NFL playoffs: Which AFC/NFC teams are most likely to hit Super Bowl LVII? Who’ll lift Lombardi Trophy?
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. I want to work for you by providing 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 up on Twitter @CFrelund. As with any great analytics department, the more collaborative this is, the more value we can create.
We made it through our second expanded regular-season schedule, and once again, the full playoff field wasn’t set until the conclusion of the 272nd and final game.
This is the third postseason to feature 14 playoff participants — as opposed to the previous total of 12 — and in my analytical assessment of the tournament bracket, I have two big takeaways:
So, what else do my models project? Below you’ll find every playoff team’s chances of reaching — and winning — Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. And to provide some additional analytical context, I’ve supplied interesting data points for each of the 14 dance participants.
- NFL Power Rankings: 49ers, Bills, Bengals remain on top heading into Super Wild Card Weekend
- Super Bowl LVII dream matchups: Ranking the five clashes I'd most like to see in Arizona this February
- NFL Offensive Player Rankings after the 2022 regular season; three playoff offenses with serious concerns
- 2022 playoffs: Having a big-play receiver has become crucial to NFL success
- 2022 All-Pro Team picks on offense: Chiefs, Browns, Eagles each deserve two spots
- 2022 All-Pro Team picks on defense: 49ers, Jets both deserve multiple reps
NOTE: The odds cited below are provided by Caesars Sportsbook and current as of 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Jan. 11.
AFC PLAYOFF TEAMS
AFC NO. 1 SEED | 14-3
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +340
- Odds to win conference: +160
Previously known as more of a big-game hunter with the electric Tyreek Hill at his disposal, Patrick Mahomes has diced up defenses with the short game this season. In fact, on passes that travel fewer than 10 air yards, Mahomes leads the NFL with a 115.4 passer rating and 31 touchdowns — that latter figure set a record for the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). Mahomes also produced six passing touchdowns off scrambles, two more than any other QB. The MVP front-runner set a single-season record with 5,614 total offensive yards. Of his league-high 41 passing touchdowns, 28 were thrown to running backs and tight ends, tying an NFL record. Much of the credit here goes to TE Travis Kelce, who moved all over the formation in 2022. The Pro Bowler had 28 receptions for 342 yards and six touchdowns when targeted from the wide alignment, leading all tight ends this season.
AFC NO. 2 SEED | 13-3
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +400
- Odds to win AFC: +200
Buffalo’s efficiency on both offense and defense carried through from last season to this one. Over the past 15 years, only three teams have scored 28-plus points per game while allowing an average of fewer than 18: the 2019 Ravens, 2021 Bills and 2022 Bills. I have a lot of extremely impressive notes on Josh Allen, but the one area of his game that stands out in the context of this particular postseason: His ability to throw passes — specifically touchdown passes — on the run. He led the league with nine such scoring strikes during the regular season, while also boasting 22 TD passes with a time to throw of 2.5-plus seconds (tied for third in the NFL, per NGS). Why do these numbers stand out in this season’s Lombardi chase? The NFC’s most likely Super Bowl reps — Philadelphia and San Francisco — are exceptional at bringing pressure and limiting rushing yards allowed. Allen’s ability to create, confuse and leverage an offensive line that is uniquely suited to him drives exceptional value. His ability to connect on passes in this manner has my models favoring Buffalo against any NFC opponent.
AFC NO. 3 SEED | 12-4
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +800
- Odds to win AFC: +420
One of my favorite statistical takeaways from this entire season is the clear improvement Joe Burrow has made in terms of not taking sacks. He’s still getting pressured at a high rate and he’s still been sacked 41 times, but that’s down 10 whole sacks from last season despite similar pressure rates. Burrow was sacked 13 times in the first two games of the season, with the Bengals starting out at 0-2. But since since Week 9, he’s been sacked just 12 total times, with Cincy running off eight straight wins. According to my computer vision, Burrow ranks fifth in sack-avoidance rate, up from 14th in the metric a season ago. Part of what has changed is his efficiency in utilizing quick passes (those that get out of the quarterback’s hand in 2.5 seconds or less). Burrow leads the NFL with 19 touchdowns on these throws, per NGS.
AFC NO. 4 SEED | 9-8
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +5000
- Odds to win AFC: +2200
As a rookie, Trevor Lawrence tied for the league lead in interceptions with 17, while throwing just 12 touchdown passes. He’s completely flipped the script in Year 2, with 25 TD strikes against just eight picks. Consequently, the former No. 1 overall pick improved his passer rating by 23.3 points (71.9 to 95.2), which is the largest increase in league history from a player’s rookie to sophomore season (min. 400 attempts, per NFL Research). Meanwhile, many scoffed at Christian Kirk’s free-agent contract back in March, but he ranks among the top 13 in WR win share this season. His 815 receiving yards from the slot alignment rank second, behind only CeeDee Lamb. Lastly, Jacksonville’s defense is heading into the playoffs with some notable momentum, having posted pressure rates north of 50 percent in each of the past two weeks.
AFC NO. 5 SEED | 10-7
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +2200
- Odds to win AFC: +1100
What more does Austin Ekeler need to do to finally earn a Pro Bowl nod? The man just led the NFL in touchdowns for the second straight season! Can we all just agree right now to vote for him next year? Despite the Chargers ranking dead last in run-blocking win share, Ekeler scored 13 of his league-high 18 TDs on the ground. He piled up 915 rushing yards with a healthy average of 4.5 per carry. Oh, and his 107 receptions tied for the second-most in NFL history by a running back.
AFC NO. 6 SEED | 10-7
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +4000
- Odds to win AFC: +1900
Despite missing time due to injury — and missing quarterback Lamar Jackson down the stretch — Mark Andrews ranks fourth in tight end win share this season. He easily leads the Ravens in receptions (73), receiving yards (847) and receiving touchdowns (five), with those catch and yardage figures ranking top three among all tight ends. Andrews accounted for 26.5 percent of Baltimore’s receiving yards this season, the highest percentage for any TE. Andrews is homegrown, but Baltimore added a key cog via midseason trade in linebacker Roquan Smith. In Weeks 1 through 8, the Ravens allowed 22.9 points per game (20th) and 364.3 total yards per game (24th). Then they acquired Smith from the Bears. Subsequently, in Weeks 9 through 18, Baltimore allowed just 14.7 ppg (2nd) and 288.8 ypg (3rd). No wonder the Ravens just signed Smith — who’s fresh off his first Pro Bowl bid — to a five-year, $100 million contract extension. Here’s an additional gem from NFL Research: With 169 tackles, 4.5 sacks and three interceptions on the season, Smith is the only player not named Ray Lewis to eclipse 150 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions in a single season over the past quarter-century.
AFC NO. 7 SEED | 9-8
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +6000
- Odds to win AFC: +3500
Next Gen Stats show that the Dolphins’ defense has allowed just one touchdown on a deep pass (20-plus air yards), tops in the NFL, while picking off five balls on such throws. And Miami owns the third-best passer rating against deep balls at 44.4. Not only do the Fins do a fantastic job limiting gains in the passing game, but they also produce them at a prolific rate. Tyreek Hill’s 1,710 receiving yards were the most in NFL history by a player in his first season with a team (rookie or veteran). Per NGS, Hill (1,145 yards) and Jaylen Waddle (932) rank second and sixth, respectively, in receiving yards when aligned wide in 2022. Hill ranks second in win share at the wide receiver position (2.21 wins), while Waddle is eighth (1.98). Unfortunately for these two — and the Dolphins as a whole — quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (concussion protocol) will not be active for Sunday’s playoff opener in Buffalo.
NFC PLAYOFF TEAMS
NFC NO. 2 SEED | 13-4
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +450
- Odds to win NFC: +170
My models are typically quite conservative, so it’s wild to me that San Francisco boasts the NFC’s best odds when it comes to winning Super Bowl LVII. Not only are the 49ers the conference’s No. 2 seed, but they’re led by a rookie quarterback. And not a rookie quarterback selected with a premium pick who started the entire season, but rather Mr. Irrelevant, who entered the lineup in December. However, over 20 seasons of data, the most reliable recipe for postseason success is mixing a strong O-line and run game with a defense that can get after the passer and shut down the run — basically, the 2022 Niners. So far, 60 percent of Brock Purdy’s pass attempts have been to open targets, per NGS, and he leads the NFL with a 119.0 passer rating since taking over as San Francisco’s starter in Week 14. That figure represents the second-highest passer rating among QBs in their first five starts in the Super Bowl era, trailing only NFL Network’s own Kurt Warner (131.4). The 23-year-old’s not just dinking and dunking, either: Since Week 13, Purdy has the second-highest passer rating on throws of 10-plus air yards.
NFC NO. 1 SEED | 14-3
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +550
- Odds to win NFC: +175
Jalen Hurts is the first player in the Super Bowl era to rank in the top five in both passer rating (101.5, 4th) and rushing touchdowns (13, T-2nd) in the same season. In fact, he’s the first QB in NFL history with 10-plus rushing scores and a 100-plus passer rating. Want more? He’s also the first to have at least 150 carries and 450 pass attempts in a season — and just the second with 125 or more carries and at least a 100 passer rating. The other QB in the latter stat? Lamar Jackson in his 2019 MVP season. It’s also important to note that the Eagles boast my top offensive line by win share, while the defense has 15 more sacks than the next-closest team, with a whopping total of 70. Only three other teams in NFL history have posted at least 70 sacks in a season: the 1984 Bears (72), ’89 Vikings (71) and ’87 Bears (70). Philadelphia racked up 50 sacks using four or fewer pass rushers (no blitz). The Eagles are the first team to have four players with at least 10 sacks each in a season: Haason Reddick (16), Brandon Graham (11.0), Javon Hargrave (11) and Josh Sweat (11).
NFC NO. 4 SEED | 8-9
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +2800
- Odds to win NFC: +1100
It never hurts to take a step back and appreciate the incredible history we’re witnessing with Tom Brady, who’s set to make his 48th career playoff start Monday night against Dallas. His 47 starts, 35 wins, 13,049 passing yards, 86 passing touchdowns and 14 game-winning drives are all — unsurprisingly — postseason records. For some context, Joe Montana ranks second with 16 postseason wins, while three other QBs have earned 14. Here’s something that could be more predictive for this postseason: In Week 17, TB12 finally rekindled his deep connection with Mike Evans to the tune of three touchdowns. It’s also worth pointing out that Tampa’s defense forced a three-and-out on 39.6 percent of drives, the second-best rate in the NFL.
NFC NO. 5 SEED | 12-5
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +1300
- Odds to win NFC: +550
With 34 takeaways in 2021 and 33 takeaways this season, Dallas is the first team to lead the NFL in this category in consecutive seasons since the 1972-74 Steelers. The offense has held up its end of the bargain since quarterback Dak Prescott returned in Week 7, leading the league in both scoring (32.4 ppg) and third-down conversions (52.3 percent), while ranking second in red zone touchdown percentage (78.6) during this span. I know it seems strange to say, but I think CeeDee Lamb may be underrated. Not only does the third-year pro lead the NFL with 826 receiving yards when aligned in the slot (NGS), but his off-ball win share increased by 0.5 games in 2022. That last part is a metric that captures how much of the “best” coverage he commands, as well as his impact on rushing downs. Basically, how much more favorable does he make the playing environment for teammates (e.g. less tight coverage, more space to catch and run)?
NFC NO. 3 SEED | 13-4
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +3000
- Odds to win NFC: +1200
I measure a player’s individual contribution — both on- and off-ball — via win share. (If you want more information on my methodology, check out the intro here.) Justin Jefferson finished the regular season with a win share of 2.54, which is 0.33 more than the next-best wide receiver (Tyreek Hill at 2.21). That’s the biggest margin between No. 1 and No. 2 at any position, with offensive tackle providing the next-biggest gap. (49ers LT Trent Williams is 0.24 wins better than anyone else.) Jefferson is the first Viking to lead the NFL in receiving yards (1,809) and the only player to gain at least 400 receiving yards over expected in a season twice since Next Gen Stats started tracking the metric in 2018. Bottom line: The wide receiver presents a strong case for MVP, and even though that’s unlikely, it’s hard to imagine anyone else taking home Offensive Player of the Year honors.
NFC NO. 6 SEED | 9-7-1
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +5000
- Odds to win NFC: +2800
Dexter Lawrence has had himself a season. The 2019 first-rounder’s 7.5 sacks and 28 quarterback hits are stellar marks for a 342-pound defensive tackle, but they don’t tell the whole story here. Lawrence’s burst (quickness at the time the ball is snapped) ranks third in the NFL, per computer vision, and his run-game win share ranks sixth among DTs. PFF gives him a pass-rush grade of 92.4, trailing only Myles Garrett. Lawrence and Defensive Player of the Year front-runner Nick Bosa are the only two players this season owning a pass-rush grade of 90-plus and a run-defense grade of 80-plus.Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale dialed up a G-Men blitz on 44.7 percent of snaps, the most in the NFL. Alongside Lawrence up front, edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux has been evolving in his rookie season, amassing 23 pressures since week 12 (the most among rookies over that span, per NGS). Thibodeaux is just the fourth rookie over the past 15 seasons to rack up at least four sacks, 12 QB hurries and five passes defensed (the others: Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, T.J. Watt).
NFC NO. 7 SEED | 9-8
- Odds to win Super Bowl: +5000
- Odds to win NFC: +2800
Geno Smith leads the NFL with 13 deep passing touchdowns (20-plus air yards); in fact, he tied the record for most in a season during the NGS era (since 2016). Smith also set Seahawks records for completions (399), pass attempts (572), completion percentage (69.8) and passing yards (4,282). He was the first Seattle QB to lead the NFL in completion percentage since Dave Krieg (65.6 in 1991). This season, he is one of just four QBs (along with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Joe Burrow) with 30 touchdown passes — and the only rep from the NFC. While I love Geno’s Comeback Player of the Year push, the Seahawks’ resurgence also spawns from a spectacular rookie class headlined by RB Kenneth Walker III (1,050 yards and nine touchdowns), CB Tariq Woolen (tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions) and offensive tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas (who combined for 33 starts). It also seems like we aren’t talking enough about the case for Pete Carroll as Coach of the Year.
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