ESPN's playoff scenario generator is a marvelous time waster, but playing with it reveals just how big a dupe you actually are. You can concoct absurd combinations in a matter of moments. It's easy. Too easy. Soon you're convinced that of course the Browns can earn a first-round bye. Just *click**click* -- and voila!
The actual chances of the Browns earning the No. 1 or 2 seed in the AFC is just 0.4 percent, according to Football Outsiders, which is very low. Often, there isn't much change in the projected playoff seedings after this point in the season. This time last year, the playoff bracket was essentially set. Every division leader in the AFC, as well as the Seahawks in the NFC West, held its projected playoff seed heading into Week 13 through the end of the regular season. Only tight races in the NFC East, North and South had yet to be decided.
This season, however, the division races are tighter with just three teams -- the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals -- holding a division lead of more than one game. Plenty of potential wild card teams are still alive, including any of 11 teams with winning records in the AFC.
So it doesn't take too much finagling to churn out interesting combinations. But what if we get really weird with it?
The one where the Bucs make the playoffs, and the Bears too ... why not
FO odds: 0 %
Yep, Football Outsiders gives the Buccaneers zero chance of making the playoffs, but technically that's not the case. The probabilitly may as well be zero, sure, but if the Bucs win out and the Saints and Falcons lose every game but one, there's a shot.
If you look at the NFC South standings above, you'll notice that the third column in the win-loss column is actually being used. That's because for this scenario to work, the Falcons and Saints absolutely have to tie when they face each other in Week 16. If either team records a win, the Bucs' postseason hopes are over. The Saints and Falcons both hold tiebreakers over the Buccaneers if they finish with identical records.
The one where two NFC South teams make it
FO odds: 0 %
The Saints have a 73.7 percent chance of making the playoffs, and the Falcons have a 24.5 percent chance -- which means that, together, there is nearly a 100 percent chance that one of them will represent the NFC South in the postseason. But the both teams at the same time? That'll take some magic.
Football Outsiders once again gives this a zero percent chance of happening. In fact, pretty much the only place either team can land is in the No. 4 seed:
It's not that the Saints nor Falcons absolutely can't make the wild card, it's just that it's not worth typing all those zeros after the decimal point.
Both teams need to win as much as possible, but they key, again, is that they tie when they meet on Dec. 21. Even if both teams win every other game, an outright result in Week 17 would put one team at 9-7, and the other at 8-8 and out of Wildcard consideration. At 8-7-1, the second place team in the NFC South would hold a half game lead over a minefield of 8-8 teams, sending it into the postseason.
And where would your jokes be then, huh?
The one where a losing AFC team makes qualifies
FO odds: Oh hell I don't know
The AFC thinks it's SO great, with some many teams sporting winning records. The NFC has perhaps the best team in the NFL right now, but top to bottom it can't quite stack up to the AFC, which features 11 teams above .500 heading into Week 14. We've resigned ourselves to the fact that the NFC bracket will likely feature a team with a losing record, but what kind of gymnastics can we do to make it happen in the AFC?
Once again, ties come in handy, particularly in the AFC North where every team has at least seven wins and division battles are still playing out. The Ravens and Browns have to tie -- a result either way and the winner will finish .500 and join the Chargers in the wild card. Ditto the outcome between the Chiefs and the Steelers in Week 16. If ties fall where they should, the Chiefs could sneak into the playoffs with a .4375 winning percentage.
The one where we could get a Bronwnsbills Day rematch in the AFC Championship game
FO odds: Bills get the No. 1 seed: 0.8 % Browns get the No. 2 seed: 0.4 % Together: 0.0032 %
Brownsbills Day Supreme last Sunday didn't disappoint. There were five combined turnovers to two touchdowns, and the score was 3-0 heading halftime. The Bills got a touchdown on a fumble return, then happily proceeded to score their next 12 points on field goals. The quarterbacks were grittier than sand and the fans joyfully cold and belligerent.
We believe this is a great thing, and the only way it could be better is if the two teams met with the highest possible stakes on the line. Of course, both team will have to get to the AFC Championship game first, but they'll be riding high off four-game winning streaks. The Bills could face the Dolphins in the divisional round, who they beat early in the season. The Browns could take on Steelers, who they thoroughly stomped in their last meeting.
Then the Browns and Bills could get together at Ralph Wilson Stadium for what might be the coldest, grittiest, Bronwsbills-iest game ever played.
The one if you like underdogs (worst possible combined all-time postseason win percentage)
FO odds: .000072 % (NOTE: I multiplied odds together as if they were independent events, which they're not really, but this was easier)
The AFC bracket is as good as we can get it. The six teams you see have the six worst all-time postseason records of any active franchise in the conference that is still eligible for the 2014 postseason.
Unfortunately, getting the six worst-possible all-time NFC teams in the same bracket isn't possible. That would require putting the Buccaneers (.400 in the postseason) back in, and that automatically leaves out the Falcons (.368). The Lions (.389) were a more deserving team than the Bears (.486), and anyway the Bears can't jump the Packers for the wild card due to tiebreakers. The only way the Bears make the playoffs this year is if the Packers win the NFC North, and we can't have the second best postseason team of all time (.612) participating in this scenario.
By default, an okay Seahawks team (.500 all-time) must sneak into the playoffs. Still, our collection of 12 teams is an impressive 139-188 all-time in the postseason, for a winning percentage of .425. Together, they have won just six of 48 Super Bowls, and those six were split among five teams -- the Saints, Seahawks, Chiefs, Rams and Colts. This scenario would give us an odds-on chance to see a franchise hoist its first-ever Lombardi Trophy.
Is this likely to occur? Hell no, but it would be one of the most fascinating postseasons in some time.