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NFL Playoff Picture: How Our Model Projects AFC & NFC Brackets With 8-Team Expansion

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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images Pictured: Derek Carr

After expanding the NFL playoff picture to 14 teams, owners approved a contingency plan for another potential expansion: If any “meaningful” games (i.e. any with postseason implications) are cancelled due to COVID-19, the league will expand the field to 16 teams — eight each in the AFC and NFC.

So, which teams could see their playoff hopes rise with that additional spot in each conference?

We used our model to simulate the rest of the season 10,000 times in order to project the playoff chances for all 32 teams based on a 14-team format as well as a 16-team format, then compared the two to highlight the difference. Let’s dig into those projections, but first, let’s take a closer look at what the overall NFL playoff picture could look like if cancellations do lead to a 16-team field.

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Projected NFL Playoff Picture

By using our model to calculate each team’s chances to win their divisions and average wins, we were able to project the top four seeds in the AFC and NFC. Then from there, we took the four teams in each conference with the highest remaining playoff chances and seeded them 5-8 based on their average wins.

As you’ll note in the projected brackets below, our model likes the Las Vegas Raiders (AFC) and Chicago Bears (NFC) to emerge as the potential eighth seeds if the NFL does end up expanding the field to 16 total teams.

Note: Each team’s average wins based on our model’s 10,000 simulations are outlined in parenthesis. These projections are as of Friday, Nov. 13 and are subject to change as a result of Week 10 and beyond.

Projected AFC Bracket

  1. Steelers (13.4)
  2. Chiefs (12.81)
  3. Bills (10.48)
  4. Colts (10.27)
  5. Ravens (11.87)
  6. Dolphins (9.93)
  7. Titans (9.62)
  8. Raiders (8.78)
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Projected NFC Bracket

  1. Saints (11.06)
  2. Packers (10.93)
  3. Seahawks (11.08)
  4. Eagles (8.06)
  5. Bucs (10.13)
  6. Rams (9.72)
  7. Cardinals (9.6)
  8. Bears (8.4)

NFL Playoff Predictions

Find our model’s projected chances for each team to make the playoffs if the NFL proceeds with a 14-team vs. a 16-team bracket, as well as the difference between the two.

Team
14-Team
16-Team
Diff
ARI
73.6%
85.7%
+12.1%
ATL
1.6%
2.7%
+1.1%
BAL
97.4%
98.9%
+1.5%
BUF
88.9%
95.3%
+6.4%
CAR
2.6%
7.6%
+5.0%
CHI
44.0%
64.2%
+20.2%
CIN
1.4%
3.8%
+2.4%
CLE
35.2%
54.6%
+19.4%
DAL
0.4%
0.5%
+0.1%
DEN
4.2%
5.1%
+0.9%
DET
8.0%
15.8%
+7.8%
GB
93.7%
98.7%
+5.0%
HOU
1.2%
3.0%
+1.8%
IND
79.7%
90.1%
+10.4%
JAX
0.0%
0.0%
0.0%
KC
99.7%
99.9%
+0.2%
LAR
78.2%
89.4%
+11.2%
LAC
2.1%
4.9%
+2.8%
MIA
71.1%
83.3%
+12.2%
MIN
18.3%
32.5%
+14.2%
NE
8.1%
16.9%
+8.8%
NO
96.7%
98.7%
+2.0%
NYG
3.7%
3.7%
0.0%
NYJ
0.0%
0.0%
0.0%
LV
44.9%
63.7%
+18.8%
PHI
92.4%
92.8%
+0.4%
PIT
99.9%
99.9%
0.0%
SF
6.2%
14.6%
+8.4%
SEA
94.6%
97.8%
+3.2%
TB
82.0%
90.5%
+8.5%
TEN
66.2%
80.6%
+14.4%
WSH
4.0%
4.9%
+0.9%
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