There's really only one way for a 10-0 team to lose its spot as Super Bowl favorite: get passed by another 10-0 team. And that's what happened to the New England Patriots in this week's Football Outsiders playoff odds simulation.
This week, we give the Carolina Panthers the best odds to win Super Bowl 50. It's the first time since the preseason that we haven't had New England as our top Super Bowl favorite.
Each week from now until the end of the regular season, we'll be taking a look at the projected playoff field based on the Football Outsiders playoff odds simulation that plays out the rest of the season 25,000 times. A random draw assigns each team a win or loss for each game. (Like Donovan McNabb, the playoff odds simulation does not believe in ties.) The probabilities are based on each team's current weighted DVOA rating as well as home-field advantage. (DVOA is Football Outsiders' proprietary defense-adjusted value over average metric, which is explained further here. Weighted DVOA then takes that rating and adjusts it to lower the strength of games that took place more than a month ago.) Note that our odds will be different than playoff odds you might find elsewhere on ESPN.com (or at FiveThirtyEight.com) because each set of team ratings is computed differently.
You can find the full playoff odds report, including the odds of each team winning each of the six seeds, on FootballOutsiders.com.
Carolina now wins the Super Bowl in 25.7 percent of simulations, compared to New England winning in 23.2 percent of simulations. We also give Carolina a stronger chance to finish the regular season 16-0, at 13.6 percent compared to 10.5 percent for the Patriots. Both teams finish 16-0 in 1.4 percent of simulations.
Carolina is not our new Super Bowl favorite because we think the Panthers are better than the Patriots. The Panthers have been trending upward with dominant victories like Week 11's 44-16 stomping of Washington, while the Patriots have had some closer games in recent weeks. Nonetheless, our weighted DVOA ratings still favor the Patriots (32.0 percent better than average) slightly over Carolina (31.1 percent).
However, Carolina's road to the Super Bowl is easier than New England's. Both teams have four of their last six games on the road. However, New England's schedule ranks 20th when we look at the average DVOA of their remaining opponents, while Carolina ranks 29th. In particular, every bad game for the Atlanta Falcons makes the Panthers' road to the No. 1 seed in the NFC look easier and easier because those NFC South rivals play twice. Carolina now wins the No. 1 seed in 84 percent of simulations, while the Patriots get it 75 percent of the time. The Patriots will also have tougher opponents once we get to the postseason, as seven of the top 11 teams in weighted DVOA are in the AFC.
If the Patriots and Panthers met in Super Bowl 50, our numbers would still favor the Patriots slightly. But right now, it's more likely that Carolina will be there playing another AFC team than it is that New England will be there playing another NFC team. That little difference makes Carolina the new Super Bowl favorite.
AFC playoff projections
Current record: 10-0 | Weighted DVOA: 32.0%
Mean projected wins: 14.1
Total playoff odds: 100.0% | Weekly change: +0.1%
The Patriots' rounded 100 percent chance to make the playoffs is closer to 100 percent than Carolina's. The Patriots lose the AFC East in only 14 of our 25,000 simulations and they miss the playoffs entirely in only one of 25,000 simulations. A win in Denver on Sunday night would clinch the division.