How will the NFL playoff picture shake out?

By Sports Desk December 31, 2021

Only two weeks of the NFL's longest regular season remain, and the playoff picture could become significantly clearer during the penultimate slate of games.

Seven teams can clinch a postseason berth in Week 17, though a crowded fight for the Wild Card spots in both conferences makes the final playoff lineup difficult to predict.

That is where Stats Perform's rest-of-season projection comes in. It allows us to forecast what the playoff picture will look like come the end of Week 18.

Every future game is projected to give a predicted win percentage for each team across its remaining games. Rather than being a simulator of future games, the projections are calculated by looking at each team's quarterback and performance in terms of yards added in expected passing situations as well as team values for pass protection/pass rush, skill position players/coverage defenders and run blocking/run defense.

The projected win percentages are then aggregated to produce the forecasted standings, which, if they come to pass, would produce a potential reunion of former New England Patriots quarterbacks in the opening round.



Division Winners: 1. Kansas City Chiefs, 2. Tennessee Titans, 3. Buffalo Bills, 4. Cincinnati Bengals

Wild Cards: 5. New England Patriots, 6. Indianapolis Colts, 7. Los Angeles Chargers

Week 16's results had no significant impact on the Chiefs' position as the favourite for the first-round bye, with Kansas City (12.6 projected wins) looking at a 13-4 finish that would see them claim the one seed by a comfortable margin ahead of two 11-6 teams in the Tennessee Titans (11.2) and the Buffalo Bills (10.6).

Tennessee's regular-season win over the Bills gives them the tiebreaker and two seed, setting up a matchup with a seventh-seeded Los Angeles Chargers team (9.1) predicted to squeak into the playoffs even after their meltdown against the Houston Texans.

The movement is in the AFC East, where the Bills' dominant win over the New England Patriots (10.3) has put them in an excellent position to claim the division title and a home playoff game. However, as the three seed, that would come against the surging Indianapolis Colts (10.0) and a ground game that gashed the Bills for 264 yards in Week 11.

New England, meanwhile, would face a road game with the Cincinnati Bengals (9.5) and arguably the hottest quarterback in football, Joe Burrow delivering a well-thrown ball on an astonishing 95.7 per cent of his passes in a Week 16 win over the Baltimore Ravens that saw him rack up 525 yards and four touchdowns.

The forecast has the Miami Dolphins (8.8) missing out despite their seven-game winning streak, though their superior record in common games means they would win a tiebreaker with the Chargers if both finished 9-8.


Division Winners: 1. Green Bay Packers, 2. Los Angeles Rams, 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 4. Dallas Cowboys

Wild Cards: 5. Arizona Cardinals, 6. San Francisco 49ers, 7. Philadelphia Eagles

The Green Bay Packers (13.4) appear to be surging towards the top seed in the NFC, though they are forecast to do so while dropping one of their last two games, against the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, and winning a three-way tie with the Los Angeles Rams (12.5) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12.5).

Los Angeles' regular-season win over the Bucs would give them the second seed and a Wild Card matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles (9.3). Eagles signal-caller Jalen Hurts has the best well-thrown percentage (80.4) of any quarterback (min. 10 attempts) to average at least nine air yards per attempt.

A potential showdown between Tom Brady and the man formerly seen as his heir apparent with the Patriots, Jimmy Garoppolo – or Trey Lance depending on how his likely start against the Houston Texans goes – would beckon with the San Francisco 49ers (9.4) projected to end the year as the sixth seed and visit the Bucs despite their Thursday Night Football collapse against the Titans.

The Arizona Cardinals (11.0) have failed to score 20 points in each of their last two games and their recent slump is predicted to set up a road playoff game with a Dallas Cowboys (12.2) attack that exploded for 497 total yards and six touchdowns in their blowout Week 16 win over the Washington Football Team.

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