With Week 9 upon us, that means we’re officially in the second half of the NFL season, which means it’s time to do one of our favorite things here at CBS Sports: Figure out who’s going to make the playoffs.
The beauty of the NFL playoff race right now is that all 32 teams are currently still alive. That’s right, Raiders fans, Jon Gruden still has time to turn this thing around and sneak into the postseason. Of course, that probably won’t happen, but it could, which is all that matters.
To help you figure out who’s going to make the playoffs this year, we’re going to be publishing a projection every week for the rest of the season. 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, fans in New England, Los Angeles and Kansas City can go ahead and book their playoff tickets because those three teams have a 99 percent chance of making the postseason. That doesn’t mean they’ve clinched a spot, it just means that SportsLine doesn’t really think it’s mathematically possible for those three teams to miss the playoffs at this point.
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: (12.6 wins) AFC West Champs
We have some good news and some bad news for the Chiefs. The good: They’re projected to finish the season with the best record in the AFC. The bad news: Even the computer thinks that Andy Reid is going to choke in the playoffs. Although Kansas City is projected to finish with a better regular season record than the Patriots, the computer gives the Patriots a better chance of winning the AFC title (40.4 percent for New England to 29.6 percent for the Chiefs).
2. New England Patriots: (12.0) AFC East Champs
The Patriots might be projected to finish second in the AFC, but the computer still loves them. According to SportsLine, New England is the best team in the entire NFL and also has the best chance to win the Super Bowl (New England’s chances sit at 24 percent. The next best team is the Rams, who are being given a 17.4 percent chance to win it all).
3. Houston Texans: (9.2) AFC South Champs
The biggest story in the AFC South might not be the fact that the Texans are projected to win the division, but who’s projected to come in last. The computer has the Jaguars finishing the season in fourth place behind the Texans, Colts and Titans in that order. That would be a huge fall for a team that came up just one game short of making it to the Super Bowl in 2017.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers: (9.0) AFC North Champs
If there’s one division in the AFC that the computer is having a tough time projecting, it’s the North. Although the Steelers are projected to take the division, the computer only has them finishing with 0.3 more wins than the Ravens and 0.4 more wins than the Bengals. The good news for the Steelers is that their tie with Cleveland might end up being a good thing. If Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati all finish the season with nine wins, the Steelers would win the AFC North because 9-6-1 is better than 9-7.
Los Angeles Chargers: (10.2) Wild Card
The Chargers might be in the most interesting spot of any team in the NFL right now and that’s because the computer basically views them as a lock to make the playoffs. SportsLine has the Chargers postseason chances at 84 percent, which is the third highest in the AFC. Unfortunately for L.A, they’re basically locked into a wild card spot because the computer is giving them just a 10.6 percent chance of winning the AFC West.
Baltimore Ravens: (8.7) Wild Card
After 10,000 simulations, the race for the final playoff spot in the AFC is almost too close to call. The computer is giving a VERY slight edge to the Ravens over the Bengals by projecting them to pick up 0.1 more wins. Since you can’t actually get 0.1 wins, let’s put this in layman’s terms: The Ravens get the nod here because SportsLine is giving them a 48.8 percent chance of making the postseason, while the Bengals chances are sitting at just 42.8 percent. The computer basically sees things as a two-horse for the final AFC playoff spot as no other team in the conference is even being given a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs.
Just missed: Bengals (8.6)
Teams that haven’t been officially eliminated, but the computer has given up on them: Raiders, Browns, Bills.
NFC Playoff Projection
Los Angeles Rams: (13.3 wins) NFC West Champs
The computer loves the Rams, which makes sense, since they’re the only undefeated team left in the NFL. SportsLine views the Rams as a practical lock to win the NFC West and finish with the best record in the NFC. The Rams also are being given a 35.2 percent chance to get to the Super Bowl, which is a ridiculously high number when you consider that only one other team in the NFC is even being given a chance above 10 percent (The Saints have a 29.1 percent chance).
New Orleans Saints: (11.6) NFC South Champs
The Saints might be No. 2 in this projection, but that could all change by this time next week. Don’t be surprised if New Orleans makes the jump to the top spot if they can beat the Rams at home on Sunday. Although the Saints are just one game ahead of the Panthers in the division standings, the computer doesn’t think there will be much of a race for the NFC South title. The Saints have an 83.6 percent chance of winning the division, while the Panthers chances sit at just 15 percent.
Washington Redskins: (9.8) NFC East Champs
According to the computer, the race for the NFC East is practically over. SportsLine is giving the Redskins a 65.1 percent chance of winning the division, which is more than double the chances being given to any other team in the division. The Eagles (24.2 percent) and Cowboys (10.7 percent) are still alive, but the computer likes the Redskins chances of winning their second division title in four years.
Chicago Bears: (9.0) NFC North Champs
This is the only division in the NFL where no team is even being given a 50 percent chance to win the division. Basically, things are still so up in the air that the computer can’t confidently make a projection. With nine weeks left on the NFL schedule, the Bears are being given a 40 percent chance of winning the division with the Vikings (24.8 percent), Packers (22.1 percent) and Lions (13.0) also in the running. The computer actually views the Vikings as the best team in the division, but Minnesota isn’t being predicted to win and that probably has a lot to do with the fact that the Vikings have a rough schedule coming up with consecutive games against the Packers, Patriots and Seahawks starting in Week 12.
Seattle Seahawks: (9.6) Wild Card
The 4-3 Seahawks might currently be sitting behind the 5-2 Panthers in the standings heading into Week 9, but the computer still likes Seattle’s chances to finish ahead of Carolina. As a matter of fact, the computer actually loves the Seahawks and has them ranked as the fifth-best team overall in the entire NFL behind only the Patriots, Chiefs, Rams and Saints.
Carolina Panthers: (9.5) Wild Card
The computer basically sees this spot coming down to the Panthers and Eagles, although things aren’t projected to be too close. The Eagles are projected to win just 8.4 games, which is a full game behind Carolina’s projection. The Panthers are being given a 58.2 percent chance of making the playoffs while the Eagles chances are sitting at just 32.2 percent.
Just missed: Eagles (8.4), Cowboys (8.0), Vikings (7.9), Packers (7.8)
Teams that haven’t been officially eliminated, but the computer has given up on them: 49ers, Cardinals, Giants.
Wild-Card Round Projection
(6) Ravens at (3) Texans
(5) Chargers at (4) Steelers
Byes: Chiefs, Patriots
(6) Panthers at (3) Redskins
(5) Seahawks at (4) Bears
Byes: Rams, Saints
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