Does it feel as though the NFL playoff race is smaller than usual this year? That's because the NFL playoff race is smaller than usual this year.
With Houston's win putting the Texans in control of the AFC South, we now list 11 teams with at least an 80 percent chance of making this year's postseason. Going back to 2009, the first year we did these simulations, we never had more than 10 teams with a more than 80 percent chance with two weeks left in the regular season. The only playoff spot that has no team at more than 80 percent is the one belonging to the winner of the NFC East -- and if Washington beats Philadelphia on Saturday night, that one will be decided too.
The good news is that while the playoff spots are mostly decided, the playoffs themselves are not. The hottest teams of the past few weeks -- Seattle, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh -- will need to go on the road to get to Super Bowl 50. That makes for a lot of close matchups and a lot of teams with a realistic chance at the title. Eight teams win the Super Bowl in at least 5 percent of this week's simulations.
About these odds: The Football Outsiders' playoff odds simulation 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 looks at a team's performance on every play and adjusts based on situation and opponent, 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.) Some ratings are adjusted before the simulation because of injuries, primarily to quarterbacks. Note that our odds will be different from 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 in each conference, on FootballOutsiders.com. Numbers might be slightly different because these odds were computed before the Monday Detroit-New Orleans contest.
AFC playoff projections
Current record: 12-2 | Weighted DVOA: 23.6% (6)
Mean projected wins: 13.3
Clinched first-round bye
The Patriots now have an 89 percent chance of getting the AFC's No. 1 seed; they simply need to win at the Jets this Sunday or at home against the Dolphins in Week 17. Clinching a first-round bye this week increased New England's chances of representing the AFC in Super Bowl 50 (to 36.0 percent), but their chances of winning it all actually went down (to 16.9 percent) because of strong performances that raised the ratings for NFC contenders Seattle and Arizona.