News & Analysis

Handicapping the race for the AFC's 2 seed

Oct 10, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots middle linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) celebrates with defensive back Terrence Brooks (25) and wide receiver Matthew Slater (18) after scoring against the New York Giants during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Fourteen weeks into the 2019 season, and a decent amount has materialized in the AFC. The Baltimore Ravens, led by Lamar Jackson and John Harbaugh, are the odds-on favorite not only to get the one seed in the AFC, but to win the Super Bowl (at 21.7%).

The more interesting development is for the second first-round bye in the conference. As we’ve said a number of times, no team in the NFL has even made the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye since the Ravens in 2012. In a league where parody is embraced, the first round of the playoffs is anything but a sure thing, so increasing your odds of advancing from 70/30 to 100/0 is of supreme importance. Here, we list some candidates for the two seed, using our AWS-powered simulation:

New England Patriots (69.5% to get the 2 seed)

  • The Patriots’ privilege persists even after losses to Baltimore, Houston and Kansas City in the last five games. The Patriots came into the season with the league’s easiest schedule and have the easiest one down the stretch as well. Their schedule of opposing offenses is worse than any team in the league as well, meaning their end-of-season statistics will be awfully good despite their recent slip-ups.
  • If they don’t get it figured out on their own offensively (they are currently just 16th in our PFF Massey offensive rating) the bye might not matter, but if things hold (and they are projected to win out 49% of the time) it will be their 10th consecutive season getting the first round of the playoffs to rest.

Kansas City Chiefs (17.8%)

  • Kansas City has had some impressive wins of late, beating the upstart Vikings at home with Matt Moore at quarterback before going into New England a month later to beat the Pats for the second time in three years. The Chiefs defense is one of the league’s most improved, up to 19th in yards per play allowed and 23rd in our PFF Massey defensive rating (after finishing last year 32nd).
  • Losses to Tennessee and Houston will hurt them if they falter (we give them a 30% chance to win out). Their chances will be greatly enhanced if they get better play from Patrick Mahomes, who is generating a negatively graded throw at a rate of 14.5% after being under 10% during his 2018 MVP season.

Houston Texans (0.6%) and Tennessee Titans (0.3%)

  • Houston and Tennessee are lower than one would anticipate upon first blush because there’s still a chance that the Ravens (8.2%) fall to the second seed or the Bills (3.2%) party like it’s 1993 by usurping the Patriots (while the Chiefs falter). The biggest reason the AFC South champion is going to struggle to get a bye is that they play each other twice in the last three weeks, with the most likely outcome a split.

 

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