With Wild Card Weekend fast approaching, there's a segment of football fans who are already looking past January in search of answering the season's biggest question.
In an effort to decipher the mysteries that distinguish Super Bowl-winning teams from their merely playoff-clinching brethren, NFL Research has created a 10-factor playoff model to identify the most important traits of successful NFL playoff teams and to predict the outcome of the 2017 postseason.
Through the analysis of more than 100 metrics from the past 15 seasons, NFL Research has identified the following measurable factors as the best indicators of playoff success:
1) The Advantage of Playoff Experience
2) Elite Pass Defenses Trump Elite Pass Offenses in the Playoffs
3) The Importance of a Pass Rush Arsenal
4) Ball Skills on Defense Lead to Takeaways
5) Most Predictive Passing Metrics: TD-INT Ratio, Adjusted Net Yards/Att, Big Plays
6) A Strong Running Game Matters Most in the Second Half of Games
7) Run Defense When Trailing & Limiting Big Runs Helps Teams Stay in Games
8) Difficult Regular Season Schedule is Favorable for Playoff Success
9) Ability to Win Regular Season Road Games Translates to Playoff Success
10) Unlucky Teams in the Regular Season Fare Better in the Playoffs
Who has the best chance of winning Super Bowl LII? (team and score):
New England Patriots -- 92
Minnesota Vikings -- 79
The Vikings are the favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLII. Their dominant defense has shown the ability to shut down opposing offenses both at home and on the road. The only scenario where they play a road game in the playoffs would be in Philadelphia against Nick Foles, perhaps on their way to home-field advantage in the Super Bowl.
Carolina Panthers -- 74
Pittsburgh Steelers -- 73
Philadelphia Eagles -- 72
Los Angeles Rams -- 71
New Orleans Saints -- 61
Jacksonville Jaguars -- 57
The Jaguars will host a playoff game for the first time since the 1999 AFC Championship game. If the Jaguars can continue their defensive dominance against the Bills, they will face a Steelers team in which they beat on the road in Week 5. Their score of 57 is the highest by a Jaguars team to make the playoffs since 2002 (31 in 2007, 11 in 2005).
Kansas City Chiefs -- 30
The Chiefs are aided by an experienced coach, however, their playoff score of 39 is the eighth-lowest among 37 teams to make the playoffs in each of the last 2-plus seasons. If Alex Smith and the Chiefs big play offense and continue their success in the playoffs, a rematch with the Patriots in Foxborough could be inevitable (Week 1: KC defeated NE in Foxborough, 42-27).
Atlanta Falcons -- 26
The Falcons are the only NFC playoff team to score below 50 in the playoff model. Since 2002, no team to score below 40 won more than one playoff game. The Falcons' biggest advantage is their potential road through the playoffs; with a win against the Rams, the Falcons would face the Eagles in the Divisional Round.
Tennessee Titans -- 16
The Titans will need significant improvement from Marcus Mariota (13 TD, 15 INT) to make a splash in the playoffs. The Titans' ability to rush the passer and limit big plays on defense is their most redeeming traits for a playoff run. However, the model predicts an early exit for the Titans -- teams to score below 25 have a combined 1-44 (.022) playoff record.
Buffalo Bills -- 4
The Bills ended the longest active playoff drought among the four major U.S. sports (17 seasons), but might be in for an early playoff exit. Since 2002, no team to score below 15 in the model won a playoff game (0-27 combined record).