The Oakland Raiders snapped a four-game losing streak with a 24-17 road win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 16. Despite the fact that they are entering the final week of the season with a losing record of 7-8, the Raiders are actually still alive for a wild card spot in the AFC.
It will take some doing, but FiveThirtyEight projects that the Raiders have a 10% chance of making the postseason as the AFC’s final wild card team. Here’s how that scenario breaks down.
First thing’s first; Oakland has to defeat Denver
The most obvious element of Oakland’s slim playoff chances is that the Raiders improve to 8-8 with a win in Week 17. The Raiders will try to earn that win on the road against the Denver Broncos.
FiveThirtyEight’s Week 17 projections, which are produced by their unique Elo rating-based system, see the Broncos as a 5.5-point favorite over the Raiders next week. The system gives Oakland a 31% chance of winning this game.
Las Vegas oddsmakers are a bit more bullish on Oakland’s chances as Denver is just a 4-point favorite on the betting board. The Raiders will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss or a tie against the Broncos, but with a win, they will make the playoffs if the right sequence of events happens around the NFL.
Help from around the league
In addition to a Raiders win, Oakland will need help from three other teams to see their small chances of making the playoffs become a reality. The Baltimore Ravens must beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Houston Texans must beat the Tennessee Titans, and the Indianapolis Colts must beat the Jacksonville Jaguars.
According to the FiveThirtyEight ratings, Baltimore should be a 14-point favorite and has an 88% chance of beating the Steelers at home. Indianapolis should be a 3-point favorite on the road and has a 61% chance of beating the Jaguars on the road. And Houston should be a 3-point favorite at home with a 60% chance of beating the Titans at home.
When you multiply these four scenarios together to solve for the likelihood of all four of them occurring, you get .31 (Raiders win) x .88 x .61 x .60, which equals .0998, or roughly 10%. Unfortunately for Oakland, this 10% projection has a fatal flaw.
FiveThirtyEight isn’t factoring in resting players
If Baltimore and Houston were playing at full strength and full effort, the projections made by FiveThirtyEight would be a fairly reasonable representation of the odds on these games and on Oakland’s playoff chances. But in fact, neither team has anything to play for next Sunday.
The Baltimore Ravens have already clinched home field throughout the postseason, so there’s a good chance they’ll be resting or limiting their important players, including Lamar Jackson. Vegas oddsmakers list them as a 3-point favorite, not an overwhelming 14-point favorite.
The Texans meanwhile have already clinched the AFC South, and don’t have a shot at a first round bye with Baltimore and New England already holding the top two spots in the AFC. Houston is actually a 5-point home underdog, not a 3-point home favorite.
If we bump Baltimore’s odds of winning down to 60% and Houston’s down to 35% to be more in line with what their Vegas odds suggest, we now have Oakland at .31 x .61 x .60 x .35 = .039, or roughly a 4% chance.
This isn’t too promising. But then again, for a 7-8 team in Week 17, 4% is a lot higher than the 0% you’d expect the Raiders to have.