The Upshot’s N.F.L. Playoff Simulator Is Back in 2023

How can your team make the N.F.L. playoffs?

For the 10th year in a row, we’re here to help answer that question, with an interactive tool that we call the N.F.L. Playoff Simulator. If you’re familiar with the tool, go ahead and get started. For the uninitiated, some details follow.

Pick any outcomes — or none at all — and our tool will simulate the rest of the season for you, instantly identifying the most important games remaining for each team and turning you into a playoff scenarios expert.

What’s new this year? To calculate a team’s chances of making the playoffs, the simulator needs to start with a guess of how likely a team is to win each of its games.

In the original simulator, every outcome was equally likely. Since 2015, it has used Sagarin ratings to estimate team strength. Starting this year, we’re using an Elo rating system combined with information from betting markets to estimate team ratings.

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

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

Given their standing in the division and the games remaining, the simulator thinks the Chargers have about a 47 percent chance of making the playoffs, represented by the large number on the upper right.

Pick winners of 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 picking. Your choices are not limited to your team’s games — you can see how the result of any N.F.L. game affects your team’s chances. The colors can help tell you at a glance which games affect your team most — the darker the shade, the more significant a win or loss would be. Frequently, 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.

Target different outcomes. This tool can do more than tell you whether your team will make the playoffs. It can also help you target specific goals, like getting the No. 1 overall seed or a wild-card berth.

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

Use it backward … if your team is bad enough. Most teams will not make the playoffs, and many teams’ postseason paths will be blocked well before Week 18. Some teams, like the Carolina Panthers, seem 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 No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

Back to top button