We all know that Dallas and New England are currently the favorites to meet in Super Bowl LI. But being a Super Bowl favorite isn't just about winning games. It's also about being ahead of your competition.
New England is the Super Bowl favorite right now, even though the Patriots have the same record as Oakland and are one game behind Dallas. That's because both Oakland and Dallas face more competition than the Patriots do.
For Oakland, the competition is for a division title. The Raiders have only a one-game lead on the Chiefs, and they have to play in Kansas City in two weeks. So while the Raiders may be tied for the best record in the AFC, they also have only a 59 percent chance of winning their own division. Making it to the Super Bowl will be a lot tougher as a wild card. Oakland, Kansas City and Denver all have much worse Super Bowl odds than New England does because only one of them can win the AFC West.
For Dallas, the competition is for the conference championship. Despite the quality of the rest of the NFC East, the Cowboys are pretty safe with a two-game lead on the Giants. They get the NFC's top seed in 82.5 percent of our simulations this week. But even with home-field advantage, the Cowboys will face a lot of tough opponents on their way to the Super Bowl. Four of the top five teams in Football Outsiders' weighted DVOA ratings right now are NFC teams (New England is the other). The Cowboys' chances of making the Super Bowl are lower because Seattle and Atlanta also have a strong chance of making it.
That's why the Patriots win the Super Bowl in 25.4 percent of our simulations right now, and Dallas in only 21.3 percent of simulations. Seattle wins 11.7 percent of the time, Atlanta 9.9 percent, Oakland 8.9 percent and Kansas City 6.2 percent.
You'll find our playoff odds for all 32 teams below. For a full explanation of how we calculate each team's playoff odds, see the bottom of the article.
AFC PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
1. New England Patriots (9-2)
Odds of making playoffs: 98.9 percent
The Patriots still look like the class of the AFC, but their pass defense may prove to be a problem come playoff time. New England ranks fourth in defensive DVOA against the run, but 28th against the pass. The biggest issues are the pass rush -- the Pats are dead last in adjusted sack rate -- and coverage of shorter passes. They rank 29th in DVOA against tight ends and 25th against running backs as receivers.