As the NFL season stretches into the double digits, the advent of Week 10 on the schedule indicates that teams stop banking on the unrealistic and begin pragmatically planning for the postseason or the offseason, and the divide between the franchises that are going to be making an appearance in the playoffs and those that aren’t widens immensely.
Some of it is a byproduct of divisional breakdown. The Bucs and the Raiders are both all but eliminated already because of their records, while the 49ers only have a 32% chance of making it into the playoffs despite sharing the same record as the Saints, who are sitting at an 80% chance, according to FiveThirtyEight. This may not be “fair,” but it’s the way the cookie crumbles, as it were.
While we’re too far off to really say which teams have the best chance of winning the 2015 Super Bowl as of yet, we can definitely pinpoint which teams are going to be the most likely to have a shot at hoisting the Lombardi trophy this upcoming February. Baby steps.
5. New Orleans Saints, 80%
Like we alluded to earlier, the Saints are largely working off the benefit of an impossibly weak division — their closest competition for a playoff berth are the Carolina Panthers, who are currently fielding a platoon of receivers you’ve never heard of and still rely on Cam Newton to be their best running back. So basically, if the Saints can manage to be competent, they’ll find themselves in possession of a postseason birth. That’s a nice position to be in, at least until they have to play somewhere that isn’t a dome (sorry, we can’t help it).
4. Denver Broncos, 92%
The Broncos and the Saints have equal likelihood of coming out on top of their divisions, interestingly enough — each sits with a 79% chance — but the Broncos are working with a 6-2 record that helps to ensure their position in the playoffs even if they lose the top of their division to, say, the 5-3 Kansas City Chiefs. It’s not something we expect to happen, but it is a possibility nevertheless.
3. New England Patriots, 92%
After starting off this season by pretending to be acting out Tom Brady’s career decline one game at a time, the Patriots eventually realized that winning football matches was more fun than performance art and decided to start running roughshod over the league. They’re sitting at 7-2, their closest competition divisionally are the 5-3 Bills(!), and they’re probably the best team in football right now. Given their early season performances, that’s almost as shocking as the presence of the No. 2 team on this list.
2. Arizona Cardinals, 93%
Someone forgot to tell the Cardinals that any team starting a 34-year-old post-surgery Carson Palmer shouldn’t have any business even thinking about the playoffs, but Bruce Arians and company have fast become the YOLO-iest franchise of 2014 — for comparison, the 2012 Texans and the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs would qualify for this unofficial award that sort of boils down to “They weren’t supposed to be this good.” And if you doubt it, you’ve got to remember that Arians’s approach to the passing game is “Have fun. Throw it!” Also, while carpe diem is still much more acceptable than YOLO in almost every instance, the forced superlative YOLO-iest is the exception that proves the rule.
1. Indianapolis Colts, 95%
The Colts, though, are the team that’s the most likely to make it to the 2014 NFL playoffs. Not because Andrew Luck’s on his way to having one of the best quarterbacking seasons that the franchise has ever seen — although it certainly doesn’t hurt — but because they’re the only team that’s over .500 in their division, let alone three games above it headed into Week 10. The fact that they’ve got a positive differential of 127 points doesn’t hurt, either. For all the scenic slow-motion shots of Andrew Luck’s facial hair that could be, we really hope the Colts make some noise in the playoffs this year.
For more information and numbers regarding the NFL’s playoff odds, be sure to check out FiveThirtyEight’s post here.