Rating the Possible Playoff Scenarios for the Houston Texans

What playoff scenario extends the Texans' season the longest?
What playoff scenario extends the Texans' season the longest?
Eric Sauseda

There are many reasons the National Football League is the most popular sports property in our country today. (And yes, despite television ratings that are sagging, and despite its many commissioner-inflicted warts, I would contend that the NFL still rules the day, although with labor peace for the next eight seasons now in the bag, the NBA has to feel pretty good.)

Chief among the reasons for the NFL's popularity, especially juxtaposed to the NBA, is the inherent importance of its regular season games. Part of it is just the mathematics of scarcity — there are only 17 weeks, 16 games, in an NFL regular season, so the games are all proportionally the equivalent of about five NBA games.

The other factor in the NFL's regular season significance, though, is the perfect balance that the league has struck with the percentage of teams that make the playoffs (12 out of 32) and the method for determining these teams (a logical set of mathematical tie breakers that potentially make even the seemingly insignificant Week 17 games, oftentimes, matter.)

As Saturday's Week 16 games began, the 8-6 Houston Texans' postseason possibilities ranged anywhere from the three seed in the AFC to out of the playoffs altogether. In between, there still existed a chance that the Texans could be a wild card team at 9-7, a scenario that would've made about a half dozen games NOT involving the Texans matter over the final two weeks.

The Titans' loss to the Jaguars in the early Saturday time slot eliminated the wild card as a possibility, making the Week 17 game in Nashville between the Titans and the Texans a showdown for the division, if the Texans lost Saturday night. As we know by now, the Texans beat the Bengals to clinch the division on Saturday night.

Sunday began with the possibility of a three seed still in play for the Texans, a scenario that would have gone down to the fourth tiebreaker (strength of victory!) with a 10-6 Steelers team. The Texans needed the Ravens to beat the Steelers on Sunday afternoon, though, and alas, that did not happen. (The Steelers can still finish 10-6, if they lose to the Browns, but they've clinched the strength of victory tiebreaker under that scenario.)

So after all that scoreboard watching the last two days, the Texans' situation, at least in terms of THEIR seeding, is somewhat ironically very settled. They will be the 4-seed in the AFC come playoff time. In fact, the playoff situation in the AFC, as a conference, is fairly coalesced, with all six participants 100 percent determined. As of Monday morning, it looks like this (record in division, conference games in parentheses):

1. New England 13-2, AFC East champion (4-1, 10-1)
2. Oakland 12-3, AFC West champion (3-2, 9-2)
3. Pittsburgh 10-5, AFC North champion (4-1, 8-3)
4. HOUSTON 9-6, AFC South champion (5-0, 7-4)
5. Kansas City 11-4, Wild card #1 (5-0, 8-3)
6. Miami 10-5, Wild card #2 (4-1, 7-4)

Those will be your six teams, but what we don't know is "Will this be the seeding?" The only two teams set in stone are the Steelers at the 3-seed and the Texans at the 4-seed. The Texans could wind up playing the Chiefs, the Raiders or even the Dolphins (admittedly under a scenario in which they are getting out heavier coats to wear in hell), possibly bringing some of the tiebreakers into play.

Here are the games and the spreads involving all six AFC playoff teams this weekend:

1. New England at 6. Miami +10
2. Oakland at Denver -3
Cleveland at 3. Pittsburgh -7.5
4. Houston at Tennessee -2.5
5. Kansas City at San Diego +4.5

For seeding purposes, the only three games that matter are these three:

1. New England at 6. Miami +10
2. Oakland at Denver -3
5. Kansas City at San Diego +4.5

Simple math says there are eight permutations (barring ties...seriously, SCREW TIES!) involving these six teams. Below are each of those permutations with their resulting playoff seeding AND, as an added bonus, I had my friend Rob Pizzola of predictionmachine.com run the simulations, thousands and thousands of them, on the rest of the season, and he has calculated the percentage chance of each of these eight scenarios, with the following caveats that he sent to me via direct message:

"1. Denver's win percentages are currently assuming Trevor Siemian at QB. It may be Paxton Lynch or a combo of Siemian and Lynch, but until Kubiak gives us more info, we assume Siemian. (Lynch would reduce the DEN win probabilities)

2. All of these are approximate numbers. The outcome of DAL/DET tonight will slightly affect the numbers because it will change the strength of schedule for each team. It's only going to be marginally different but worth noting that these are not exact numbers.

3. We are using injury reports that are available to us as of today. Any significant changes in injuries would have an impact on the projections.

Percentages add up to just over 100% due to rounding."

So without further ado.....

SCENARIO #1. NE, OAK, KC win

RESULTING SEEDING:

1. New England 14-2, AFC East champion (5-1, 11-1)
2. Oakland 13-3, AFC West champion (4-2, 10-2)
3. Pittsburgh, AFC North champion
4. HOUSTON, AFC South champion
5. Kansas City 12-4, Wild card #1 (6-0, 9-3)
6. Miami 10-6, Wild card #2 (4-2, 7-5)

TEXANS PATH TO PAYDIRT: Kansas City at home in wild card round, highly likely go to New England in second round
PREDICTION MACHINE SAYS: 17.75 percent

SCENARIO #2. NE, OAK, SD win

RESULTING SEEDING:

1. New England 14-2, AFC East champion (5-1, 11-1)
2. Oakland 13-3, AFC West champion (4-2, 10-2)
3. Pittsburgh, AFC North champion
4. HOUSTON, AFC South champion
5. Kansas City 11-5, Wild card #1 (5-1, 8-4)
6. Miami 10-6, Wild card #2 (4-2, 7-5)

TEXANS PATH TO PAYDIRT: Kansas City at home in wild card round, highly likely go to New England in second round
PREDICTION MACHINE SAYS: 11.21 percent

SCENARIO #3. NE, DEN, KC win

RESULTING SEEDING:

1. New England 14-2, AFC East champion (5-1, 11-1)
2. Kansas City 12-4, AFC West champion (6-0, 9-3)
3. Pittsburgh, AFC North champion
4. HOUSTON, AFC South champion
5. Oakland 12-4, AFC West champion (3-3, 9-3)
6. Miami 10-6, Wild card #2 (4-2, 7-5)

* NOTE: Kansas City wins AFC West champion tiebreaker with Oakland based on 2-0 head-to-head record.

TEXANS PATH TO PAYDIRT: Oakland at home in wild card round, highly likely go to New England in second round
PREDICTION MACHINE SAYS: 27.20 percent

SCENARIO #4. NE, DEN, SD win

RESULTING SEEDING:

1. New England 14-2, AFC East champion (5-1, 11-1)
2. Oakland 12-4, AFC West champion (3-3, 9-3)
3. Pittsburgh, AFC North champion
4. HOUSTON, AFC South champion
5. Kansas City 11-5, Wild card #1 (5-1, 8-4)
6. Miami 10-6, Wild card #2 (4-2, 7-5)

TEXANS PATH TO PAYDIRT: Kansas City in wild card round, highly likely go to New England in second round
PREDICTION MACHINE SAYS: 17.16 percent

SCENARIO #5. MIA, OAK, KC win

RESULTING SEEDING:

1. Oakland 13-3, AFC West champion (4-2, 10-2)
2. New England 13-3, AFC East champion (4-2, 10-2)
3. Pittsburgh, AFC North champion
4. HOUSTON, AFC South champion
5. Kansas City 12-4, Wild card #1 (6-0, 9-3)
6. Miami 11-5, Wild card #2 (5-1, 8-4)

* NOTE: Oakland wins AFC #1 seed tiebreaker with New England based on better record over common opponents (5-0 vs 4-1 — HOU, BUF, BAL, DEN)

TEXANS PATH TO PAYDIRT: Kansas City in wild card round, highly likely go to Oakland in second round
PREDICTION MACHINE SAYS: 6.47 percent

SCENARIO #6. MIA, OAK, SD win

RESULTING SEEDING:

1. Oakland 13-3, AFC West champion (4-2, 10-2)
2. New England 13-3, AFC East champion (4-2, 10-2)
3. Pittsburgh, AFC North champion
4. HOUSTON, AFC South champion
5. Miami 11-5, Wild card #2 (5-1, 8-4)
6. Kansas City 11-5, Wild card #1 (5-1, 8-4)

* NOTE: Oakland wins AFC #1 seed tiebreaker with New England based on better record over common opponents (5-0 vs 4-1 — HOU, BUF, BAL, DEN)
* NOTE: Miami wins AFC #5 seed tiebreaker with Kansas City based on better record over common opponents (4-1 vs 2-3 — TEN, PIT, NYJ, SD)

TEXANS PATH TO PAYDIRT: Miami in wild card round, fairly likely go to Oakland in second round
PREDICTION MACHINE SAYS: 4.08 percent

SCENARIO #7. MIA, DEN, KC win

RESULTING SEEDING:

1. New England 13-3, AFC East champion (4-2, 10-2)
2. Kansas City 12-4, AFC West champion (6-0, 9-3)
3. Pittsburgh, AFC North champion
4. HOUSTON, AFC South champion
5. Oakland 12-4, Wild card #1 (3-3, 9-3)
6. Miami 11-5, Wild card #2 (5-1, 8-4)

* NOTE: Kansas City wins AFC West champion tiebreaker with Oakland based on 2-0 head-to-head record.

TEXANS PATH TO PAYDIRT: Oakland in wild card round, highly likely go to New England in second round
PREDICTION MACHINE SAYS: 9.90 percent

SCENARIO #8. MIA, DEN, SD win

RESULTING SEEDING:

1. New England 13-3, AFC East champion (4-2, 10-2)
2. Oakland 12-4, AFC West champion (3-3, 9-3)
3. Pittsburgh, AFC North champion
4. HOUSTON, AFC South champion
5. Miami 11-5, Wild card #2 (5-1, 8-4)
6. Kansas City 11-5, Wild card #1 (5-1, 8-4)

* NOTE: Miami wins AFC #5 seed tiebreaker with Kansas City based on better record over common opponents (4-1 vs 2-3 — TEN, PIT, NYJ, SD)

TEXANS PATH TO PAYDIRT: Miami wild card round, fairly likely go to New England in second round
PREDICTION MACHINE SAYS: 6.25 percent


SUMMARY: In short, the Texans have a 53 percent chance of playing the Chiefs, a 37 percent chance of playing the Raiders and a 10 percent chance of playing the Dolphins in the wild card round. The most likely INDIVIDUAL SCENARIO (over 27 percent chance of happening) of the eight above (NE, DEN, KC all win) would give the Texans the Raiders in the wild card round. The DREAM SCENARIO of Dolphins in the wild card round and a likely divisional round game in Oakland has a 4 percent chance of happening.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.



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