December 15th, 2018 at 9:30pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
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!
December 8th, 2018 at 8:50pm CST by Andrew Ortenberg
Only four weeks are left in the 2018 NFL regular season, and Week 14 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, the Rams, Patriots, Saints, and Chiefs 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, Jets, and Raiders etc. will also face low playoff leverages because they have virtually no chance of making the postseason.
But for some clubs, Week 14 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:
Philadelphia Eagles (47%) @ Dallas Cowboys (42%) = 89%
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 Vance Joseph are all in grave danger of being fired if their respective teams miss the playoffs, so perhaps those games have a little 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.
So So, what do you think? Are the numbers right — is Eagles/Cowboys the most critical game of the weekend because it’ll go a long way toward determining the winner of the NFC East? Or does a contest farther down the playoff probability leverage spectrum, such as Panthers/Browns mean more because of the coaching implications? Vote below (link for app users), and add your thoughts in the comments section!
The U.S. can’t get enough of the NFL, but the country’s appetite for professional football alternatives is highly questionable. Despite the collapse of the USFL, the first iteration of the XFL, and other challengers, there are now three ambitious spring football leagues in development.
The FFL says it will have teams in San Diego, Oklahoma City, Portland, Texas, Ohio, Florida, Birmingham, St. Louis, Connecticut, and Oakland, but what it doesn’t have is a concrete launch date or a broadcasting deal like the American Alliance of Football. It’s also unclear whether it has the financial backing to match the returning XFL, which is owned by billionaire Vince McMahon.
These three leagues will fight for the biggest slice of a pie that may not be all that big in the first place. One could argue that the AAF – which boasts a roster of coaches including Brad Childress, Mike Singletary, Steve Spurrier, and Mike Martz – has the best chance for survival, though McMahon seems driven to eclipse the memory of his one-and-done football experiment of 2001. We don’t know much about the FFL, but we do know that it will be playing catchup when and if it launches.
Which spring league will reign supreme? Cast your vote below (link for app users) and head to the comment section to let us know whether you think large-scale spring football can be viable.
Although Sammy Watkins has missed time for the Chiefs this season, they trotted out their top offensive threats in every game. The Patrick Mahomes–Travis Kelce–Tyreek Hill–Kareem Hunt quartet led Kansas City to a 9-2 record — with losses coming by a combined six points against teams with a combined 18-4 record — and a runaway DVOA lead, but the NFL’s reigning rushing champion won’t be joining his former teammates Sunday in Oakland after the Chiefs cut him. Hunt totaled 1,202 yards from scrimmage for the Chiefs this season; no other K.C. back has more than 300. But next-man-up Spencer Ware did amass 1,368 for the 2016 Chiefs.
This may open the door for the franchise that has secured the AFC’s No. 1 seed in five of this decade’s eight seasons. Only two AFC franchises have held home field in the 2010s — New England and Denver — and no other team has represented the conference in a Super Bowl in six years.
The Chiefs have not had home-field advantage since 1997 but entered the week having the inside track to make the playoffs go through western Missouri. Football Outsiders gives Kansas City a 74 percent chance to lock down the No. 1 seed.
They have two games remaining against the 2-9 Raiders and also will be home against the Chargers, who haven’t won this matchup since 2013, and Ravens. The Chiefs must travel to Seattle in Week 16, and their margin for error may be slim.
The Patriots’ AFC East rivals are again cooperating with New England’s hopes of earning a bye and possibly the 1 seed, and three of the Pats’ final five games are against the Bills, Jets and Dolphins. Football Outsiders, however, gives the Patriots merely a 13 percent chance of securing home-field advantage. But they own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Chiefs and Texans. Despite this being a less-than-dominant Patriots edition (ninth DVOA, seventh in scoring offense, 12th on defense), they have an interesting chance to obtain home field again.
New England is 19-3 in Foxborough playoff games under Bill Belichick and 3-4 away from home in January, making that position rather important.
Football Outsiders tabs Houston, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles as long shots, with none carrying better than a 6.9 percent chance (the Texans) to avoid January travel.
Houston, though, leads the contender pack with the No. 4 DVOA defense and plays just one winning team — the 6-5 Colts — the rest of the way. The Texans are riding the longest win streak in football and are the first team to win eight straight after starting 0-3. The Steelers and Chargers will encounter tougher opposition. Games against the Bolts, Patriots (both at home) and Saints still loom for the Steelers. Road trips to Kansas City and Denver are ahead for the Chargers, who also host the Ravens in Week 16.
Los Angeles is fourth in weighted DVOA and, especially with Joey Bosa back, possesses a far superior defense to the Chiefs. Will that end up mattering come Week 15 in what’s been a one-sided rivalry as of late?
So, which one of these teams will end up with the conference’s coveted postseason real estate? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.
November 29th, 2018 at 8:59pm CST by Dallas Robinson
We’re just five weeks away from the 2018 NFL postseason, and Week 10 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, the Rams, Patriots, Saints, and Chiefs are so assured of earning a postseason appearance that this week’s contests have limited meaning for them (less than 1% playoff leverage). The Lions, Buccaneers, Giants, 49ers, Cardinals, Bills, Jaguars, Jets, and Raiders will also face low playoff leverages because they have virtually no chance of making the postseason.
But for other clubs, Week 10 could mean 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:
Washington Redskins (38%) at Philadelphia Eagles (16%) = 54%
Baltimore Ravens (32%) at Atlanta Falcons (4%) = 36%
Indianapolis Colts (30%) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1%) = 31%
San Francisco 49ers (0%) at Seattle Seahawks (31%) = 31%
Minnesota Vikings (26%) at New England Patriots (1%) = 27%
Carolina Panthers (24%) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1%) = 25%
Denver Broncos (15%) at Cincinnati Bengals (5%) = 20%
Los Angeles Chargers (7%) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7%) = 14%
Week 13 is a strange week in terms of playoff leverage, as nearly every matchup with a combined leverage of at least 20% is extremely one-sided. In other words, a lot of the games this week are critical for one team involved, and nearly irrelevant for the other club. In fact, there are only three contests in which both teams face leverage of at least five percent: Redskins/Eagles, Broncos/Bengals, and Chargers/Steelers. In the latter case, neither Los Angeles nor Pittsburgh is in danger of missing the postseason, but their showdown could be important for playoff seeding.
It’s also important to note that not all playoff probability leverages are created equally. For example, even if the Cowboys — who face a 23% PPL — lose to the Saints on Thursday, they’ll still have a greater than 55% chance of making the postseason. On the other hand, the Eagles, while facing a similar PPL to the Cowboys (24%), will have roughly a one-in-ten chance of earning a postseason berth if they fall to the Buccaneers. If Philadelphia wins, that number rises to about 35%.
So, what do you think? Are the numbers right — is Redskins/Eagles the most critical game of the weekend? Or does a contest farther down the playoff probability leverage spectrum, such as Broncos/Bengals mean more? Vote below, and add your thoughts in the comments section! (Link for app users).
November 28th, 2018 at 7:35pm CST by Dallas Robinson
From a divisional perspective, the NFL playoff race isn’t all that exciting in 2018. While there is certainly intrigue regarding the No. 6 seed in the AFC, and the NFC wild card race still needs to shake out, there is only one divisional race that is truly up for grabs. The NFC East is still wide open at the moment, with three clubs still realistically in the hunt to take the division crown.
Two weeks ago, I asked PFR readers which team that wasn’t at first place at the time still had a shot of winning its division. The Cowboys had roughly a 10% chance of taking the NFC East, and only nine percent of PFR readers believed Dallas was the most likely non-first place club to end up as division champions. Oh, how things have changed. The Cowboys have won two consecutive games since (bringing their current win streak to three), first defeating the Falcons before winning a critical matchup over the Redskins on Thanksgiving. Dallas has topped 130 yards rushing in each of its last three contests, while Dak Prescott has remained interception-free during the same period.
Arizona Cardinals (30.8% chance of No. 1 pick, 88.8% chance of top-five pick)
Sunday’s contest between the Cardinals and Raiders was not exactly must-watch television, but it did carry serious NFL Draft implications. By losing 23-21 to Jon Gruden‘s squad, the Cardinals became the most likely team to net the top pick in the spring. Ideally, the Cardinals would like to end the season on a higher note, but their fans aren’t necessarily of the same mind. The Cardinals’ final six games come against the Chargers, Packers, Lions, Falcons, Rams, and Seahawks, which is not exactly a cupcake schedule.
Oakland Raiders (28.6% chance of No. 1 pick, 90.6% chance of top-five pick)
Sunday’s win was a slight blow to the Raiders’ chances of picking first, but don’t tell that to Gruden & Co. Things haven’t gone as planned this year, so they’ll take positives wherever they can get them, even if it’s a W in a meaningless November game. The Raiders’ secondary stepped up in a big way against Arizona, but the pass rush is clearly missing the game-changing talent of Khalil Mack. From here on out, wins could be harder to come by with two games against the Chiefs (twice), Steelers, and Bengals.
San Francisco 49ers (27.6% chance of No. 1 pick, 83.9% chance of top-five pick)
The Niners’ Week 10 loss to the Giants was bad for morale, but it greatly increased their chances of hitting the podium first. After their bye, the Niners will return to face the Buccaneers, which is either a good or bad matchup depending on which way you want the team to go as a San Francisco fan. The 49ers’ offense has not looked the same without quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerick McKinnon, but they still have some firepower thanks to the emergence of tight end George Kittle. They’re effectively in a three-horse race for the top choice, but they might not be the smart pick in this poll thanks to a relatively easy schedule down the stretch.
New York Jets (4.7% chance of No. 1 pick, 50.5% chance of top-five pick)
This offseason will be one of tremendous change for the Jets. Head coach Todd Bowles seems likely to get the pink slip and GM Mike Maccagnan will have upwards of $100MM to spend on the open market. Will they also be armed with the No. 1 overall pick? The Jets have been putrid, for the most part, and their last outing against the Bills may have been the low point of the season. But with three wins at this stage of the season and a few winnable games ahead, the Jets are not the odds-on favorites to pick first.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3.5% chance of No. 1 pick, 41.7% chance of top-five pick)
The Buccaneers have flip-flopped between Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick throughout the year with mixed results. Unfortunately, their problems have extended beyond the quarterback position and injuries have not helped matters either. One important thing to note is that both Winston and head coach Dirk Koetter are playing for their respective futures in Tampa. There will be no tanking here.
Outside of those clubs, the Bills (1.8% chance of No. 1 pick, 31.5% chance of top-five pick), Giants (1.3% chance of No. 1 pick, 27.4% chance of top-five pick), and other cellar-dwellers are in the mix for the top selection.
So, who will it be? Click below to cast your vote (link for app users) and back up your choice in the comments section.
November 15th, 2018 at 5:59pm CST by Dallas Robinson
With 10 weeks of NFL action in the books, the playoff picture is beginning to crystallize, but there are certainly still divisions up for grabs. There are eight non-first place teams which still have at least a 10% chance to win their respective division, per FiveThirtyEight.com. That cutoff will leave out clubs like the Packers (9%) and the Colts (7%) who still theoretically could take their division, but I think it’s a good glance at where things stand.
Let’s take an overview of each club:
Tennessee Titans (49% chance to win AFC South)
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Titans actually have better odds at taking the AFC South than the Texans, who currently sit in first place in the division. It’s not a huge difference between the two clubs, as Houston has a 43% chance to win the South, but the odds are slightly in Tennessee’s favor. The Titans have looked like an entirely different team over the past three weeks: after averaging only 262 yards of offense from Weeks 1-6, Tennessee has averaged 371 yards per game over their last three contests.
Minnesota Vikings (40% chance to win NFC North)
The Vikings still have to play the division-leading Bears twice, and one of those games will come this Sunday night in a contest that could certainly help decide the NFC North winner. Minnesota could be facing an uphill battle for the rest of the year, however. While the Vikings have faced the NFL’s third-easiest schedule to this point, they’ll go against the league’s fourth-most difficult slate from here on out (per Football Outsiders).
Philadelphia Eagles (26% chance to win NFC East)
Rewind to early August when I posed the following question to PFR readers: Which 2017 first place team is likeliest to miss the postseason in 2018? The Eagles received only 3.2% of the vote, last among the eight 2017 division winners, but they now have only a one-in-four chance of taking the NFC East. It’s easy to dismiss the Redskins’ low-octane offense, but their two-game lead on Philadelphia can’t be ignored. The two teams face each twice over the rest of the season, including a regular season finale that could decide the division.
Dallas Cowboys (20% chance to win NFC East)
Like the Eagles, the Cowboys are also two games behind the Redskins, but Dallas doesn’t have the advantage of playing Washington twice more this year (having already lost to the Redskins in Week 7). The Cowboys are the second-lowest variance team in terms of DVOA through 10 weeks, but they might need some spiked weeks — especially on the offensive side of the ball — if they want to overtake the Redskins and Eagles. The wisdom of sending a first-round pick to the Raiders in exchange for Amari Cooper can be debated, but he’s certainly performed well (11 receptions, 133 yards, one touchdown) through two games in Dallas.
Carolina Panthers (15% chance to win NFC South)
The Saints look like Super Bowl favorites after taking out the previously undefeated Rams in Week 9 before demolishing the Bengals in Week 10, and they very well may be. But the Panthers are only two games behind New Orleans in the standings and still get to face the Saints twice. All that adds up to only a 15% chance of winning the NFC South, but it’s not nothing, especially if Cam Newton continues to play at something close to his 2015 MVP level.
Los Angeles Chargers (13% chance to win AFC West)
Like the Panthers, the Chargers are second in their division to a team (the Chiefs) that’s gotten a ton of publicity…but the Chargers are also one of the of the NFL’s best teams. They rank third overall in DVOA, and they’re one of only two teams — along with the Bears — that boast a top-10 DVOA unit on both sides of the ball. Melvin Gordon is on pace to post 1,840 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns, and Philip Rivers is arguably posting the best season of his career, at least according to passer rating and adjusted net yards per attempt.
Cincinnati Bengals (11% chance to win AFC North)
The Bengals are reeling following a 51-14 loss to the Saints in Week 10, and they responded by making changes to their coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired, clearing the way for head coach Marvin Lewis to take over defensive play-calling, while old friend and ex-Browns head coach Hue Jackson is now in the building, as well. Whether those changes will help fix a defense that’s on pace to allow more yards than any in NFL history is anyone’s guess, but Cincinnati will also have to make hay without star wideout A.J. Greenfor at least one more game.
So what do you think? Will one of these teams claim their division? Or does a team not listed here — Packers? Colts? Ravens? — have a chance to take home a crown? Vote below, and leave your thoughts in the comment section! (Link for app users).
After firing Hue Jackson, the Browns installed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as the team’s interim head coach. This week, GM John Dorsey confirmed that Williams will be considered for the full-time post, but no matter how well the team does down the stretch, Dorsey will do his due diligence and speak with a number of candidates.
By the end of this season, the Browns will have gone through 16 straight seasons without a playoff berth and patience is obviously running thin in Cleveland. The club has a lot of confidence in Williams, who is regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the NFL, but there are a number of interesting candidates for the Browns to consider this offseason. Here’s a quick glance at the field and some speculative candidates for the post:
Lincoln Riley – The Oklahoma Sooners head coach was quickly connected to the Browns thanks to his previous partnership with quarterback Baker Mayfield. Riley is still only 35 years old and in his second year as a head coach, but NFL executives seem to love his energy and passion for the game. If the Browns want Riley, they may have to compete with the Cowboys and other clubs to get him.
Josh McDaniels – Would NFL teams consider the Patriots’ offensive coordinator just one year after he left the Colts at the altar? The short answer is yes. Despite all of the hand-wringing over Tom Brady‘s age and possible discord in the Pats’ locker room, McDaniels’ offense has been clicking all season, save for a few blips such as last week’s loss to the Titans. McDaniels flopped as a young 30-something head coach with the Broncos and his flip-flop turned off a lot of people, but the Browns have to be at least a bit curious about what he could bring to the table.
Matt Campbell – Like Riley, Campbell is another coach from the college ranks who has been connected to the Browns gig. The Iowa State head coach lacks NFL experience, but Albert Breer of SI.com hears that those connected to Dorsey are big fans of his. He’s also a relative youngster, but it may make sense for the second-youngest team in the NFL to employ a 30-something head coach. His strong Ohio ties may work in his favor as well.
Jim Schwartz – The Eagles’ defensive coordinator was a hot candidate for head coaching vacancies last year and it stands to reason that he’ll draw attention again this year. Schwartz’s run as the Lions’ head coach from 2009 to 2013 did not go as planned, but the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory revitalized his career and his desire to run his own show again is evident.
Dave Toub – Ex-head coaches, offensive coordinators, and defensive coordinators usually draw the most attention, but what about a special teams coordinator? Toub has been an NFL special teams coach since 2001 and this year, the Chiefs added the title of Assistant Head Coach to his nameplate. The Chiefs’ offensive unit is understandably getting all of the headlines, but it’s possible that Toub could build off of 2017’s interviews with the Broncos and Chargers to get into the mix with Cleveland.
Matt LaFleur – LaFleur made a name for himself in Atlanta when he helped guide Matt Ryan to an MVP campaign. After that, he hooked on with the Rams and got results out of Jared Goff. He didn’t call plays as Sean McVay‘s OC, but he took the wheel this year with the Titans. The Titans’ offense has looked pretty sharp with a healthy Marcus Mariota under center and LaFleur could be considered by the Browns and other clubs with HC openings.
David Shaw – Shaw, the head coach of the Stanford Cardinals, has been connected to several NFL head coaching jobs in recent years, though he did not interview for any in the last cycle. Shaw could conceivably draw consideration here, but it wouldn’t be the sexiest pick.
George Edwards – The Vikings had the top defense in the NFL last year under Edwards’ command, allowing just 275.9 yards per game and 15.8 points per contest. Edwards obviously deserves credit for the Vikings’ success, but he’s a DC that doesn’t call the plays, and that may hurt him in his candidacy with the Browns and other teams.
John DeFilippo – The Cardinals and Bears both considered DeFilippo after his tutelage of Carson Wentz and backup-turned-hero Nick Foles. When he fell short, he jumped ship to become the offensive coordinator of the Vikings.
Zac Taylor – The Rams are living up to their lofty expectations and Goff is looking better than ever, so the Rams’ quarterbacks coach could be a candidate for the Browns. Ditto for passing game coordinator Shane Waldron. Both coaches have popped up on the lists of gambling oddsmakers and they have the endorsement of McVay. “Man, I love these guys. I don’t want to lose them though,” McVay said recently. “They’re great coaches. But I think, the one thing that you look back on is just getting an opportunity to work with these guys. What great coaches they really are. They’re great communicators, great teachers, great leaders – that’s pretty consistent throughout our staff.”
Mike McCarthy – Could Dorsey’s head coaching search lead him to an old friend? The Packers are just 4-4-1 through nine games and McCarthy is believed to be on the hot seat. As Dorsey looks to change the culture in Cleveland, he could do a lot worse than to hire someone like McCarthy, who has taken the Packers to the playoffs on nine occasions, including a Super Bowl victory after the 2010 season.
Other – There will probably be a dozen more names connected to the Browns’ opening in the coming weeks, including a few coaches who will be laid off at the end of the season. If you have another candidate in mind, choose “Other” in the poll and let us know about your pick in the comment section.
The Le’Veon Bell watch continues. For months, it was expected that the Steelers star running back would report for work by Nov. 13, the deadline for him to sign his franchise tag and play in 2018. However, Bell’s camp only recently confirmed that the running back does not have to show up for work by Tuesday in order to solidify his status as a free agent for next season, which means that Bell could theoretically stay home for the entire season.
Originally, it was believed the Steelers would have the right to franchise tag Bell again for the same rate as this season if he did not ink his tender by the deadline on Tuesday. As it turns out, the price of the third tag would actually jump to the quarterback level, which would cost upwards of $25MM. The transition tag would technically be in play, but the Steelers are very unlikely to match any offer and such a move would saddle the team with an unnecessary cap hold.
All of this means that Bell can stay at home and preserve his health for free agency, though it would mean losing out on approximately $6MM in salary after already having forfeited $7.7M in game checks. Some say that Bell should get back on the field to prove his commitment to football and reassert himself as one of the game’s best running backs, but the 26-year-old firmly believes that he’ll find a strong market for his services no matter what.
Do you expect Bell to show up by Tuesday to face the Jaguars on Nov. 18? Or do you think Bell will extend his holdout through the end of the season? Click below to cast your vote (link for app users) and back up your choice in the comment section.