Lions-Giants Is The Biggest Game Of Week 15

With three weeks left in the NFL season, 11 playoff spots are open. That means that most of the remaining 48 games — save some stinkers like 49ers-Rams — will make some impact on the postseason. What are this week’s biggest games?

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 the Green Bay Packers a 31 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 11 percent.1 That’s a 29 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 “most impactful” only tells part of the story. Let’s say you’re a Green Bay fan, or a fan of any other team on the playoff bubble. Which set of outcomes would help the most this week? To help answer this question, we’ve updated our predictions page to allow you to pick the outcomes of every game for Weeks 15 through 17, so you can see how each matchup affects every team’s probabilities. In the “best case” scenario I could find for the Packers, they’d beat the Bears, but also Dallas would beat Tampa Bay, San Francisco would beat Atlanta, the New York Giants would beat Detroit, Indianapolis would beat Minnesota, and Carolina would beat Washington.

With these six outcomes, Green Bay’s playoff chances rise to 58 percent. Go create your own scenarios! The five biggest games of Week 15 are below.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF DET WINS IF NYG WINS SWING
N.Y. Giants 75% 54% 93% 39
Detroit 84 98 71 27
Green Bay 31 27 34 7
Tampa Bay 54 57 51 6
Washington 46 49 44 5
Minnesota 19 22 17 4
Atlanta 91 92 89 3
1. Detroit (9-4) vs. N.Y. Giants (9-4) — 93 total ‘swing’ points

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

The Lions had their eighth fourth-quarter/overtime comeback of the season on Sunday, and now somehow find themselves in contention for a first-round bye. But Detroit’s remarkable season has come against a pretty weak schedule, and they’ll have to wrap up the year against the Giants, Cowboys and Packers. The winner of this game would be nearly assured of a playoff spot, but the loser will be in decent shape. Green Bay, which is in the hunt for the NFC North, is rooting for the Giants. Tampa Bay, Washington, Atlanta and (somewhat surprisingly) Minnesota would prefer a Detroit win to improve their wild card standing.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF NE WINS IF DEN WINS SWING
Denver 54% 33% 78% 44
Miami 27 36 15 21
Baltimore 27 32 21 10
Buffalo 2 4 4
Pittsburgh 89 91 87 4
Tennessee 24 25 23 2
2. New England (11-2) vs. Denver (8-5) — 90 total ‘swing’ points

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

We’re down to one wild card slot in the AFC. While neither Oakland nor Kansas City has officially clinched the postseason, we currently give both teams a greater than 99 percent chance, and only one of them (probably the Chiefs) will make it in as the AFC West champion. Denver is still clinging to that second wild card spot, but their loss to the Titans in Week 14 set their chances back. They’ll now face a brutal end-of-season schedule, facing New England, Kansas City and Oakland.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF TB WINS IF DAL WINS SWING
Tampa Bay 54% 85% 42% 43
Washington 46 37 50 13
Green Bay 31 24 33 10
N.Y. Giants 75 70 77 8
Minnesota 19 14 21 7
Detroit 84 82 85 3
Atlanta 91 89 91 2
3. Tampa Bay (8-5) vs. Dallas (11-2) — 88 total ‘swing’ points

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

The Buccaneers have won five straight and control their own playoff destiny. Dallas is guaranteed a postseason slot, but if you choose an outcome to this game on our new NFL predictions page you’ll see that a win improves their chance of a first-round bye to 99 percent, and a loss drops them to 80 percent. This makes a huge impact on their Super Bowl probabilities, so the Cowboys — who are at risk of dipping into a quarterback controversy — have quite a bit to play for here.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF CAR WINS IF WAS WINS SWING
Washington 46% 22% 64% 43
N.Y. Giants 75 82 70 12
Tampa Bay 54 58 50 8
Green Bay 31 35 28 7
Minnesota 19 23 17 6
Atlanta 91 93 89 4
Detroit 84 86 82 4
4. Carolina (5-8) vs. Washington (7-5-1) — 88 total ‘swing’ points

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

The Panthers’ playoff chances are more or less nil, but they have the opportunity to play spoiler three games in a row against Washington, Atlanta and Tampa Bay.2 Washington would miss the playoffs if the season ended today and would fall to having just a 1-in-5 chance of making them with a loss here.

CHANCE OF MAKING PLAYOFFS
AFFECTED TEAM CURRENT IF TEN WINS IF KC WINS SWING
Tennessee 24% 53% 19% 34
Houston 75 53 79 26
Indianapolis 3 1 4 2
Denver 54 52 54 2
5. Tennessee (7-6) vs. Kansas City (10-3) — 72 total ‘swing’ points

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

The Titans also control their own destiny! Wins against the Chiefs, Jaguars and Texans in the final three weeks will leave the Titans with a 10-6 record and an AFC South title. And yet, we give them just a 24 percent chance of making the playoffs. One reason for this is that this week’s matchup in Kansas City, where the Titans will be major underdogs by any measure. But it’s also possible that our ratings are understating the Titans’ overall strength. Elo carries over from season to season, and while most teams have shaken whatever effect 2015 had on their rating, Tennessee started in such a huge hole — their 2015 end-of-season rating was 1272 — that we’re still rating them as a significantly below-average team. A win in Kansas City would send their Elo, and their playoff chances, skyrocketing.

CORRECTION (Dec. 15, 2:13 p.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the best-case scenario for the Packers in Week 15. In that scenario, the best outcome for Green Bay would be the Giants beating the Lions, not the other way around.

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 Green Bay beats Chicago, they make the playoffs 40 percent of the time. In simulations where they lose, they make the playoffs 11 percent of the time. But it’s unlikely that Green Bay’s playoff probabilities will be exactly 40 percent or exactly 11 percent at the end of Week 15, because the team’s chances depend on the outcome of several games, not just their own. The Packers’ current chances are much closer to 40 percent than to 11 percent because they are much more likely to beat the Bears (69 percent) than lose to them (31 percent).

2. You may have noticed that Tampa Bay-Dallas and Carolina-Washington both have a “swing” total of 88 points. That number is rounded, but we use a little more precision when we determine the rankings, and Tampa Bay-Dallas is the (very slightly) more impactful game.

Reuben Fischer-Baum is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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