The NFL Playoff Picture With Four Weeks Left

I went to play around with ESPN’s Playoff Machine, the tool that allows you to pick the remaining games on the NFL schedule and then it automatically calibrates all the tiebreakers and sets up the NFL playoff picture¬†in the aftermath of NFL Week 13.

My approach was conservative. I took whatever I felt would be the chalk pick in a game–if the teams seemed fairly even, I just deferred to the home team and I didn’t pick any upsets. Here’s how the results came out…

1st-Round Games
(6)Pittsburgh at (3)Cincinnati
(5)Kansas City at (4)Indianapolis

(6)San Francisco at (3)Detroit
(5)Carolina at (4)Dallas

(1)Denver, (2) New England
(1)Seattle, (2)New Orleans

The most interesting result was Pittsburgh, given that I do have them losing at Green Bay. The notion that 8-8 will grab the AFC’s final playoff spot is hardly unreasonable, given that 6-6 holds the spot right now (Baltimore).

My scenario does have the Ravens losing at Detroit and at home against New England. The latter is a classic example of the difficulty with implementing a conservative approach–is it safer to pick the Ravens at home, or defer to the Patriots as the superior team? You can make a good argument either way.

What I think this does illustrate is that Pittsburgh has a good tiebreaker situation, so long as they reach 8-8 in exactly this fashion–i.e, losing to Cincinnati at home while beating Green Bay does not equal itself out, since the Bengals’ game is within the division. It also illustrates that Baltimore is going to need to win at least one really difficult game if they’re going to make it back to the postseason.

I’m not sure I’d pick Dallas over Philadelphia, but that is the chalk pick, with the Cowboys having the Eagles coming to Big D this month and my scenario had both teams finishing 10-6. Again, we have a situation that shows that even you like Philadelphia, they’re going to have take out a team on the road and overcome significant tiebreaker disadvantages in the process. Dallas has a head-to-head win over Philly and is undefeated in the division.

The rest of the bracket is uncontroversial, especially after Chicago’s loss to Minnesota. I might lean Indy over Cincinnati in general, but I won’t dispute the 3 and 4 spots too fervently. This approach also does not factor in the possibility of teams resting starters in the final week.