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


How can your team make the N.F.L. playoffs? While there are more important questions in the world, this one still deserves an intelligent answer.

For the seventh year in a row, we’re here to help, with an interactive tool that we call the N.F.L. Playoff Simulator.

Our simulator has been updated to include this year’s expanded 14-team playoff, which has one additional playoff team in both conferences and allows for a bye week for only the No. 1 seed in each conference. (Previously, both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds received a bye week.)


If you’re familiar with the tool, go ahead and get started. For the uninitiated, some details follow.

We let you choose the outcomes of any game and simulate every other game remaining in the 2020 season, based on Sagarin ratings, which measure relative team strength. (Anything can happen on any given Sunday, of course, but that doesn’t mean every game is a coin flip.) 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.

Here’s how to get started:

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 Philadelphia Eagles, who somehow lead the N.F.C. East with a 3-4-1 record:

Given their standing in the division and the games remaining, the simulator thinks the Eagles have about a 73 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 Eagles will win their next two games, against the Giants (2-7) and the Cleveland Browns (5-3). Here’s what happens to the Eagles’ playoff chances in that case:

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. 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. Like how the Giants can win the N.F.C. East with a 4-12 record. And how, for now, even the Jets still have a chance.

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 17. Some teams, like the Jets, are already flirting with mathematical elimination. This year, we’ve included 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 next draft.


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