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AFC North Playoff Odds and Draft Outlook

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It's never too early to start planning for the future.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

We're about to start week three of the 2016 NFL season, and for Browns fans that means it's time to start thinking about the upcoming draft. For the rest of the division, it means the playoff race is on. Today I want to take a quick glance at Football Outsiders' playoff odds and draft outlook for the AFC North. This is a favorite tool of mine, as it helps put some of the early season performances in context. It's way too easy to over-react to a couple weeks of football and start making wild predictions about which teams are on the rise and which are about to fade into obscurity. FO uses a combination of actual performance (in the form of DVOA) with a preseason projection in order to come up with an estimated "real" efficiency rating, called DAVE. They then simulate the whole NFL season 50,000 times, randomly assigning wins and losses based on the relative DAVE rating of each team and home field advantage, and use those simulations to assign playoff odds. As the season progresses, DAVE is based less and less on projections, and more on actual performance. So let's see what the computers say about the AFC North heading into week three.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Playoff odds: 78.2%

Mean wins: 10.8

Odds of top 3 pick: 0%

Much to my chagrin, the computers love the Steelers. They are projected as the best team in football, and have the highest odds of making the Super Bowl. They have a strong combination of actual performance and high pre-season expectations. So far, they are a team that was supposed to be good playing at or above expectations. I hate them.

Baltimore Ravens

Playoff odds: 65.3%

Mean wins: 9.9

Odds of top 3 pick: 0.6%

The Ravens are in pretty good shape themselves. This projection seems a tad pit generous to me, given how close they came to losing to the Browns this past week, but time will tell. Right now their offense isn't carrying its weight, and if that continues to be a sub-par unit their playoff odds will get adjusted down appropriately. As it stands right now though, they're one of only five teams with a greater than 60% shot at making it. If they find more ways to score, they'll find themselves comfortably in position to make another Super Bowl run.

Cincinnati Bengals

Playoff odds: 42.2%

Mean wins: 8.7

Odds of top 3 pick: 2.4%

Losing their first divisional game to Pittsburgh really hurt, dropping their odds 7.4% compared to last week. Still, they're a pretty good football team. Right now they're playing about in line with their pre-season projection, but special teams is costing them. If they can get that cleaned up, they have enough talent to make a run. The AFC North is one of only two divisions where three teams have a greater than 40% chance at the playoffs. Why can't the Browns be in the NFC East or something, where everyone is bad?

Cleveland Browns

Playoff Odds: 1.8%

Mean wins: 4.6

Odds of top 3 pick: 48.7%

It sure feels like the odds of a top pick should be even higher. That said, the Browns have the best odds of anyone to have the top overall pick in April at 23.7%, which is more than double the next closest team (Jacksonville). Hilariously, these projections might be somewhat optimistic. They don't account for the Browns starting their third and possibly fourth QBs of the season for the rest of the way, and they're already underperforming the pre-season predictions. Still, while this season is going to be a long one, the Browns are likely to pull out a few wins. It's rare that a teams's "true" talent level is worse than 4-5 victories. At the end of the day though, even if the front office's goal wasn't to tank for the top pick, that seems to be where they're headed.