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Playoff Scenarios: Teams most likely to face the Chiefs in the Divisional round

We won’t know until Wild Card round is in the books ... but let’s look at the possibilities.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s 2022 regular season has come to an end. The AFC’s playoff seeding has now been established.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs
  2. Buffalo Bills
  3. Cincinnati Bengals
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars
  5. Los Angeles Chargers
  6. Baltimore Ravens
  7. Miami Dolphins

What happens next?

As the top seed, the Chiefs get a bye in the Wild Card weekend. Among the remaining teams, division winners play at home. The highest seed plays the lowest seed, the second-highest plays the second-lowest ... and so on. This means that in Week 19, the Bills will host the Dolphins, the Ravens will be on the road against the Bengals and the Jaguars will be at home against the Chargers.

The same rules apply in the AFC’s Divisional round games in Week 20. The Chiefs will play at home against the lowest remaining seed. Since only three teams will survive the Wild Card round, we know that the second and third seeds — the Bills and Bengals — cannot play the Chiefs until the conference championship round in Week 21.

So all we have to do is figure out the probability that each of the remaining four teams will get through the Wild Card round and also be seeded the lowest. This is easiest for the seventh-seed team — because it only needs to win its Wild Card game to be the lowest-surviving seed.

It gets more complicated after that, but it’s still straightforward. The sixth seed will play the first seed if they win and the seventh seed loses. So the probability that happens is equal to the chance the sixth seed wins multiplied by the chance the seventh seed loses. And then we continue that series of calculations for the rest of the teams.

The FiveThirtyEight model

According to FiveThirtyEight’s ELO model, the Bills have an 89% chance to defeat the Dolphins. The Bengals will have a 78% chance of beating the Ravens, while the Jaguars would win 59% of the time against the Chargers.

After we do the math, here’s what we get:

Opponent Chance
Jaguars 41%
Chargers 28%
Ravens 20%
Dolphins 11%

This suggests the Jaguars are the most likely to face the Chiefs in Kansas City.

The betting odds model

Of course, this all depends on the model from which these calculations are built. What if we based them on a different model — such as current betting odds for the Wild Card games?

Just remember: betting odds are constructed as a way to get equal amounts of money on both sides of a wager. So we can think of ELO as a way to predict how things will play out — while betting odds tell us how the betting public thinks they will go.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Bills are favored by 10.5 points over the Dolphins. That’s an 86% chance to win. The Bengals are favored by 6.5 points over the Ravens (72%), while the Chargers have a 1.5-point advantage against the Jaguars (53%). Using these probabilities, here’s how the math works out:

Opponent Chance
Chargers 33%
Jaguars 29%
Ravens 24%
Dolphins 14%

Because the betting odds favor the Chargers over the Jaguars (instead of the other way around), that substantially changes the result. The betting public thinks Los Angeles is the most likely team to travel to Kansas City for the Divisional round — but the difference between the Chargers and Jaguars’ chances are substantially smaller.

But what do you think?


Which team do you believe is the most likely to face the Chiefs in Week 20?

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    (2489 votes)
  • 37%
    (1749 votes)
  • 2%
    (138 votes)
  • 5%
    (254 votes)
4630 votes total Vote Now

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