less-outlandish paths to the playoffs — go explore them for yourself on our NFL predictions page. The five biggest games of Week 16 are below.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF MIA WINS IF BUF WINS SWING
Miami 55% 92% 29% 64
Baltimore 28 14 38 24
Denver 17 7 24 17
Pittsburgh 93 88 96 8
Houston 58 55 60 5
Tennessee 45 42 47 4
Buffalo 1 0 2 2
1. Miami (9-5) vs. Buffalo (7-7) — 129 total ‘swing’ points

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

What’s up with Miami? The Dolphins have an average offense and an average defense, and they’ve outscored their opponents this year by a single point (315 to 314). And yet, at 9-5, they’re just a few game outcomes away from the playoffs. If they win in Buffalo, their chances rise to 92 percent; add a Denver loss in Kansas City and they clinch a wild-card spot. If the Dolphins lose this game — and they’re currently 4-point underdogs — their playoff probabilities plummet to 29 percent. No team has a larger potential swing this week.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF TB WINS IF NO WINS SWING
Tampa Bay 42% 74% 15% 60
Detroit 77 65 87 22
Washington 25 16 32 15
Green Bay 57 50 63 13
Minnesota 3 0 6 6
Atlanta 96 94 97 3
2. Tampa Bay (8-6) vs. New Orleans (6-8) — 121 total ‘swing’ points

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

The NFC playoff picture basically splits into four groups. The Cowboys and Seahawks have clinched. The Giants and Falcons have all but clinched. The Vikings, Saints and Panthers, while not mathematically eliminated, are done. That leaves four pretty good teams — Detroit, Green Bay, Washington and Tampa Bay — competing for two playoff spots. The playoff chances of all four will swing dramatically based on the results of this game.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF BAL WINS IF PIT WINS SWING
Baltimore 28% 67% 14% 53
Pittsburgh 93 74 100 26
Denver 17 8 21 13
Tennessee 45 42 46 5
Houston 58 56 59 3
Kansas City >99_ 97 100 3
Buffalo 1 0 2 2
3. Baltimore (8-6) vs. Pittsburgh (9-5) — 108 total ‘swing’ points

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

Pittsburgh has won five straight, which makes this AFC North matchup not quite the “win or go home” Christmas blockbuster it was shaping up to be a few weeks ago. A loss is very survivable for the Steelers, who face the currently winless Browns at home in Week 17 and would likely improve to 10-6. The Ravens are much more in need of a win, and this will become an elimination game for them if Miami beats Buffalo on Saturday.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF TEN WINS IF JAX WINS SWING
Tennessee 45% 59% 19% 40
Houston 58 48 77 29
Indianapolis 3 1 7 6
Denver 17 16 19 2
4. Tennessee (8-6) vs. Jacksonville (2-12) — 83 total ‘swing’ points

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

Playoff longshots going into Week 14, the Titans have pulled off huge back-to-back wins over the Chiefs and Broncos. But the Texans have kept pace — eking out narrow victories against the mediocre Colts and Jaguars — and still would win the AFC South if the season ended today. This isn’t a must-win game for Tennessee, but if they lose to the Jaguars and the Texans beat the Bengals, a division title will be out of reach, and their playoff chances would drop to just 3 percent.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF DEN WINS IF KC WINS SWING
Denver 17% 42% 7% 35
Miami 55 41 60 19
Baltimore 28 20 31 11
Pittsburgh 93 96 92 4
Kansas City >99_ 98 100 2
Tennessee 45 43 46 2
Houston 58 57 59 2
5. Denver (8-6) vs. Kansas City (10-4) — 80 total ‘swing’ points

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

The Broncos are close to blowing it. The defending Super Bowl champions started the season 4-0 but have fallen victim to an underperforming offense and a hard schedule, losing every tough matchup (Raiders, Chiefs, Titans and Patriots) they’ve had since Week 9. They get a rematch with the Chiefs in Kansas City on Christmas Day. If either the Dolphins or Ravens win, this becomes an elimination game for Denver.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Footnotes

  1. Hanukkah starts at sundown, which varies by location. The 4 p.m. slot of games will overlap with the start of the holiday for most U.S. viewers (save the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii), while the Bengals-Texans game will take place at least partially at night for all U.S. viewers.

  2. 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 Washington beats Chicago, they make the playoffs 40 percent of the time. In simulations where they lose, they make the playoffs 1 percent of the time. But it’s unlikely that Washington’s playoff probabilities will be exactly 40 percent or exactly 1 percent at the end of Week 16, because the team’s chances depend on the outcome of several games, not just their own.

  3. It goes without saying that this probably isn’t going to happen. We currently give Washington a 1 in 1,000 chance of finishing with a loss and a tie, and that’s just part of what Carolina needs.

Kyle Wagner is a senior editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Reuben Fischer-Baum is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

Comments