The top three teams in the AFC are clear; the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos each has at least a 98 percent chance to make the playoffs and an 86 percent chance to finish the season as one of the top three seeds in the conference, according to NFL FPI.
After those teams, however, the conference is wide open. Currently, there are seven teams with a 6-5 or 5-6 record vying for the AFC’s final three playoff spots. If the playoffs started today, the Indianapolis Colts (6-5), Kansas City Chiefs (6-5) and Houston Texans (6-5) would be in, but with five weeks remaining in the season, a lot can change. Which teams will be there in the end? Let’s break it down with the help of ESPN’s Football Power Index.
The Chiefs have the best chance (85 percent) among those contenders to make the playoffs. They rank fifth in NFL FPI and have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league. Given its team strength and future schedule, Kansas City is projected by FPI to have a 20 percent chance to win out and end the season 11-5.
The Colts have the next-best chance (72 percent) to make the playoffs because of their high likelihood (70 percent) to win their division. Indianapolis currently holds the tiebreaker over Houston and has a 66 percent chance to beat Houston at home in Week 15.
A few weeks ago there was about a 1-in-4 chance that the AFC South winner would end the season with fewer than eight wins, but after recent surges by the Colts and Texans, there is now an 11 percent chance that both Houston and Indianapolis make the playoffs.
The Texans have the most to gain with a win this weekend; if they beat the Bills, their chances of making the playoffs will rise to approximately 60 percent, according to FPI, but if they lose, those chances will fall to about 26 percent. Similarly, the Jets (at Giants), Steelers (versus Colts) and Bills (versus Texans) would see their playoff chances increase by about 10 or 11 percentage points with a win.
For a full explanation on how the FPI is put together, please read this explainer. For more background, you can also read this Q&A with the developers of the FPI. The offensive, defensive and special teams breakdown can also be found here.
Matchups to watch in Week 13
Vikings: 50.2 percent chance to win/tie (0.1 predicted point differential)
Highest pregame matchup quality of the week (71.6 on 0-to-100 scale)
Predicted to be closest remaining game of the season
Seahawks: approximately 83 percent chance to make playoffs if they win; about 43 percent chance if they lose (currently 63 percent chance, fifth in NFC)
Redskins: 53 percent chance to win (0.9 predicted point differential)
Redskins: 39 percent chance to win NFC East (best in division)
Redskins: approximately 54 percent chance to win NFC East if they win; about a 22 percent chance if they lose
Cowboys: Chance for top-five pick will rise to approximately 67 percent with a loss (currently 49 percent, fifth in NFL)
Game with greatest playoff impact: New York Jets at New York Giants
Jets: 56 percent chance to win (2.0 predicted point differential)
Jets: approximately 44 percent chance to make playoffs if they win; about a 22 percent chance if they lose (currently 33 percent chance, eighth in AFC)
Giants: approximately 46 percent chance to make playoffs if they win; about a 21 percent chance if they lose (currently 33 percent chance, seventh in NFC)