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Predicting AFC division winners, playoff teams at quarter pole: Ravens take North, Chiefs best in West

NFL franchises use contextualized data to create competitive advantages. In order to realize an edge, teams need to employ the right data in the right way at the right time. This means distilling, interpreting and applying only the most influential data in a framework that accounts for personnel, opponents and evolving game situations. My goal is to be YOUR analytics department. Each week this season, I want to work for you by providing a peek into which numbers flag in my models as the most impactful ... or the most misunderstood.

As always, let me know if your eye test is picking up on something interesting, or if there's a stat/trend you'd like me to take a deeper look at. You can hit me up on Twitter @CFrelund. As with any great analytics department, the more collaborative this is, the more value we can create.

This week I took a deeper dive into the AFC -- where 10 teams have a winning record -- to look at most probable division winners and each team's playoff potential. I also took a peek at which teams are most likely to earn the one and only bye. There's a lot still left to be decided, but here's what 300,000 simulations of each remaining regular season game revealed.

NOTE: The odds for each team to win its division cited below are provided by Caesars, current as of 1:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Dec. 15.


Win div.
New England Patriots
ML: -400 · 9-4

Projected to make playoffs: 98.4%


The biggest shift in the model for the Pats would occur over the next two weeks. If they beat the Bills in Week 16, they secure the East. If they beat the Colts on Saturday and the Bills in the following weekend, they project as overwhelming favorites to lock up the top seed in the AFC.

Win div.
Buffalo Bills
ML: +300 · 7-6

Projected to make playoffs: 84.9%

The Bills need to beat the Pats in Week 16 and get some help from the Colts on Saturday in order to win the division. Good news for Bills fans: Regardless of the outcome in Week 16, my models still have Buffalo reaching the playoffs.

Win div.
Miami Dolphins
ML: +10000 · 6-7

Projected to make playoffs: 7.8%

The Dolphins must win out and get a lot of help to find their way into the playoffs. Their most likely influence on the postseason is to potentially play spoiler. Should they beat the Saints in Week 16, they could dash New Orleans' hopes and help propel an NFC East team (likely the Eagles or maybe WFT) into the tournament. 

Win div.
New York Jets

Projected to make playoffs: 0.0%

The Jets' most probable draft position is fourth overall (65.9 percent). They select in the top five of the draft in 97.2 percent of my simulations.


Baltimore Ravens
ML: +140 · 8-5

Projected to make playoffs: 75.6%


Despite it not being a divisional game, the Ravens can help themselves out the most if they upset the Packers this week. If they fall to Green Bay, then it most likely comes down to Week 16 against the Bengals for the entire division.

Cincinnati Bengals
ML: +250 · 7-6

Projected to make playoffs: 55.5%

The Bengals' most pivotal remaining matchup is Week 16's tilt with the Ravens, which is likely to determine the division winner. My model has the Bengals topping the Broncos this week, losing a coin-toss matchup with the Ravens and falling to the Chiefs in Week 17 before slightly edging out Cleveland in Week 18.

Win div.
Cleveland Browns
ML: +225 · 7-6

Projected to make playoffs: 30.3%

The Browns are obviously in a tough spot as they navigate COVID-19 issues. They need some help from Ravens and Bengals opponents to make the playoffs, but if they win their next three games -- or even win all but their Week 16 tilt with Green Bay -- a Week 18 matchup with the Bengals could end up as a play-in game. Browns fans should be rooting for the Packers to beat the Ravens this week, and then for the Bengals to defeat Baltimore in Week 16.

Win div.
Pittsburgh Steelers
ML: +1300 · 6-6-1

Projected to make playoffs: 9.7%

The Steelers need to essentially win out (vs. Titans, at Chiefs, vs. Browns, at Ravens) to earn a playoff berth. There are a few paths that could still lead to the postseason even with a Week 18 loss, including Pittsburgh winning its next three games and then getting some help, but those scenarios, while not impossible, are all highly improbable.


Win div.
Tennessee Titans
ML: -4000 · 9-4

Projected to make playoffs: 90.2%

If the Titans win out, they are likely to earn the top seed in the AFC, and therefore a bye in the first round of the playoffs. However, the most likely outcome is for Tennessee to lose one more game and win the division title. In fact, the Titans are still likely to win the AFC South even if they lose two more games. They still make the playoffs in my models even if the worst-case scenario plays out and they don't win another regular-season game.

Win div.
Indianapolis Colts
ML: +1500 · 7-6

Projected to make playoffs: 70.3%

Saturday's matchup with the Pats is the biggest playoff domino the Colts have control over. Since they have only one game left against a division opponent (the Jaguars in Week 18), Indianapolis needs some help from the Titans' remaining opponents to win the division, and the team would also benefit from the AFC North squads beating each other up a bit more.

Win div.
Houston Texans

Projected to make playoffs: 0.0%

Houston is most likely to earn the third overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft (74.5 percent of simulations). Should the Texans fall to the Jaguars on Sunday -- the Jags are favored, but my model forecasts the Texans to pull the upset -- they would be most likely to earn the second overall pick (76.7 percent).

Win div.
Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected to make playoffs: 0.0%

The Jaguars end up with the 2022 NFL Draft's first overall pick in 19.3 percent of my simulations, with the No. 2 pick being their most likely destination (78.4 percent).


Win div.
Kansas City Chiefs
ML: -225 · 9-4

Projected to make playoffs: 99.1%

The Chiefs would follow the highest-probability path of securing the division title by beating the Chargers on Thursday night (a game Kansas City is favored to win). Defeating the Bolts will put them over 79.1 percent to win the AFC West. The Chiefs' chances for the first-round playoff bye lie primarily in this week's matchup with L.A. along with their Week 17 game against the Bengals. As of now, they earn the bye in 55.4 percent of simulations. If they win on Thursday, it shifts up to 59.2 percent.

Win div.
Los Angeles Chargers
ML: +200 · 8-5

Projected to make playoffs: 55.4%

The Chargers and Bengals are neck and neck to make the playoffs (0.1 percent separates their chances). Should the Chargers upset the Chiefs in Week 15, that would be a game-changer (a season-changer, too). With a win over Kansas City, the Bolts' chances to win the division shoot up to 62.8 percent. That'd also set up a pivotal Week 17 matchup with the Broncos. A win there could put L.A. in pole position for a first-round bye heading into Week 18.

Win div.
Denver Broncos
ML: +2400 · 7-6

Projected to make playoffs: 18.4%

In my models, even with a loss in Week 18 to the Chiefs, the Broncos control their fate. Wins over the Bengals, Raiders and Chargers in the next three weeks vault them into the postseason. The Broncos are favored over the Bengals this week. However, my models have this game as essentially a coin flip. The biggest stumbling block left projects to be the Chargers (in L.A.) in Week 17.

Win div.
Las Vegas Raiders
ML: +10000 · 6-7

Projected to make playoffs: 4.4%

Similar to Denver, the Raiders need to win their next three games (at Browns, vs. Broncos, at Colts) to get into the playoffs. Indianapolis is the biggest stumbling block remaining, but it's also worth noting that the Broncos forecast to beat Las Vegas in Week 16 in 56.1 percent of simulations.

Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter.

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