In the next few days, ESPN.com will bring back its popular and informative Playoff Machine, an interactive way to view NFL playoff scenarios based on future results. For now, however, we have the Playoff Predictor, an Insider-only feature that uses numberFire.com's high-end algorithms to project odds for each conference's six-team playoff field.
I can't reveal all of the predictions contained therein. But I can confirm that with 10 weeks of the season in the books, the Playoff Predictor still sees three NFC North teams in the playoffs. Here is how that portion of the analysis breaks down, with projected record in parenthesis:
1. Green Bay Packers (14-2)
5. Chicago Bears (10-6)
6. Detroit Lions (10-6)
Based on the seedings projected by the Playoff Predictor, the Bears would play the team that wins the NFC East (identity available to Insiders) and the Lions would face the team that wins the NFC South (identity available to Insiders). The Packers, of course, would have a first-round bye and host the lowest seed remaining.
It's still a little early to be analyzing tiebreaker scenarios, but rest assured we'll be hitting that issue heavily in the coming weeks. Since the NFL switched the current format in 2002, there have been only two occasions when both wild-card teams came from the same division: The 2007 AFC South and the 2006 NFC East. We're looking to make it three.