Simulations Reveal Best Bets to Make, Miss NFL Playoffs

Simulations Reveal Best Bets to Make, Miss NFL Playoffs article feature image

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill

  • At the quarter point in the NFL season, there are odds for each team to make or miss the playoffs.
  • According to The Action Network simulations, four teams have value to make or miss the playoffs.

At the quarter point of the season, making the playoffs is still possible for every NFL team. The undefeated Kansas City Chiefs are not guaranteed a spot in the postseason just as the winless Arizona Cardinals have not been eliminated.

However, according to oddsmakers, some teams are more likely than others to make the playoffs. The Chiefs are -700 (bet $700 to win $100) to play past Week 17 while the Cardinals’ season seems destined to end in December.

It is easy to pick KC to make the playoffs and Arizona to miss after their respective starts to the season, but is there value placing a wager on their make/miss playoff odds?

To find out, we compared our projections to current betting lines.

For example: Again, Kansas City’s odds of reaching the postseason are -700. For us to feel comfortable wagering on the Chiefs, they would need to make the playoffs 87.5% (which is 700/(100 +700)) of the time.

According to our simulations, the Patrick Mahomes & Co. have a 94.9% chance of being postseason participants, meaning there is value in placing a bet at -700 odds.

Based on the difference in implied probability and projected chance, the analysis below looks at the two best bets to make and miss the playoffs.

Make the Playoffs

Minnesota Vikings

  • Current odds: +170, Implied Probability: 37.0%
  • Vikings make the playoffs 56.5% of the time

In the preseason, the Vikings’ odds of making the playoffs were -225. Now Minnesota is plus-money to reach the postseason. The implied probability of Kirk Cousins leading Minnesota to consecutive playoff appearances has dropped from 69.2% to 37.0%. What’s changed?

For starters, the Vikings have stumbled out of the gates. A win over the 49ers in Week 1 was followed by a tie with the Packers and then back-to-back losses, including a shocking upset at the hands of the Bills as 16.5-point favorites.

The good news, the Vikings have been here before. A season ago Minnesota started 2-2 before rattling off eight straight wins. This is still an extremely talented roster and should be closer to -130 to make the playoffs, not +170.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Current odds: -175, Implied Probability: 63.6%
  • Jaguars make the playoffs 80.5% of the time

Five teams have better odds than Jacksonville to make the playoffs: LA Rams -3500, Kansas City -700, New England -700, Baltimore -220 and New Orleans -200. The Rams and Chiefs, I get it, they are undefeated world beaters, but the rest of the teams are bit surprising.

The Jags are fourth in Football Outsiders DVOA, second in defensive efficiency and Blake Bortles, the squeaky wheel of offense, is playing the best football of his career (65% completions, 7.3 yards/attempt, 7 TDs, 3 INTs).

Jacksonville isn’t getting any respect and is another team being undervalued by the market. The model gives the Jags an 80.5% chance of making the playoffs. That is equivalent to -410 odds.

Other teams with at least a 10% difference in implied probability and projected chance to make the playoffs: Pittsburgh Steelers +210 and Tennessee Titans -145.

Miss the Playoffs

Miami Dolphins

  • Current odds: +105, Implied Probability: 48.8%
  • Dolphins miss the playoffs 84.4% of the time

At 3-1 and on top of the AFC East, Miami should be feeling good about itself. But last Sunday’s embarrassing 38-7 loss at New England showed that these are the same old Dolphins.

Adam Gase’s squad is the only team in the league with a winning record and negative point differential (-8). The Fins are one of nine teams with three or more wins this season, but according to The Action Network’s NFL Power Rankings, are the seventh-worst team in the league.

Injuries aren’t helping. The offensive line is in shambles as team captain and center Daniel Kilgore, guard Josh Sitton and guard Jake Brendel are on injured reserve.

With the interior of the offensive line missing, the Dolphins finished with 172 total yards last Sunday against the Patriots and didn’t get past the New England 45-yard line until the fourth quarter.

Since the NFL realignment in 2002, teams that started the season 3-0, such as the Dolphins, have gone on to make the playoffs 70% of the time. According to the simulations, Miami will be the exception.

Dallas Cowboys

  • Current odds: -200, Implied Probability: 66.7%
  • Cowboys miss the playoffs 83.8% of the time

Per The Action Network’s Matthew Freedman, through four weeks NFL teams are pacing for all-time per-game highs in:

  • Points 24.0
  • Completions 23.8
  • Pass attempts 36.4
  • Passing yards 255.7
  • Passing Touchdowns 1.8
  • Adjusted yards per attempt 7.4

Offense is king, and passing rules the day. This is a big problem for a run-first Dallas offense.

Here are how the Cowboys or Dak Prescott rank in each of the above categories in 2018: 30th, 29th, 30th, 30th, 29th, 27th, according to

The offense is going nowhere, which means this team will be on the outside looking in when the playoffs roll around. The silver lining for Cowboys fans is this should end the Jason Garrett-era (eight seasons, two playoff appearances), right?

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