2020 NFL playoff picture: Who'll win AFC South? NFC West? Can Bears sneak in?

NFL franchises use contextualized data to create competitive advantages. In order to realize an edge, teams need to employ the right data in the right way at the right time. This means distilling, interpreting and applying only the most influential data in a framework that accounts for personnel, opponents and evolving game situations. My goal is to be your analytics department. Each week this season, I want to work for you by giving you a peek into which numbers flag in my models as the most impactful … or the most misunderstood.

As always, let me know if your eye test is picking up on something interesting, or if there’s a stat/trend you’d like me to take a deeper look at. You can hit me on Twitter @CFrelund. As with any great analytics department, the more collaborative this is, the more value we can create.

With just two weeks left in the 2020 regular season, the playoff picture remains unsettled. So let’s use math to determine the most likely — or unlikely — outcomes for the biggest remaining questions.

After running 100,000 simulations of each remaining game, here are my model’s projections …

EACH CONFERENCE’S NO. 1 SEED?

AFC: The Kansas City Chiefs earn home-field advantage and the first-round bye in 99.1 percent of simulations.

Pretty good chance this happens by the end of Week 16. A loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers (home vs. Indianapolis Colts) or Buffalo Bills (at New England Patriots) would give Kansas City the top seed. But the Chiefs can also take care of business themselves by beating the visiting Atlanta Falcons, an outcome my model forecasts in 64.8 percent of simulations.

One guy to watch: Travis Kelce. The tight end is just 60 yards away from breaking George Kittle’s single-season record for tight ends (1,377). Examining Kelce’s game, one of the keys to the 31-year-old’s success is his production when he’s in motion or shifting, where he has 348 receiving yards and four touchdowns (both tops in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats). And his seven touchdowns from the slot put him in a tie for the NFL lead with Davante Adams, per NGS.

NFC: The Green Bay Packers earn home-field advantage and the first-round bye in 70.2 percent of simulations.

If the Seahawks lose to the Rams on Sunday afternoon, the Packers can clinch the No. 1 spot by beating the Titans on Sunday night. Regardless, Tennessee presents a good test for the playoff-bound NFC North champs. Green Bay’s run defense has been suspect, making Derrick Henry quite imposing. Also, Jaire Alexander — whom my models rank as the NFL’s third-best corner in coverage this season, based on win share — faces a stiff challenge in beastly wideout A.J. Brown. This should be a stellar game to finish the day on Sunday, as my model projects the Packers to win in 50.7 percent of simulations, an extremely close margin.

The other main path for the Pack to claim the No. 1 seed is by defeating the Bears in Week 17, rendering their Week 16 outcome (either way) irrelevant. My model currently forecasts Green Bay to win at Chicago in 59.1 percent of simulations.

AFC SOUTH CHAMPION?

The Tennessee Titans win the division title in 58.5 percent of simulations.

The Titans and Colts are both 10-4, but Tennessee currently owns the tiebreaker due to a superior divisional record (4-1 vs. 3-2). Tennessee can claim the AFC South crown this week with an upset win at Green Bay and an Indianapolis loss at Pittsburgh. If that doesn’t occur, the race will carry over to Week 17, when the Titans visit the Texans and the Colts host the Jaguars.

On the wild-card front, there’s one more 10-4 team in the AFC at the moment: the Cleveland Browns. And they own the tiebreaker over Tennessee and Indianapolis thanks to head-to-head wins over both. So, that’s something to note for whichever one of these two teams doesn’t win the AFC South.

NFC WEST CHAMPION?

The Seattle Seahawks win the division title in 64.9 percent of simulations.

If the Seahawks beat the Rams at Lumen Field on Sunday — something that occurs in 53.3 percent of simulations — Seattle clinches the NFC West.

One matchup to watch in Sunday’s game: Seahawks WR DK Metcalf vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey. In L.A.’s 23-16 win over Seattle in Week 10, Ramsey traveled with Metcalf on 77.1 percent of routes — that’s the highest shadow percentage for Ramsey this season, per Pro Football Focus — and didn’t allow a single catch (on two targets).

ONE DIVISION, THREE PLAYOFF TEAMS?

The AFC North sends three teams to the playoffs in 58.8 percent of simulations.

With the expanded playoff field featuring three wild-card teams in each conference, it’s now technically possible for one division to send all four of its teams to a postseason. But that won’t be happening this season. How about three teams? The AFC North has a good chance of accomplishing this feat.

The Steelers have already clinched a postseason bid, while the Browns make the playoffs in 83.9 percent of simulations and the Ravens in 77.9. Those individual percentages blend in the ways wins and losses do, giving us that 58.8 figure above.

But the Miami Dolphins could throw a wrench into the works. Miami, which currently owns the conference-record tiebreaker over Baltimore (6-4 vs. 6-5), makes the playoffs in 50 percent of simulations. The Dolphins visit Las Vegas on Saturday night. Who is the Dolphins’ opponent in Week 17? Buffalo, which could be in a position to rest starters by then.

A MIDWAY MIRACLE?

The Chicago Bears make the playoffs in 33.3 percent of simulations.

This probability mainly comes down to one path: The Bears winning out and the Cardinals losing at least once more. Chicago visits the one-win Jaguars this Sunday. A week later, the Bears host the Packers — though Green Bay could be in a position to rest starters. Meanwhile, Arizona hosts the 49ers this week before hitting the road to face the Rams in Week 17.

David Montgomery’s recent emergence has created the opportunity to complement Chicago’s defense and earn wins. Montgomery is the only player with 400-plus rushing yards and 130-plus receiving yards since Week 12, when the second-year back returned to action after missing a game due to a concussion. And he’s fresh off a career-high 146 rushing yards in the 33-27 win at Minnesota. Taking it one game at a time, Montgomery will likely play a key role in this weekend’s trip to Jacksonville. My model’s projection: 84 rushing yards with a touchdown, plus three receptions for 31 yards. My model has the Bears winning — and keeping their postseason hopes alive — in 64.5 percent game simulations.

Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter.

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