Seven weeks into the season, we’re ready to take a look at what the first round of the playoffs could look like in January. Using the machine learning power of Amazon Web Services, we’ve simulated the rest of the NFL season thousands of times and found the most likely first-round playoff matchups, along with some teams that are just on the outside looking in.
NFC Wild Card Matchups
Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys
Per PFF's simulations, Minnesota currently is projected to make the playoffs 70.8% of the time and win the NFC North 31.3% of the time. Dallas is currently projected to make the playoffs 70.7% of the time and win the NFC East 69.5% of the time.
For the first time since 2009, the Vikings and Cowboys meet in matchup of quarterbacks elevated by scheme and supporting casts down in the Big D. Both Kevin Stefanski and Kellen Moore are top-five offensive play-callers by our metrics. Kirk Cousins, specifically, is the league’s highest-rated passer when using a play fake (140.2 passer rating), averaging over 11 yards per pass attempt in the process. The NFC is stacked, so the Cowboys will likely have to win their division to make it to the dance, with their Week 16 date in Philadelphia likely to determine if Dallas wins their third division title in four years.
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
Per PFF's simulations, Seattle is currently projected to make the playoffs 54.8% of the time and win the NFC West 19.4% of the time. Green Bay is currently projected to make the playoffs 84.3% of the time and win the NFC North 63.8% of the time.
Seattle's current projections are 54.8% to make the playoffs, 19.4% to win the NFC West. Green Bay's current projections are 84.3% to make the playoffs, 63.8% to win the NFC North.
In a rematch of the 2014 NFC Championship Game, the two most valuable players in the NFC square off in Lambeau. Seattle slipped up Sunday at home against the Ravens, but they are still better than even money to make the playoffs in a stacked NFC West due to Russell Wilson and his league-leading 138.6 passer rating on deep passes. Much like the Seahawks, the Packers have leveraged the combination of an easy schedule and luck to their record so far. That said, Aaron Rodgers is the highest-graded quarterback in the NFC so far this season despite playing without his best receiver in recent weeks, averaging over eight yards per pass attempt for the first time since his 2014 MVP season.
First Two Out: Per PFF's simulations, the Los Angeles Rams are currently projected to make the playoffs 44% of the time and win the NFC West 7.6% of the time. The Philadelphia Eagles are currently projected to make the playoffs 30.1% of the time and win the NFC East 27% of the time.
AFC Wild Card Matchups
Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts
Per PFF's simulations, Buffalo is currently projected to make the playoffs 72.6% of the time and win the AFC East 3.2% of the time. Indianapolis is currently projected to make the playoffs 64.6% of the time and win the AFC South 47.7% of the time.
If you told people that Josh Allen and Jacoby Brissett would be starting in a playoff game against each other to start the season, you would have been laughed out of the room. Both have improved significantly since their first seasons as starters, with Allen specifically offering efficiency underneath despite his noted arm strength. The Colts have been fast starters with Brissett, leveraging one of the league’s best minds in Frank Reich and an offensive line that is the seventh-most efficient pass-blocking unit and the second-highest graded in the run game. The AFC South is the closest divisional race in the league right now, with this game very easily being a repeat of the 2018 AFC Wild Card matchup between AFC South foes if the Bills regress and/or the Texans overtake the Colts.
Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
Per PFF's simulations, Houston is currently projected to make the playoffs 63% of the time and win the AFC South 39.1% of the time. Baltimore is currently projected to make the playoffs 84% of the time and win the AFC North 75.7% of the time.
In a matchup of two of the great young quarterbacks going in the NFL right now, the Texans and Ravens square off in a rematch of Houston’s first-ever playoff game in 2011. Both Bill O’Brien and John Harbaugh have won our AWS Decision of the Week award, and since the two teams have played a combined four games outside of a touchdown difference this season, those decisions on the margins have been a great deal of difference for them. Both defenses have been suspect relative to past performances through the season’s first seven weeks – both yielding an above-average yards per play, so look for Lamar Jackson (with over 250 rushing yards on designed runs and scrambles so far this season) and Deshaun Watson (with passer rating over 100 on both play-action and non-play-action passes) to put up some points at M&T Bank Stadium.
First Two Out: Per PFF's simulations, the Oakland Raiders are currently projected to make the playoffs 28.7% of the time and win the AFC West 10.2% of the time. The Cleveland Browns are currently projected to make the playoffs 28.6% of the time and win the AFC North 14.8% of the time.