How the 2020 NFL playoff races will be won: Schedule strength, key players, projections

  • Founder and Editor-in-chief of
  • NFL analyst for ESPN Insider

We’re coming down to the home stretch, with just four weeks left in the 2020 NFL season before we get to the playoffs. It’s time to figure out who’s going home in January, who’s getting into the tournament, and who’s getting those elusive first-round byes. Remember, there’s only one of those per conference this season.

We’re going to go through all the teams still in the playoff race and look at how often they make it to the postseason, win a division, or win the No. 1 seed based on Football Outsiders’ playoff simulation. We play the season 30,000 times, assigning winners and losers for each game based on probabilities determined by our weighted DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) ratings.

For each team below, we’re also looking at remaining strength of schedule based on average DVOA of opponents. We have a quarterback check of how good each team is at the most important position based on ESPN QBR. (Players who don’t have enough attempts to be ranked in QBR are listed with what their rank would be if they had enough attempts.) And we’ve listed an under-the-radar player, good or bad, who will be important to the team’s playoff chances over the next four weeks.

A reminder: Football Outsiders’ playoff odds will be different than others, including those produced by ESPN’s Football Power Index. Teams are in order by our playoff odds, not by current seeding. We’ve only listed teams with odds of at least 10%, which is why New England, Detroit, and Philadelphia are missing.


1. Kansas City Chiefs (11-1)

Projected playoff chances: Clinched
Projected chances to win No. 1 seed: 51.9%
Remaining strength of schedule: 4.5% DVOA (eighth)
Quarterback check: Patrick Mahomes, 85.7 QBR (first)

Under-the-radar important players: RT Mike Remmers and RT Mitchell Schwartz. The journeyman Remmers surprisingly has a higher pass block win rate this year (91.2%) than the right tackle he replaced, former All-Pro Mitchell Schwartz (81.3%). Can Remmers hold up until Schwartz returns, and can Schwartz return to his past greatness once he is healthy?

Case for: The Chiefs are the defending Super Bowl champions and essentially the No. 1 team in the NFL by acclamation, leading in many advanced metrics and most subjective power rankings. They have the best offense in the league, and offense is more predictive than defense. By week-to-week variance, they’ve been the second-most consistent team in the league behind Chicago.

Case against: Kansas City has a tougher remaining schedule than Pittsburgh, primarily due to a Week 15 game in New Orleans. Football Outsiders DVOA disagrees with conventional wisdom and has the Saints, not the Chiefs, as the No. 1 team — if Drew Brees is healthy.

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