Win Totals vs. Playoff Format
By Dan Rivera
Every year, there is always about 4 or 5 teams that are in playoff contentions the last couple weeks of the year, but which teams regularly get into the playoffs? We know 9-7 is the relative floor under the 6-team playoff format, but this year we go to 7. Can we create an advantage over these oddsmakers? Yes, we can. This is an odd year for the NFL with COVID-19, but I don’t think the NFL will cancel games. If they do, it will be the non-conference games that go first. We will have playoffs this year unless the NFL season gets completely canceled. I went back to 2002, the first year the NFL went to 4 divisions, and looked up all the division winners and wildcard contenders to see who actually gets in. I pulled all the info from profootball reference and, luckily, they listed playoff teams in order so I knew who the next team would have been in if the 7-team playoff format was in play. To read this article properly, I've categorized the tables into number of wins. The reason I say this is because we had ties for teams and that threw off the loses. Lastly, click here if you want to see the data yourself. It will take you to a Google spreadsheet so you can look how I formatted this research projected or if you want to do your own research yourself without starting from scratch.
Win More Games
Without sugar coating things, to make the playoffs, teams need to win more games. At 8 wins, the odds of you making the playoffs while not winning the division is very slim at 4.84% under the 6-team format. This category is largely made up of the division winners at 8 wins or less. Under the 7-team format, this numbers goes up to 20.97% for the wildcard teams. If you are looking to bet a team to make the playoffs and don’t expect them to win more than 8 games, I would go ahead and pass on them. For example, I like the Lions over 6.5 wins but asking Detroit to get over 8 wins is a lot.
The First Actionable Info
If you looking to bet some teams to make the playoffs without laying the heavy juice or to find a better payout, 9 wins is the golden ticket for you. Under the 6-team format, we have had 10 division winners and another 25 make the playoffs at 9 wins. This category is still mostly wildcard contending teams. The actionable info comes from the wildcard contenders. At 6 seeds, only 15 teams have made it at 9 wins for a 28.3% playoff rate, which make them still long shots to make it. When we bump it up to 7 teams, the wildcard contenders at 9 wins sky rockets to 66.04%. This is the biggest difference between all the categories in this article. If you believe a team is capable of winning 9 games and the payout is better to make the playoffs, you will want to put serious consideration into splitting up your bets depending on the season win total. I already wrote on here about future plays I like and bet already. I stated I like the Browns over 8.5 wins, I like them even more to make the playoffs because they are fully capable of 9 wins and have a solid shot at 10 wins. Another team I like to make the playoffs in the 9-win neighborhood is the Colts at -150 on BetMGM (MGM is the lowest I have seen this for). I have the Colts winning the division at 10 games but even at 9, they have a good chance to make it.
The Virtual Lock
At 10 wins, your team is virtually a lock to make the playoffs. 57 times a 10-win team has made the playoffs with 30 of those being division winners. For the wildcard contenders, 75% of them went to the playoffs under 6-team format. On a 7-team format, that number jumps to 98.48% of all 10-win wildcard teams. The 1 lone team that did not make it under a 7-team format was the 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That year in the NFC, the wildcard teams were Saints at 11-5, Packers at 10-6, and the Giants at 10-6 had the tie breaker over the Bucs based on win percentage in common games if 7 team format was in place that year.
Good Year, Unlucky in Division
At 11 wins, you’re in the playoffs even before 7 seeds. The surprising info from 11 wins is that we only have had 24 division winners at 11 wins for a 54.55% division winner rate. The 1 team that did not make the playoffs at 11 wins was the 2008 Patriots. That year the Dolphins won the division at 11-5, Ravens went 11-5 and had the tie breaker over them because they had a better conference win percentage and the Colts took the other wildcard spot at 12-4 because the Titans went 13-3 and won the division.
The Division Winners
To no one’s surprise, at 12 wins or more the division is yours. The few wildcard teams at 12 wins came from teams that got super unlucky in division. We have had 75 division winners at 12 or more for a 90.36% division win rate. The 12-win wildcard teams are extreme outliers since we have had less than 10 appear since 2002. All the wildcard teams in this category had 12 wins.
If you remember 1 thing form this article, look to find those teams in the 7-to-9 win total range and see if you can get a better payout by playing them in the playoffs market if you believe they will win 9 games. If the NFL does miss games for COVID-19, it will be the non-conference games that are canceled thus nullifying any team totals you played. I encourage you to look at playoff futures market more than normal and put some more money there instead of season win totals. I said it before on this website under the futures piece I wrote, I will say it again, Browns are +145 to make the playoffs on PointsBet. I like them over 8.5 wins. +145 to make the playoffs implies close to 41% chance, we now know 9-win wildcard teams have a 66% chance of going in under the new 7-team format. Another team I like to make the playoffs is the Pittsburgh Steelers at -115 on Bet MGM. I am worried a bit about Big Ben and the fact I don’t want to get super tied into future markets but Steelers went 8-8 with that putrid offense last year. If we get Big Ben most of the year, Steelers are about a 9-win team at worst with a very good chance to get 10 wins. I like the playoffs more for the Steelers than the season win total of over 9 because we can cash this ticket at 9 wins using similar juice depending on what books you shop at.
You can find me on twitter @danrivera228. Feel free to reach out and tell me your thoughts on the article. Best of luck to everyone!