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NFL playoff picture: Postseason probabilities entering Week 18 of 2023 season

Entering the final week of the 2023 NFL regular season, the Next Gen Stats Analytics Team uses its playoff probability model to provide detailed estimates of each contending team's postseason chances.

What separates the Next Gen Stats playoff probability model from the rest? During live games, playoff probabilities are dynamically updated every five minutes, incorporating the latest win probabilities from NGS for all ongoing games in every simulation. Visit's Playoff Picture for a live look at the latest postseason odds.

A few notes before we dig in:

  1. All probabilities presented are current as of noon ET on Jan. 2 unless otherwise noted below.
  2. Terms defined:
    • If win: A team's chances of making the playoffs assuming a win in its upcoming game.
    • If lose: A team's chances of making the playoffs assuming a loss in its upcoming game.
    • Playoff leverage: Refers to the quantifiable impact of a single game on a team's playoff prospects. It is calculated as the difference between a team's probability of making the playoffs if it wins the upcoming game versus if it loses. This metric essentially captures the stakes of a game in terms of playoff qualification. A high playoff leverage indicates that the outcome of the game has a significant influence on the team's playoff chances, making it a critical matchup, whereas a low playoff leverage suggests that the game has a lesser impact on the team's playoff probabilities.

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AFC playoff picture entering Week 18

Table inside Article
AFC Playoff % If Win If Lose No. 1 seed %
1. Ravens (13-3)  100% 100% 100% 100%
2. Dolphins (11-5)  100% 100% 100% 0%
3. Chiefs (10-6)  100% 100% 100% 0%
4. Jaguars (9-7)  70% 100% 22% 0%
5. Browns (11-5)  100% 100% 100% 0%
6. Bills (10-6)  86% 100% 65% 0%
7. Colts (9-7) 55% 100% 0% 0%
--- --- --- --- ---
8. Texans (9-7) 45% 100% 0% 0%
9. Steelers (9-7) 44% 64% 14% 0%
  • Buffalo has ripped off four consecutive wins to go from bubble team to potential No. 2 seed. But if three games break bad for the Bills prior to their season finale at Miami, they could take the field Sunday night facing an all-or-nothing scenario. If the Steelers beat the Ravens in Baltimore on Saturday, the Jaguars top the Titans on Sunday (to clinch the AFC South) and Saturday night's Texans-Colts game does not end in a tie, the stakes get very real for Josh Allen & Co.:
    • Win = Bills win the AFC East and clinch the No. 2 seed.
    • Loss = Bills miss the playoffs.
  • The Browns are locked into the No. 5 seed and will face the winner of the AFC South on the road during Super Wild Card Weekend.
  • Saturday night's Texans-Colts tilt not only has division implications (see below) but offers both contenders the most direct track into the tournament: Win and you're in.
  • A fringe team entering Week 16 (just 7% playoff probability), the Steelers followed up their three-game skid with two signature wins against quality opponents (vs. Bengals, at Seahawks) that, at the very least, guarantee a 17th consecutive non-losing season under Mike Tomlin's direction. (Although it wouldn't be surprising if the Super Bowl-winning coach views any season that ends in anything short of a playoff bid as a losing campaign.) Pittsburgh now has three primary ways to punch its postseason ticket in Week 18:
    • Win at Ravens + Bills loss at Dolphins.
    • Win at Ravens + Jaguars loss at Titans.
    • Jaguars loss at Titans + Broncos win at Raiders + Texans-Colts does not end in a tie.

AFC teams eliminated from playoff contention:

  • Denver Broncos (8-8)
  • Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
  • Las Vegas Raiders (7-9)
  • New York Jets (6-10)
  • Tennessee Titans (5-11)
  • Los Angeles Chargers (5-11)
  • New England Patriots (4-12)

NFC playoff picture entering Week 18

Table inside Article
NFC Playoff % If Win If Lose No. 1 seed %
1. 49ers (12-4) 100% 100% 100% 100%
2. Cowboys (11-5) 100% 100% 100% 0%
3. Lions (11-5) 100% 100% 100% 0%
4. Buccaneers (8-8) 66% 100% 0% 0%
5. Eagles (11-5) 100% 100% 100% 0%
6. Rams (9-7)  100% 100% 100% 0%
7. Packers (8-8) 64% 100% 17% 0%
--- --- --- --- ---
8. Seahawks (8-8) 25% 41% 0% 0%
9. Saints (8-8) 29% 48% 0% 0%
10. Vikings (7-9) 4% 9% 0% 0%
12. Falcons (7-9) 13% 33% 0% 0%
  • Easy math for the Bucs in Week 18: a win clinches them the NFC South; a loss eliminates them from contention. Where the numbers get slightly more complicated, though, is if Tampa and Carolina were to tie. That scenario provides the Bucs with two potential paths into the tournament:
    • Bucs tie + Saints loss = NFC South title.
    • Bucs tie + Seahawks loss + Packers loss or tie = playoff berth.
  • For the second year in a row, the Packers enter Week 18 with a win-and-in opportunity at Lambeau Field. And like last year, a red-hot division foe stands in their way. Although Green Bay can still clinch a playoff berth with a loss (they'd need the Vikings, Seahawks and either the Bucs or Saints to lose), by far their least complicated course to securing a wild-card spot is by taking down the Bears on Sunday.
  • In less than a month's time, the Vikings have gone from contending for a division title to needing a lot of help just to sneak into the dance. They now have two primary paths to a wild-card slot, both involving multiple legs, which is why their probability is the slimmest of any playoff hopeful entering the final weekend:
    • Win at Lions + Packers loss to Bears + Seahawks loss at Cardinals + Saints loss to Falcons.
    • Win at Lions + Packers loss to Bears + Seahawks loss at Cardinals + Bucs loss at Panthers.
  • With their upset over the Bucs in Tampa, coupled with a favorable outcome or two from this past weekend (like Seattle losing to Pittsburgh), the Saints can now earn a postseason berth even if the Bucs beat the Panthers in Week 18. To do so, New Orleans will need a win over Atlanta, a Chicago win over Green Bay and another Seattle loss.
  • Add the Seahawks to the mix of teams rooting for the Bears on Sunday. Like the Vikings and Saints, the Seahawks also need the Packers to lose (or tie) to even have a chance at playing on Super Wild Card Weekend. A win over the Cardinals on its own would earn them a second consecutive 9-8 season, but not much else.

NFC teams eliminated from playoff contention:

  • Chicago Bears (7-9)
  • New York Giants (5-11)
  • Washington Commanders (4-12)
  • Arizona Cardinals (4-12)
  • Carolina Panthers (2-14)

Who's most likely to win each division?

Table inside Article
AFC East Division % Remaining Opponent
1. Dolphins (11-5) 41% BUF
2. Bills (10-6) 59% at MIA
  • This battle between AFC powerhouses has been building steadily over the past four weeks and was a no-brainer to earn top billing in Week 18. Unlike Buffalo, Miami has already clinched a postseason berth, so the Bills, for all intents and purposes, have the most riding on the outcome of this game -- especially if the scenario outlined at the top of this article comes to fruition. But a loss for Miami on Sunday night would be potentially devastating for a franchise seeking its first Super Bowl championship in 50 years. A Fins loss on Sunday would mean that rather than hosting the seventh seed in two weeks, they would have to travel to Kansas City -- a team they already lost to earlier this season in Frankfurt, Germany. To say the Dolphins have struggled against quality opponents away from home this season would be a gross understatement:
    • Road games vs. teams above .500: 0-4, -86 point differential, -3 turnover margin.
    • Road games vs. teams below .500: 4-0, +60 point differential, -1 turnover margin.
  • Miami's probability to win the division has been cut exactly in half since the start of Week 15, when they held a two-game lead over Buffalo with four to play. The Bills, meanwhile, have rebounded from 1:4 underdogs to heavy favorite during that span.
Table inside Article
AFC South Division % Remaining Opponent
1. Jaguars (9-7) 61% at TEN
2. Colts (9-7) 21% HOU
3. Texans (9-7) 18% at IND
  • What a fun, synchronized mess the AFC South has been of late. One week after all three contenders dropped games, all three earned dubs, keeping this race going into the final weekend of the season. While the Jags have lost four of five, both the Colts and Texans have followed the same pattern, alternating wins and losses, since Week 13. That harmony (likely) comes to an end Saturday night (although a tie would be fitting), when the winner of their prime-time clash not only secures a playoff berth, but potentially the division title -- if Jacksonville slips up on Sunday.
  • The Jags remain the division front-runner despite the three teams' even records because they own the head-to-head advantage (3-1 vs. a best-case 2-2) over both of their rivals. Should they hold on to win the South, they'd host the fifth-seeded Browns on Super Wild Card Weekend with an opportunity to avenge their Week 14 loss at Cleveland. If the Jags were to fall on Sunday but still manage to land the seventh seed (Steelers loss + Broncos loss + no tie in Texans-Colts), they'd either have an intrastate matchup at Miami or an interstate affair at Buffalo -- a team they've already beaten once this season ... on another continent.
Table inside Article
NFC East Division % Remaining Opponent
1. Cowboys (11-5) 89% at WAS
2. Eagles (11-5) 11% at NYG
  • Upsets like Sunday's Cardinals-Eagles shocker reinforce the term "probability" when projecting the NFL playoff picture. Philadelphia entered Week 17 with a 76% chance of winning the NFC East. After Sunday's disastrous fourth-quarter collapse -- the Eagles' fourth loss in five games -- they face even steeper odds to reclaim the division than the ones confronting Dallas a week ago. Fortunately for the Eagles, their lone win since the start of December came against their Week 18 opponent; unfortunately for the Eagles, the Cowboys defeated their Week 18 opponent by 35 points when the two teams met earlier this season.
Table inside Article
NFC South Division % Remaining Opponent
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8) 65% at CAR
2. New Orleans Saints (8-8) 22% ATL
3. Atlanta Falcons (7-9) 13% at NO
  • Despite their loss to the Saints this past Sunday, the Bucs continue to have complete control over this race. With a win against the 2-14 Panthers this weekend -- a team that was just shut out for the first time since 2002 -- the Bucs would lock up the division and a date with either the Eagles or Cowboys on Super Wild Card Weekend.
  • The Saints secure the South with a win over the Falcons and a Bucs loss to the Panthers. While New Orleans has other routes into the tournament, the path created via a division title has the fewest variables.
  • Atlanta's playoff hopes rest entirely on taking the division, which is still in play even after Week 17's grisly showing at Chicago. If the Falcons beat the Saints and the Bucs lose to the Panthers, all three teams would finish at 8-9. Atlanta advances in that scenario, thanks to its head-to-head edge over both teams. The Falcons would then become just the fifth squad this millennium -- and second straight from the NFC South -- to host a playoff game despite owning a sub-.500 record. For what it's worth, those division winners went 2-2 in Round 1 of the playoffs.


Baltimore Ravens
13-3 · AFC North
Kansas City Chiefs
10-6 · AFC West
Detroit Lions
11-5 · NFC North
San Francisco 49ers
12-4 · NFC West

Jack Andrade, Mike Band and Ali Bhanpuri contributed to this story.

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