Redskins’ chances of a playoff berth now stand at 71%

December 19, 2012

The Redskins’ win Sunday, combined with the Giants’ loss, gives Washington the inside track for the NFC East championship and raises their overall playoff chances to about 71%. The Giants’ loss also means that winning the last two remaining games guarantees the Redskins would win the NFC East.

The fourth seed is by far the most likely landing spot in that case, but a very slight chance at the third seed remains. That’s not bad for a team whose head coach appeared to give up on the season after a week 9 loss that put its playoff chances at 5%.

The most likely of all outcomes is that the Redskins finish 9-7 and narrowly make the playoffs.

If the Redskins split the final two games, their chances to make the playoffs are still decent but depend heavily on other outcomes. If they beat Philadelphia this Sunday but lose to Dallas the following week, they still have about a 47% chance of making the playoffs, but only as a wild card. If the Redskins lose to Philadelphia but beat Dallas, they have about an 89% shot of qualifying, 64% of which is via the division championship. The balance is by the wild card route.

The division is the more likely path because of the Redskins’ tie breaking advantages. Division record is the tie breaker for both the division title and for wild card ties against other teams in the division. The Redskins, in all likelihood, will need to win at least one more game for a playoff berth, and because both their remaining games are against division opponents, the Redskins would be guaranteed to have a better division record than the Giants. The Redskins also have the head-to-head advantage over the Vikings, and for the moment, the Cowboys.

The only significant tie breaking disadvantage for the Redskins is if they finish with the same record as the Cowboys while losing to them in the final week of the season. This scenario would be set up  by a Redskins win in week 16 over the Eagles and a simultaneous Cowboys loss to New Orleans. Should Dallas win the season-ending showdown, the two rivals’ head-to-head games would be split, and their division record would be identical. The next tie breaker is record against common opponents, which the Cowboys will have clinched in this scenario. The Cowboys would have eight wins against common opponents, while the Redskins would have only seven.

There are far too many moving parts to outline every combination of wins and losses by the remaining teams in the hunt for NFC playoff berths. But needless to say, the Redskins chances improve with losses by New York, Dallas, Chicago, Seattle, and Minnesota.

Even if the Redskins lose both remaining games, it’s not inconceivable they make it in. They’d need all kinds of help, but it adds up to about a 1% shot.

The leverage for the Dallas game is enormous. The difference between the Redskins’ playoff chances by beating the Eagles versus losing to the Eagles is 81% minus 58%, for a total leverage of 23%. But the difference in their playoff chances by beating the Cowboys as opposed to losing to them is 96% minus 27%, for a total leverage of 69%. That’s because it’s (obviously) a ‘twofer’—both a win for Washington and a loss for Dallas, which is a competitor for both the division and the wild card.

These playoff chances are estimated based on a combination of two methods. Game outcome probabilities are based on a team efficiency model. Those game probabilities are then fed into a Monte Carlo simulation available at nfl-forecast.com, which produces the resulting playoff chances.

Brian Burke is the creator of Advanced NFL Stats, a Web site about football, statistics and game theory.

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Mike Jones · December 19, 2012

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