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Good News, Browns: Your Chances Of Making The Playoffs Are 1 In 19 Quintillion

For a brief moment there on Sunday, the Cleveland Browns’ 2017 season appeared to be lost. The team was defeated by the Jacksonville Jaguars, moving its record to 0-10. Considering that no team has ever made the NFL playoffs with 10 losses, the result seemed to dash any remaining hope in Cleveland that the Browns would make a run.

Or did it?

It turns out, thanks to the assiduous investigations of a Redditor who goes by MrMolonLabe, the Browns are still in this thing: Provided that 46 different games go their way — including two ties — a hypothetical 6-10 Cleveland Browns can be the second AFC wild card team.

It’s all rather simple. First, Cleveland wins out — that’s the easy part.1 Then the Browns need the following: Week 12 wins from Kansas City, Tennessee, New England, Houston, Dallas and Carolina; Week 13 wins from New England, Denver, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Detroit and the Giants; Week 14 wins from Indianapolis, the Jets, Kansas City, New England, Chicago, Washington and San Francisco; Week 15 wins from Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Minnesota and Dallas; Week 16 wins for Baltimore, Kansas City, San Diego, New England, Pittsburgh and Washington; and Week 17 wins for Kansas City, Indianapolis, New England and Cincinnati. Also, the Broncos and Raiders need to tie in Week 12, and the Bills and Dolphins need to tie in Week 17.

If all this happens, there would be four AFC teams with a record of 5-10-1 and five more at 5-11. The Patriots, Steelers, Chiefs and Titans would win their respective divisions, and the Jaguars would get the first wild card at 12-4. That leaves the Ravens and Browns tied for the last spot at 6-10. The Browns would win the tiebreaker because their Week 15 win over Baltimore would split the season series, and Cleveland would have a better record in the division.

Luckily, we happen to have forecasts for each of those games and can assign a probability for each of those discrete events based on each team’s current Elo rating.2 Here’s how it shakes out:

So you’re saying there’s a chance…

What the Browns need to happen to make the playoffs this year

WEEK OUTCOME PROBABILITY CUM. PROBABILITY
12 New England beats Miami 90%
90.00000000%
Kansas City beats Buffalo 78
70.20000000
Dallas beats L.A. Chargers 68
47.73600000
Carolina beats N.Y. Jets 57
27.20952000
Tennessee beats Indianapolis 52
14.14895040
Houston beats Baltimore 32
4.52766413
Cleveland beats Cincinnati 16
0.72442626
Denver-Oakland tie* 0.35
0.00253549
13 New England beats Buffalo 76
0.00192697
Jacksonville beats Indianapolis 75
0.00144523
Pittsburgh beats Cincinnati 66
0.00095385
Kansas City beats N.Y. Jets 64
0.00061047
Tennessee beats Houston 63
0.00038459
Denver beats Miami 45
0.00017307
Detroit beats Baltimore 45
0.00007788
N.Y. Giants beats Oakland 32
0.00002492
Cleveland beats L.A. Chargers 14
0.00000349
14 New England beats Miami 81
0.00000283
Kansas City beats Oakland 77
0.00000218
N.Y. Jets beats Denver 42
0.00000091
Wash. beats L.A. Chargers 39
0.00000036
Indianapolis beats Buffalo 34
0.00000012
Chicago beats Cincinnati 31
0.00000004
Cleveland beats Green Bay 25
0.00000001
San Francisco beats Houston 21
0.00000000
15 New Orleans beats N.Y. Jets 82
0.00000000
Minnesota beats Cincinnati 77
0.00000000
K.C. beats L.A. Chargers 76
0.00000000
Jacksonville beats Houston 69
0.00000000
Dallas beats Oakland 52
0.00000000
Denver beats Indianapolis 45
0.00000000
Miami beats Buffalo 34
0.00000000
Cleveland beats Baltimore 21
0.00000000
16 New England beats Buffalo 87
0.00000000
Kansas City beats Miami 83
0.00000000
Baltimore beats Indianapolis 74
0.00000000
Pittsburgh beats Houston 67
0.00000000
Wash. beats Denver 64
0.00000000
L.A. Chargers beats N.Y. Jets 46
0.00000000
Cleveland beats Chicago 22
0.00000000
17 New England beats N.Y. Jets 88
0.00000000
Kansas City beats Denver 66
0.00000000
Indianapolis beats Houston 52
0.00000000
Cincinnati beats Baltimore 32
0.00000000
Cleveland beats Pittsburgh 6
0.00000000
Buffalo-Miami tie 0.35
0.00000000
Total 1 in 19,649,922,085,696,900,000

* Since 2012, 0.35 percent of games ended in a tie

Some are trickier than others: Elo can’t tell us the probability that a given NFL game will end in a tie because most NFL games do not end in ties. For that, we’ll need a better estimate: There have been 5 ties since 2012 over 1,440 games played,3 giving us a back-of-the-napkin probability of a specific game going to a tie as 0.35 percent, a rate of about 1 tie every 288 games.

Let’s set aside Cleveland’s two needed ties for a moment. Multiplying the Elo probability that each game breaks the Browns’ way, we anticipate there is a 1 in 238,559,677,617,755 chance that they will get that sixth wild card slot. The probability of having two specific selected games tie is a 1 in 82,369 chance. Combining those two chances, we anticipate that the Cleveland Browns have a 1 in 19,649,922,085,696,900,000 — that is 19.6 quintillion — chance of making the playoffs.

More to the point, the Browns have a probability of 32 percent to go 0-16 this year. But hey, anything is possible.

Check out our latest NFL predictions.

Footnotes

  1. Minor note: The chance that the easy part actually happens is roughly 1 in 650 based on our projections for the rest of the Browns season.

  2. The big assumption here is that the events are independent.

  3. They changed the playoff rules again this year, which should make ties easier, but we haven’t had one since the change so we don’t have a good number for that. Regardless, this estimate is higher than the overall historical probability of ties.

Walt Hickey is FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.

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