Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Dec 2010

ESPN.com's Playoff Machine

OK, this is awesome. ESPN's latest toy let's you pick the winner of every remaining regular-season game (including ties, if you desire) and spits out the resulting playoff matchups. It was challenging, but I found a way to get Arizona into the postseason.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 09 Dec 2010

80 comments, Last at 26 Dec 2010, 5:19pm by erniecohen


by Spielman :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 8:26am

I thought the whole 7-9 division champion thing took a blow when both the Rams and Seahawks won last week, but my first run today had the Rams winning at 7-9.

by erniecohen :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 9:14am

What's sad is that even if STL gets in at 7-9, it's not going to be as sweet because we were so close to a once-in-a-lifetime possibility of someone getting in at 6-10. To my mind, that's much more exciting and impressive than an undefeated season, because it requires anti-dominance by an entire division.

by NoraDaddy :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 9:41am

I know it's not 6-10 but someone can still get in at 6-9-1.

by Theo :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 8:26am

I managed to get both St. Louis and Seattle in the play offs.

by Levente from Hungary :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 8:27am

Really awsome.
Vince, you are a mazochist :-)))

by andrew :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 8:46am

The Vikings are not mathematically eliminated.

But the only scenario they can win it is if they win out (obviously) and the Packers lose the last four.

Because they lose any tiebreaker with either the Packers (sweep) or Bears (division record, even if they beat them in the rematch). Thus since the Bears' worst possible record is 9-7, they need the Bears to win the division and the Packers to finish 8-8. In that scenario, they can have the Saints get one wild card and they get the other, providing the Giants also finish 9-7 as (in this far-fetched scenario) they'd have a tiebraker on the Giants.

Oh, and the Bucs have to finish poorly too. This is the only way I could make it work.

by bkjsun :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 2:55pm

Another perhaps more outlandish scenario is if the Saints lose out and you have N.O., Tampa, Minn, Philly at 9-7. GB takes their division with 9 or more wins. Giants take their division with 10-6 or 9-7. Chicago takes the 5 spot with either 10-6 or 9-7. Then in the tiebreaker for the 6 seed, N.O. is eliminated by Tampa's better division record, and Minn has tie breaker over Philly and Tampa.
So there you go. However, this would require the Saints losing home games to both the St Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even if they miraculously lose to the Rams next week, there is no way in hell they will lose the final game of the season to the Bucs with playoffs on the line.

Either way by the end of Week 14 games, Minn should be mathematically eliminated if they lose or if the Packers and Saints win.

by BigCheese :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:33pm

Wait, how does Chicago take the wildcard with 10 wins if the Packers win the Division with 9? And in that scenario 3 NFC North teams make the play-offs? Wow.

- Alvaro

by zlionsfan :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 11:03pm

That would be the "or more" part of 9 or more, I think. It doesn't really matter in which order those two teams finish; in the one I have up, Chicago wins with 11 and Green Bay has 10. As a bonus, St. Louis also has 9 wins ... so Minnesota ends up winning a five-way tie for the final wild-card spot (with the Giants and Seattle winning divisions with 9-7 records).

by Levente from Hungary :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 9:10am

I got Tennessee in. Rusty Smith all the way!

by Theo :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 9:28am

If Miami wins everything and New England loses everything; then NE is eliminated.

by PantsB (not verified) :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:18pm

Nope, there are ways for both to get in. Based on power rankings in other games to avoid ties:

Baltimore loses 3/4 gets both Miami and New England in.
Steelers lose 4 gets Miami and New England in.
Jets lose 4 gets Miami the division and New England the WC.

Basically New England has to lose 4, at least one 6-6 team has to win 4 and some other stuff has to happen for the Patriots to be eliminated

by joon :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 12:18am

you can eliminate new england just by selecting "Defensive rank" for the presets.

by joepinion (not verified) :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 9:36am

Dude, old news, Yahoo was doing this at least as far back as last season. (Link in my username.) You should at least give credit where credit is due, since you guys work for ESPN.

by TimTheEnchanter (not verified) :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 10:15am

I'm pretty sure the one from Yahoo didn't get all the tiebreakers right last year. On first inspection this one seems to be more complete and accurate in that sense.

Off topic: Gotta love having "Swanepoel" in the Captcha machine!

by dbostedo :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 3:47pm

Well they never claimed this was the first one of these ever or that it's something original; They only claimed that it is awesome, which it is. So what "credit" is there to give?

FWIW, I'm betting Yahoo wasn't the first either.

by joepinion (not verified) :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 9:49am

?? I'm sure if I created cool new statistical measures of pro football that looked almost exactly like DVOA and people started linking to my site, Football Outsiders would appreciate some credit. Some poor programmer at Yahoo was innovative and worked really really hard on this last season (or before, not sure). Look at the two apps, they're almost identical. Getting a link to their system would be appreciated, I'm sure.

I don't know of any system previous to theirs, but if it existed I'm sure Yahoo's didn't look like a complete rip-off the way ESPN's does.

by joepinion (not verified) :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 9:51am

(The other possibility, which I just thought of, is that they both contracted the same person to write the app. If that happens to be the case, it makes my protest kinda silly.)

by dryheat :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 9:52am

Vince, I know what we're going to do today!

by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 4:30pm

Climbing up the Eiffel Tower?

by Theo :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 9:11pm

They closed the Eiffel Tower because of snow. Really.

by dryheat :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 10:02am

No movers on the AFC side, but on the NFC, I've got 1. Atlanta, 2. Green Bay, 3. New York, 4. San Francisco, 5. New Orleans, 6. Philadelphia

Take out the Niners, and I could see any one of those teams in the Super Bowl without squinting.

by BigCheese :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 7:34pm

Under what possible scenario is Philly a wildcard yet the Bears stay home? Do you hae Chicago going 0-4?

- Alvaro

by dryheat :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 8:52pm

1-3, while the Eagles and Giants go 3-1.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 10:41am

What, there's no settings for "Roy Williams, hold onto the damn ball" and "seriously, Bengals, Brees is NOT going to snap it"? I guess N.O. gets in, then.

by Eli (not verified) :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 10:51am

The No. 5 Tie Breaking Procedure is Strength of Victory while the No. 6 Tie Breaker is Strength of Schedule. Does anyone know what Strength of Victory means?

by Theo :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 11:02am

A part of the NFL's tiebreaking proceedure, strength of victory is figured by calculating the combined winning percentage of the opponents a team has beaten.
If two teams end with identical records, combine the records of the opponents in each of the team's wins and calculate the total winning percentage. The team whose opponents have the higher winning percentage wins the tiebreaker.

by Eli (not verified) :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 2:30pm

That makes total sense, but i don't see how that's different from Strength of Schedule.

by dryheat :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 2:38pm

Strength of schedule includes losses too.

by Theo :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 11:02am

edit - double post

by Alexander :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 11:05am

The record of the teams you beat.

by jebmak :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 11:25am

It's a good day to be home on surgery leave.

by Dean :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 5:03pm

Well there's a statement you don't read every day.

by akn (not verified) :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 9:13pm

Ha! Today was my day off from performing surgery!

PS: No surgeon worth anything would ever sign off on being in a football game less than 5 days after an emergency appendectomy.

by chemical burn :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 1:46pm

I went through picking the teams I genuinely thought would win each game and I somehow ended up with the 7-9 49ers making the playoffs without even trying to engineer such a wacky scenario. The best part? 10-6 Chicago and 10-6 Tampa Bay would end up staying home for the post-season... (the picks I am least certain of involve Chicago going 1-3 for the remainder of the season because they keep winning and looking better each week, but I really can't see them beating the Pats, GB and Jets - actually it's more I can't see them beating BOTH the Jets and Minnesota... still, the way they've been playing, they'll somehow go 4-0...)

by JasonK :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 4:03pm

Yeah, with how the NFC is looking right now, there are probably going to be 2 teams out of the Bears, Packers, Eagles, Giants, Saints, and Bucs who finish with 9-10 wins and miss the playoffs.

by chemical burn :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 4:44pm

It kinda sucks on additional level because it feels like there are so many intense rivalries and rematches floating around between all of those teams that farting the Rams or the Seahawks into the mix is just wasting the space of what would almost certainly be a really exciting playoff match-up - like instead of a Chicago/Green Bay first round match-up or the Bucs traveling to the Superdome leading into the winner v. the Falcons, you get Giants/Seahawks part II or some shit.

by zlionsfan :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 11:12pm

I think I know what you mean, but there's no guarantee that Giants/Seahawks wouldn't be exciting, though.

Granted, I could give a shit about the playoffs myself, but pretending that I did, I'm fine with either of those two NFC teams, even if the one is just because I have a good friend who's a Seahawks fan, and if they make the playoffs, he'll either a) celebrate because they're in or b) collapse when (if) they get destroyed. It'd be interesting to see Bradford in a playoff game. I've always wondered what it would be like to have a young, healthy QB running the offense ...

by chemical burn :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 12:42am

I know there's no guarantee that Giants/Seahawks would be a repeat of their first snooze-fest blowout, but anticipation of the game and over-thinking the matchups is half of the fun of the playoffs... the NFC West takes the fun of that because all you can say about the Rams or the Seahawks or the 49ers chances is "I guess it's not technically impossible..."

by BigCheese :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:52pm

See.. there's your problem right there. The Bears are going to mop the floor with the Vikings and by week 16 the Jets implosion will be going full-steam. But don't worry, you'll see it more clearly after they upset the Patriots this sunday. And yes, I'm completely serious. This is going to be a very close game and I'm going with Chicago.

- Alvaro

by chemical burn :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:56pm

Look below: I say almost the exact same thing: Bears going bananas on their remaining opposition is very possible... I just hope the Eagles get another shot at them in playoffs, but with the proper cleats next time ;-)

by frvwfr2 :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 1:49pm

Interesting, if you sort by Defensive Rank and have it just choose the winners based on that, 3 NFC South teams make the playoffs, and the Patriots DON'T. Also, Oakland and San Diego make them, and the Chiefs don't hahah.

by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 2:18pm

I was able to get the Colts a #1 seed. Took a lot of work, and the Pats and Steelers losing out, but it happened. In that scenario, the Dolphins also win the division, and the Super Bowl gets attacked by velociraptors.

by AudacityOfHoops :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:37pm

Pshaw, that's nothing. I got the NFC West a #1 seed (Seahawks), and still managed to get a team with a losing record into the playoffs (Houston 7-9).

This thing is pretty fun.

by chemical burn :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:44pm

The funny thing, I feel like every time I do this, I end up with a 7-9 team winning the NFC West, like it would be more ridiculous to get one to 9-7 and win the division than to have a losing team in the playoffs...

by AudacityOfHoops :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:52pm

Here's a fun one:

...Chicago and Tampa Bay both miss the playoffs at 11-5
...12-4 New Orleans @ 7-9 Seattle in 1st round
...12-4 New England @ 7-9 Houston in 1st round
...4-way tie for AFC South lead at 7-9

by AudacityOfHoops :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 7:08pm

Another good one:

1 Pittsburgh 10-6
2 Oakland 10-6
3 Jacksonville 10-6
4 New England 10-6
5 San Diego 10-6
6 Kansas City 10-6
(3 teams from AFC West)

1 Philadelphia 11-5
2 Atlanta 11-5
3 Chicago 11-5
4 San Francisco 7-9
5 Tampa Bay 11-5
6 New Orleans 11-5
(3 teams from NFC South)
(3-way tie for NDC West lead at 7-9)
(GB and NYG miss the playoffs at 10-6)

In that one, 6 of the 12 playoff teams come from the 2 divisions that got the NFC West as a rotating paired division.

by NoraDaddy :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 2:32pm

You can get Miami up to the #1 seed at 10-6 (tied with NE and NY). Cleveland can get as high as #2.

Edit - I looked at the rest of the AFC. Buff/Cincy/Denv are out (obviously). Cleveland and Houston can get as high as the #2 seed. Tennessee can get as high as the #3 seed. Everybody else is still in the running for the #1 seed. (More or less.)

Now the NFC. Det/Car are the only ones out so far. Dallas and Arizona can get in at the #6 seed. Minnesota can get in as high as the #5 seed. San Fran can get in only at the #4 seed. I couldn't get Wash any higher than the #3 seed. I also couldn't get St Louis any higher than the #2 seed. It may be possible to get St. Louis to the #1 spot as there are a ton of permutations of the top teams tied at 10-6 and I didn't get the one that hit the tiebreakers right. All the other teams can still get a #1 seed.

Well that was a fun diversion.

by bkjsun :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 3:14pm

It looks like it's going to be Steelers over Falcons in the Super Bowl. I can see the Patriots beating the Steelers but I just think the Steeler defense is too good and the cold will only help them.
I'm rooting for Packers over Patriots Super Bowl though.

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 4:13pm

I sorted by win % initially, then used DVOA to decide any ties or games I was unsure about.




SF (7-9)

Bears, Bucs, and Chargers miss out at 10-6

by chemical burn :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 4:41pm

Yeah, I was going to do that... but I think the Bears' DVOA is just so deceptive right now. They could go 1-3 or 3-1 against a really tough slate and how they perform is really going to be the key to the entire NFC. And then they play some of the key AFC playoff contenders as well. Makes for some exciting games - the Bears really hold the entire playoffs in their hands this year...

by Charles Jake (not verified) :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 5:47pm

I totally agree about the Bears, but I used DVOA so I didn't homer it up. If they go 2-2 or better, they're in under my scenario, which means they must beat MIN and either GB or NYJ. As much as I'd love it, I don't see them beating NE.

by chemical burn :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:41pm

I actually could see them beating NE for the reasons that everybody is outlining: they don't run a complicated defense, they just line up their guys and play smart, sound football, which is exactly the best way to take on NE, a team whose main strength a QB that can't be outsmarted and wins by playing ridiculously sound, smart football. You're just not going to beat the Bears by sneaking around with Danny Woodhead and moving Hernandez into the slot or relying on Welker to break some LB tackles.

Plus, the Bears offense and special teams are quick strike enough that they can keep getting back into games - they aren't a ground it out team that really relies on 5 and 7 yard gains. I think the Bears are, strangely, one of the worst match-ups in the NFL for the Patriots. If Cutler plays as well has he has for going on almost a month now, this is going to be a real game...

Anyway, like I said, I could also see them easily going 1-3 (0-4? is Minnesota still count-out-able?) because Cutler can't suddenly be a guy who avoids taking sacks and throwing interceptions, can he?

by Mike Elseroad (not verified) :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 2:30am

I did essentially the same thing you did and came up with the same playoff teams except I had St. Louis winning the NFC West instead of San Fran.

My tiebreaker was the "Expected Wins" average for each team.

by NoraDaddy :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 5:05pm

I got 19 teams tied at 9-7 for the final 5 NFC and 4 AFC spots. (NE, Jets, Atl have 10+ wins) What fun!

by 2468ben :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 11:00am

Just managed to remake your scenario, thanks for finding it. And any two of the AFC South teams can end up 9-7 in that. Just wow.

by Rhys :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:41pm

If anyone's interested in the tiebreaker between NE and NYJ:

If NE loses one game and the Jets lose none:

If NE loses a division game, the Jets have the tiebreaker

If NE loses to GB, it goes to a Strength of Victory matchup between: Balt, Ind, SD on the NE side and Clev, Hou, Den on the NYJ side, which NE is currently 7 games ahead on.

If NE loses to Chicago, it goes to a SoV matchup between: Balt, Ind, SD, GB on the NE side and Clev, Hou, Den, Chi on the NYJ side, which NE is currently 6 games ahead on.

If either SoV tiebreaker is a tie, NE will almost certainly win the next tiebreaker, net points, which they are currently 75 points ahead on.

So basically, it looks like NE must only win one of the games vs GB and Chicago to stay ahead of the Jets, unless extraordinary circumstances intervene across the league.

by BigCheese :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:57pm

"So basically, it looks like NE must only win one of the games vs GB and Chicago to stay ahead of the Jets, unless extraordinary circumstances intervene across the league."

Or, you know, NE loses one of their other two games. I know it's the Bills and Dolphins, but if there is one division where anything can happen when the teams meet it's the AFC East.

- Alvaro

by Rhys :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 7:05pm

If NE loses a division game and an NFC North game, and the Jets lose a Division game as well, things still look pretty bleak for the Jets unless the Jets lose to Buffalo and NE loses to Miami (this situation seems unlikely if only because it requires Buffalo beating the Jets).

Obviously, if NYJ ends up with a better overall or Division record, all these small tiebreakers are overridden, of course. If New England loses to Buffalo or Miami and the Jets win out, the Jets win the division REGARDLESS of if NE went 1-1 or 2-0 against the NFC North.

by BigCheese :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 7:29pm

I find the possibility of the Jets going unbeaten far, far, FAR more unlikely than they losing to the Bills, even if it's in NY. In fact, I think there's more of a chance that the Jets beat Miami and then don't win another game all season. I certainly don't see them beating Miami, Chicago AND Buffalo.

- Alvaro

by chemical burn :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 6:50pm

This playoff machine has also made me realize that NYG beating the Packers in week 16 is almost more important for the Eagles playoff chances than the Eagles beating the Giants in week 15. Weird. If the Eagles go 3-1 (doesn't matter in what capacity) and the Giants beat the Packers, I'm having a lot of trouble bouncing the Eagles from the playoffs altogether...

by BigCheese :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 7:20pm

Putting in the results I would pick today for my pool for the entire season I have:

1 NE
3 SD
4 IND (Jac fumbles the division away @HOU in Week 17)

5 NO
6 GB

Which of course sets up a SB rematch. Either XX or XXXII, depending o who wins the Chi/GB rubber match in the NFC Championship.

Incidentally, in my mind that ends up in either a Chicago loss or a GB victory in the SB. Neither option really thrills me.

- Alvaro

by chemical burn :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 9:32pm

Listen, if you're trying to court the FOMBC, you really need to mention Chicago's DVOA more.

But, man, the NFC is wide open this year. And Chicago IS the lynchpin...

by BigCheese :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 1:57am

It's going to be a wild finish this year!

Not sure if it's really beacue they weighted the divisional match-ups towards the final weeks, but I can't remember a season where things were this open.

Btw, what's the MBC in FOMBC stand for?

- Alvaro

by Jerry :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 4:01am
by BigCheese :: Sun, 12/12/2010 - 11:47pm

At this poin in time I'd like to point out that at no time have I ever uttered one word about the Bears' DVOA.

Man that was a slaughter in Chicago. I'll take my crow medium rare please.

- Alvaro

by Charles (not verified) :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 8:27pm

If the Chargers beat the Chiefs this weekend, the Raiders are win-and-in.

Buy Sierra Brewing stock!

by chemical burn :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 9:39pm

I'd rather buy stock in the Raiders not winning.

by Theo :: Thu, 12/09/2010 - 9:25pm

Some idiot at the tv just said that the colts would be out of the play offs if they lose this game.
So I made them lose this one, and win the rest.
Then if the Jax win only 1 of 3, then Indy is in.

by Treima6 (not verified) :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 8:48am

Here's what I got going solely off of Weighted DVOA, with modifiers for homefield advantage and teams resting their starters if their seed is completely clinched.


Winning teams that miss the playoffs are the Dolphins, Jaguars, Chargers, Bears, and Buccaneers.

by NoraDaddy :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 2:05pm

I think found a bug. I made Seattle go 6-8-2 and Arizona go 7-9 and they had Seattle winning the division. 6-8-2 is .429 and 7-9 is .438. Doesn't win pct. determine standing meaning Arizona should win this scenario?

by chemical burn :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 3:28pm

Maybe the formula calculates ties as some percentage of a win?

by tuluse :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 3:31pm

I'm pretty sure that a tie counts as half a win, so 7-9 and 6-8-2 should be the same winning percentage.

by Eddo :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 3:42pm

For winning percentage purposes, ties count as half a win. As such, 6-8-2 and 7-9 are seen as identical records.

by zlionsfan :: Fri, 12/10/2010 - 11:20pm

Correct, as of the 1972 season. "Tie games, previously not counted in the standings, were made equal to a half-game won and a half-game lost, May 24."

Page 9 of the Chronology section of the Record and Fact Book, which is now online but unfortunately split into many small PDF sections (unlike the NCAA books that are available as complete PDFs). I highly recommend it for this kind of stuff - there is a lot of interesting info in there, like the last time the Lions won a playoff game. ha ha on me.

by NoraDaddy :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 9:40am

Thanks for the clarification. Very interesting. I wonder, has any team ever had more than 1 tie in a season?

by Jerry :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 6:20pm

It was common before the introduction of overtime. Four teams had two ties in 1973: Cleveland, Denver, and Kansas City were all 7-5-2, while Green Bay was 5-7-2.

by erniecohen :: Sat, 12/11/2010 - 9:08am

I think it's far more fun to browse Sports Club Stats, which shows the results of 10M sims in detail. (ARI has about a 1/1M chance of getting in.) The best part is that you can see (1) each team's chances of playoffs or a particular seed, broken down by their record in future games, and (2) the effect of each game on a team's playoff chances and average seed.

What we really need, though, is a site that does what that site does but including the playoffs. I'm a PIT fan, and it's hard to sort out who to root for to maximize the chance of someone taking NE out in the second round.

by Pat Swinnegan :: Mon, 12/13/2010 - 4:33am

Very cool link -- thanks!

by erniecohen :: Sun, 12/26/2010 - 5:19pm

I just managed to get PHL the #2 seed, without CHI losing, by getting PHL to 13-4.