The Upshot’s NFL Playoff Simulator Returns in 2023 | ET REALITY


How can your team make the NFL playoffs?

For the tenth year in a row, we’re here to help answer that question, with an interactive tool we call NFL Playoff Simulator. If you are familiar with the tool, go ahead and get started. For the uninitiated, here are some details.

Choose any outcome, or none, and our tool will simulate the rest of the season for you, instantly identifying the most important games left for each team and turning you into an expert on playoff scenarios.

What’s new this year? To calculate a team’s chances of making the playoffs, the simulator must start with an estimate of the probability of a team winning each of its games.

In the original simulator, all outcomes were equally likely. Since 2015, it uses Sagarin’s ratings to estimate team strength. Starting this year, we use an Elo rating system combined with information from betting markets to estimate team ratings.

If you do not specify a result for a particular game, this system estimates each team’s chances of winning. (For simplicity, we assume that each game has an equally small chance, one in 200, of ending in a tie.)

First, find your equipment. For each team, we display a table representing that team’s remaining games. Here, for example, is our Los Angeles Chargers page, heading into Week 6 of the season.

Given their position in the division and remaining games, the simulator believes the Chargers have about a 47 percent chance of making the playoffs, represented by the big number at the top.

Choose winners from future games. Let’s say you think the Chargers will win their next two games, a challenging stretch in which they play the Cowboys and Chiefs. Here’s what happens to their playoff chances:

Keep collecting. Your options aren’t limited to your team’s games: you can see how the outcome of any NFL game affects your team’s chances. Colors can help you know at a glance which games affect your team the most: the darker the hue, the more meaningful a win or loss will be. Often, especially early on, these are other games in your team’s division. But depending on your team and the scenario you’re exploring, they may not be.

Aim for different outcomes. This tool can do more than tell you if your team will make the playoffs. It can also help you achieve specific goals, such as getting first place overall or a wild card spot.

Share any scenario. As you make decisions, your browser’s URL will change, allowing you to share scenarios you’ve created with anyone.

Use it the other way around…if your team is bad enough. Most teams will not make the playoffs, and many teams’ path to the postseason will be blocked well before Week 18. Some teams, like the Carolina Panthers, appear to be heading down this path. We have a feature that will allow you to see what needs to happen for your team to finish the season in last place and win the first overall pick in the draft.

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