2018 NFL Playoff Projections: Packers and Cowboys left out of postseason, Bengals sneak in

The NFL playoffs might be two months away, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start predicting who’s going to make it, which is exactly what we’re going to do right now. 

If you’re a fan of the Cowboys or Packers, we have some bad news for you: Our projection model isn’t feeling very optimistic about either team’s chances to reach the postseason this year after both teams lost in Week 9. 

So if those two teams aren’t going to be in the playoffs, who will make the postseason? Glad you asked. 

To help you figure out who’s going to make the playoffs this year, we’ll be providing a projection each week. These projections will be based on data from number-cruncher Stephen Oh of SportsLine.com. Each week, Oh will plug some numbers into his SportsLine computer and simulate the rest of the NFL season, and using those numbers, we’ll project the 12 teams we expect to make the playoffs. 

Under Oh’s current projections, the AFC playoff race is practically over with five of the six spots basically locked up by the Chiefs, Patriots, Texans, Steelers and Chargers. That doesn’t mean those five teams have clinched a spot, it just means that SportsLine doesn’t really think it’s probable for those teams to miss out on the playoffs at this point. On the other hand, the computer is predicting total chaos for the sixth and final spot in the AFC.  

Below you’ll find all 12 of our playoff projections with each team’s expected win total. We’ll also list whether or not we expect a team to make the playoffs as a wild card or a division winner. 

Alright, with all of that in mind, let’s get to this week’s playoff projections. 

AFC Playoff Projection

Projected wins in parentheses

1. Kansas City Chiefs: (13.1 wins) AFC West Champs

Although the Chiefs are being projected to finish with the best record in the NFL, the computer doesn’t like their chances of finishing the season as the best team in the NFL. When it comes to the Super Bowl, SportsLine is giving the Chiefs a 16.81 percent chance of winning it all which is worse than both the Patriots (23.02 percent) and the Rams (17.12 percent). It’s also barely ahead of the Saints, who are being given a 15.35 percent chance of winning it all. The computer has basically written off every other team with no one else even being given a six percent chance of taking home the Lombardi Trophy. 

2. New England Patriots: (12.4) AFC East Champs

The Patriots win in the GOAT vs. GOAT game on Sunday might have put up huge television ratings, but it didn’t impress the computer. Despite the win, the Patriots chances of winning the top seed in the AFC didn’t improve at all. Also, their odds of winning the AFC Championship also went slightly down with the Patriots now being given a 37.85 percent chance to be the AFC’s Super Bowl team after being given a 40.35 percent chance last week. Apparently, beating Aaron Rodgers just doesn’t mean what it used to mean. 

3. Houston Texans: (10.0) AFC South Champs

Thanks to some bad coaching from Vance Joseph, the Texans are inching closer to being a virtual lock to make the playoffs. According to the computer, Houston’s chances of getting into the postseason are now at 81.7 percent following the Texans wild 19-17 win over the Broncos. That being said, the computer isn’t so sure about them winning the division, with the Texans only being given a 65.2 percent chance to win the AFC South. According to SportsLine, both the Titans and Colts still have a puncher’s chance to win the division title. However, the Jaguars chances are nearly at zero (2.7 percent). 

4. Pittsburgh Steelers: (9.6) AFC North Champs

The Steelers game against the Ravens on Sunday wasn’t for the division title, but the computer basically viewed it that way. Following Pittsburgh’s 23-16 win, the Steelers chances of winning the AFC North shot up from 53.8 percent to 72.8 percent. The Ravens’ loss also crushed their hopes of winning the division with their chances dropping from 22.3 percent down to six percent. Unfortunately, we have not asked the computer whether or not John Harbaugh should be fired. 

Los Angeles Chargers: (11.2) Wild Card

The poor Chargers picked the wrong year to be good. Despite the fact that they’re ranked as the fifth best team in the NFL by SportsLine, the computer is giving L.A. almost no chance of winning the division. With seven games left, the Chargers are being given just a 15.3 percent chance of winning the AFC West. The downside of this for L.A. is that it means the Chargers and their projected 11-5 record will likely have to hit the road in the first round of the playoffs to play a team that will likely have a worst record than them. Of course, the could actually end up being a good thing since every home game for the Chargers is basically like an away game at Stubhub Field. 

Cincinnati Bengals: (8.6) Wild Card

If we’re not careful, the computer might malfunction trying to figure out who’s going to get the final playoff spot in the AFC. Right now, the Bengals are in the driver’s seat for the sixth seed with the computer giving them a 41.1 percent chance of making the postseason. Of course, since that’s under 50 percent, that’s basically the computer’s way of saying, “This is total chaos and anything could happen.” The Ravens were slotted in this spot a week ago, but they tumbled out after their loss to the Steelers. Currently, the Titans (31.8 percent) have the next best shot at making the playoffs behind the Bengals, with the Ravens (21.7 percent) and Dolphins (16.3 percent) not far behind.  The Dolphins are somehow still alive in this projection despite being ranked as the fifth worst team in the NFL by SportsLine. 

Just missed: Titans (8.3), Dolphins (8.0), Ravens (8.0)

Teams that haven’t been officially eliminated, but the computer has given up on them: Raiders, Browns, Bills, Jets. 

NFC Playoff Projection

Los Angeles Rams: (12.8 wins) NFC West Champs

The biggest surprise of the this week’s projections is that the Rams are still on top in the NFC even though they lost to the Saints. The fact that New Orleans now holds the head-to-head tiebreaker doesn’t matter to the computer, because the computer doesn’t see the Saints and Rams ending the season with the same record. The thing working against the Saints is that they have a brutal season-ending schedule: Their final three games of the year are against the Panthers, Steelers and Panthers again. On the other hand, in the Rams’ final three games, they won’t play any teams that currently have a winning record (Philadelphia, at Arizona, San Francisco) and the computer really likes that.  

New Orleans Saints: (12.1) NFC South Champs

The Saints might not have moved up to the top spot in the NFC with their win over the Rams, but the computer does think the victory was enough to lock up a playoff spot. According to SportsLine, the Saints now have a 99 percent chance of getting into the postseason, joining the Rams, Patriots and Chiefs as the only virtual playoff locks through 10 weeks. 

Chicago Bears: (9.5) NFC North Champs

The computer might be Chicago’s biggest fan this season. Despite the fact that the 5-3 Bears are clinging to a small first-place lead over the 5-3-1 Vikings, the computer loves Chicago’s chances of getting to the postseason. According to SportsLine, the Bears have a 54.2 percent chance of winning the division and a 68.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Lions, who currently have a five percent chance of winning the division, could throw a wrench into things with an upset over the Bears on Sunday. 

Washington Redskins: (9.0) NFC East Champs

The computer must love the Redskins, because, despite their stumble against the Falcons on Sunday, SportsLine is still projecting Washington to win the NFC East. According to the computer, the Redskins have a 60 percent chance of winning the division, which is almost double the chances being given to the Eagles (32 percent). The Cowboys division title hopes are on life support following Monday’s loss to the Titans with the computer giving them a 7.9 percent chance to win the NFC East.

Carolina Panthers: (9.9) Wild Card

The Panthers might only be one game back in the NFC South, but the computer doesn’t like their chances of winning the division. As things currently stand, the Panthers have a 14.1 percent chance of winning the division, which means everyone in Carolina should probably start getting used to the idea of playing in a wild card game.  

Seattle Seahawks: (8.8) Wild Card

After losing to the Chargers on Sunday, the Seahawks are now hanging on by just a shoestring for the final wild card spot in the NFC. Although the computer is projecting that the final spot will go to the Seahawks, it also really likes the Vikings. Minnesota currently has a 45.4 chance of making the playoffs, which is actually higher than the 45.1 percent chance being given to the Seahawks. Of course, a big reason for that is because the Vikings could make the postseason as a division winner or as a wild-card team and the Seahawks only real chance is through the wild card. The team that got the biggest bump this week was the Falcons, who inserted themselves into the playoff conversation by upsetting Washington. The Falcons playoff chances went from 11.7 percent last week to 28.1 percent this week. The Packers haven’t been quite left for dead, but their playoff chances are down to 20.2 percent. 

Just missed: Vikings (8.3), Falcons (8.3), Eagles (8.2), Packers (7.3)

Teams that haven’t been officially eliminated, but the computer has given up on them: 49ers, Cardinals, Giants, Buccaneers. 

Wild-Card Round Projection


(6) Bengals at (3) Texans

(5) Chargers at (4) Steelers

Byes: Chiefs, Patriots


(6) Seahawks at (3) Bears

(5) Panthers at (4) Redskins

Byes: Rams, Saints

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