As we enter Week 14, the Denver Broncos have the highest probability of earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC according to the Football Outsiders playoff odds report, with their only threat being the New England Patriots. Because New England is only one game back in the standings and owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver, it seems on the surface like we can cut the tension with an ice scraper. After a look at the schedule, however, it becomes more apparent that this drama will thaw out on its own.
If we simply average the DVOAs of their remaining opponents, New England's final four games rank fourth easiest (minus-8.6 percent). (DVOA is Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted value over average metric, explained here.) Unfortunately for the Pats, one of the three teams with an even easier schedule is Denver, which has the easiest path in the league (minus-15.2 percent). As we are wont to do in this space, we can take things further by incorporating Weighted DVOA and home field, which allows us to produce an expected win probability for each game.
As the table shows, both teams figure to be favorites in each of their final four games, but the Broncos have a much clearer advantage in two of them. Generally speaking, playing on the road is equivalent to conceding 17 percentage points of DVOA. In the case of Denver, though, their vast superiority over Houston (ranked 30th in Weighted DVOA) and Oakland (31st) renders that disadvantage moot.
A simple probability calculation tells us there's a 54.8 percent chance (.725 x .757) that Denver wins both of those road games. New England, on the other hand, has to travel to Miami (17th) and Baltimore (20th), both of whom are fighting for their playoff lives. Our projection model therefore gives the Patriots only a 30.4 percent chance (.532 x .573) to win both of their two road games. With each team's remaining two home games shaping up to be cakewalks, Denver being twice as likely as New England to sweep their road games is a big deal when determining their chances of earning the No. 1 seed.
You can find the full playoff odds report, including the odds of each team winning each of the six seeds, on FootballOutsiders.com.
AFC playoff projections
No. 1 Denver Broncos
Current record: 10-2 | Weighted DVOA: 28.3 percent
Projected wins: 13.1
Total playoff odds: 100.0 percent | Weekly change: 0.0 percent
If there's anything whatsoever to be worried about in Denver, it's that the Broncos have shed 7.1 percentage points off of their Weighted DVOA over the past three weeks. Beating the Chiefs in Kansas City was an accomplishment to be sure, but "coming back from the dead, and then holding on for dear life" wasn't exactly the kind of convincing victory over an inferior team that instills confidence. Of course, some regression to the mean was inevitable given how well Denver played earlier in the season. It's always fun to pick nits, though.