Predicting the NFL wild-card races

McFarland starting to see Eagles' 'explosive' offense (1:44)

Booger McFarland says that he's starting to see the "pieces morph together" for the Eagles' offense and looks to the Cowboys' defense. (1:44)

The Los Angeles Rams clinched the first NFL playoff spot last week. More teams, particularly Kansas City and New Orleans, are likely to clinch playoff spots this week. Right now, all eight division leaders win their divisions in more than 70 percent of Football Outsiders' season simulations. Only Dallas and Pittsburgh are below 85 percent.

Instead of looking at overall playoff chances today, we're going to concentrate on the chances of the next batch of teams to win one of the four wild-card playoff spots. Our listing of teams leaves out the eight division leaders, but we'll make sure to mention the current chances for the listed teams to reverse the standings and win their divisions. At least one of the teams below comes back to win its division in 59 percent of our simulations.

We've simulated the season 30,000 times using Football Outsiders DVOA ratings to get the playoff odds we use below. For a full explanation on how we calculate each team's playoff odds, see the bottom of the article.


1. Los Angeles Chargers (9-3)

Wild-card chances: 87.6 percent

This week, the Chargers climbed past the New Orleans Saints into the No. 3 spot in Football Outsiders' DVOA ratings. In our weighted DVOA ratings, which give more strength to more recent games, the Chargers are No. 2, trailing only their division rivals in Kansas City. The Chargers are one of only two teams ranked in the top 10 in DVOA for both offense and defense. (The second team is a bit of a surprise, and we'll get to them below.)

Combine quality of play with a 9-3 record, and it is almost impossible for the Chargers to blow a playoff spot despite having a difficult December schedule. Los Angeles surges to win its division (and knocks Kansas City down to a wild card) in 9.7 percent of simulations, making its total playoff chances 97.3 percent.