The 8 Best Bets to Make or Miss the 2020 NFL Playoffs Based On Model Projections
Getty Images. Pictured: Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Nagy
The 2020 NFL season is quickly approaching.
Every team is planning to play the full 16-game season as of writing, but as we’ve seen with the other professional sports, things can change in an instant. Still, we should place our bets as if the season will play out to completion. (Most books will still honor bets if the season is shortened, but be sure to check the terms of each.)
With the NFL adding a wild-card team to each conference — bringing the total of berths to seven each for the AFC and NFC — it’s created value on teams to make or miss the postseason.
Using my NFL model, I simulated the full season 10,000 times to get playoff odds for all 32 teams. Below are the best bets based on those results.
NFL Playoff Picks
Click on a pick to skip to that analysis. You can also jump to my model’s odds for all 32 teams by clicking here.
New to betting? The Dolphins’ +500 odds to make the playoffs mean a $10 bet would net $50 in profits. Convert more odds with our Betting Odds Calculator.
Browns To Miss Playoffs (-130)
This pick aligns with my Browns under 8.5 wins bet, and I have no qualms about doubling down against Cleveland this season: My model’s simulations have them making the playoffs only 24.9% of the time.
Every team in the AFC North improved over the offseason, making the divisional schedule tough for Cleveland. The Browns have a lot of big names in fantasy football, but they are well behind the elite teams in the conference and haven’t really separated themselves from teams like Denver or Houston, which are in the same range of fighting for a wild-card spot.
A coaching change was clearly needed, but I don’t think Kevin Stefanski’s addition will solve all of the Browns’ problems and get them back to the playoffs.
Bills To Miss Playoffs (+160)
The narrative is that that AFC East is now for the Bills’ taking with Tom Brady out of the picture, but models and math don’t really give a damn about narratives.
My model has the Bills making the playoffs only 46.1% of the time, meaning you should be laying juice — not getting a hefty underdog line — to take this prop.
Defensive efficiency is much harder to replicate year-over-year than offensive efficiency in the NFL (see: the Bears in 2019 or the Jaguars in 2019). If the Bills’ defense regresses towards league average, their offense isn’t quite good enough to carry them to a playoff berth. Josh Allen is getting a lot of hype in fantasy, but his accuracy and efficiency metrics still leave a lot to be desired.
[Bet now at William Hill. NJ only.]
Steelers To Make Playoffs (-115)
The Steelers welcome Ben Roethlisberger back after having to start a combination of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges for 14 games last season. Still, the Steelers went 8-8 despite averaging only 18.0 points per game. As we discussed with the Bills, it’ll be difficult for the Steelers’ defense to match its 2019 efficiency, so it’s likely to regress. But with Big Ben back under center, their offense should take a drastic leap forward.
My model’s simulations have the Steelers making the playoffs 68.8% of the time, making this an easy value play.
Eagles To Miss Playoffs (+165)
My model currently gives the Eagles a 48.2% chance of making the playoffs, which is the sixth-highest in the NFC. But the conference is really deep this season as even the 11th-best team, the Falcons, have a 31% of making the playoffs.
With so many teams capable of winning one of the three wild-card spots, the Eagles should be closer to a 50/50 proposition, so the +165 price is too good to pass up.
[Bet now at BetMGM and get an INSTANT $500 deposit match.]
Cardinals To Make Playoffs (+275)
Speaking of an NFC team that could make the leap into the playoffs, I give you the Arizona Cardinals.
Second-year quarterback Kyler Murray is back with second-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury to see what this offense can do after a sensational rookie season from both. The Cardinals added DeAndre Hopkins by fleecing the Texans to help out, too. If the defense can just be opportunistic enough to capitalize on turnovers, the Cardinals could make a run and be a tough out in the playoffs.
I have Arizona making the playoffs 40% of the time, so this is well above a fair price.
Bears To Miss Playoffs (-178)
This is a hefty price to pay, but it’s well worth it because the Bears shouldn’t be very good. Sorry if that is blunt for Chicago fans, but if the solution to your quarterback problem is getting the guy who was replaced by Gardner Minshew last season, well … that’s not much of a solution.
My model’s simulations have the Bears making the playoffs just 22% of the time — that’s ahead of only the Giants, Panthers and Washington in the NFC.
[Bet now at FanDuel and get a $1,000 risk-free bet.]
Lions To Make Playoffs (+280)
One of the reasons the simulations don’t like the Bears’ chances to make the playoffs is because of the Lions’ projected improvement.
Matthew Stafford’s health continues to be a concern, but if he can play the entire season, the Lions should be in the playoff hunt. They have a similar team profile as the Cardinals in that the Lions will likely need to win some shootouts to make it, but their personnel is equipped to do just that.
Detroit makes the playoffs just fewer than 40% in my model’s simulations, which is well above the +280 implied odds of 26.3%.
Dolphins To Make Playoffs (+500)
Let’s get weird: What if Tom Brady leaving didn’t open the door for the Bills … but for the Dolphins?
Miami is coming off a 5-11 season, and we still don’t know who the starting quarterback is going to be for the majority of the season. On average, I’m projecting Ryan Fitzpatrick to start four games with Tua Tagovailoa starting the remaining 12. Rookie quarterbacks are highly volatile, but the upside is much higher with Tua than the known quantity of a veteran on his last legs.
Because of the upside Tua brings to this offense as well as the other improvements the Dolphins have made in free agency and the draft, I have them making the playoffs 30% of the time, which puts a 5-1 longshot well within reach.
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My Model’s Projected NFL Playoff Odds
Below are the playoff odds for all 32 teams and the implied moneyline for those percentages.