Only three weeks are left in the 2018 NFL regular season, and Week 15 offers a number of intriguing matchups that could impact the playoff race. With so much on the line, which game is the most important?
For some context, we’ll use Brian Burke of ESPN’s Playoff Probability Leverage, which Burke tweets out weekly. In short, playoff probability leverage indicates the change in chance of making the playoffs based on the results of the selected game. For example, teams like the Rams, Patriots, and Saints are so assured of earning a postseason appearance that this week’s contests have limited meaning for them (less than 1% playoff leverage). Teams like the Lions, Giants, 49ers, Cardinals, Bills, and Raiders etc. will also face low playoff leverages because they have virtually no chance of making the postseason.
But for some clubs, Week 15 means everything. And by combining the playoff probability leverages of the two teams involved in a selected game, we can determine which contests will most determine the postseason entrants:
- Miami Dolphins (19%) @ Minnesota Vikings (42%)
- New England Patriots (1%) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (42%)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1%) @ Baltimore Ravens (40%)
- Tennessee Titans (29%) @ New York Giants (1%)
- Dallas Cowboys (2%) @ Indianapolis Colts (24%)
Of course, there are other factors at play here as well. It’s not just playoff bids that are on the line here, many coaches are coaching for their jobs as well. Ron Rivera, John Harbaugh, and Dirk Koetter are all in grave danger of being fired if their respective teams miss the playoffs, so each of their games this week have some added meaning.. There’s also a bunch of games with seeding relevance, as the number one seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is still wide open with four teams in contention.
This week is massive for the AFC North, as both the Steelers and Ravens will see their playoff chances dramatically decrease if they can’t win. The Patriots are still battling for seeding in the AFC, and could clinch the AFC East with a win and Dolphins loss.
So, what do you think? Are the numbers right — is Dolphins/Vikings the most critical game of the weekend because it’ll go a long way toward determining wild card spots? Or does a contest farther down the playoff probability leverage spectrum, such as Buccaneers/Ravens mean more because of the coaching implications? Vote below (link for app users), and add your thoughts in the comments section!