The two top seeds in the first round, the Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints, each moved on but took different roads. The Bills squeaked by the Indianapolis Colts by a three-point margin and the Saints blew the doors off the Chicago Bears, 21-9. Having secured victories, their chances of making the Super Bowl are only surpassed by the teams with a bye, the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers.
Based on each team’s true talent level — derived by looking at its actual win rate and its projected win rate based on total points scored and allowed — we can project the playoffs 1,000 times and see which teams are most likely to reach the Super Bowl. Here are the most likely matchups based on those simulations. Also included are the implied money line and odds for each potential contest.
No. 5 Tampa Bay Bucaneers
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers (19 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 18 percent chance (implied money line: +450, implied odds: 9-2)
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers led the NFL with a career-high 48 touchdown passes, tying him with Hall of Famer quarterback Dan Marino for the fifth-most touchdown passes in NFL history. Rodgers also led the league with a 121.5 passer rating, the second-highest mark behind his own performance in 2011 (122.5). Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes led the league in passing yards per game (316.0) and interception rate, plus had 38 touchdown passes. His passer rating, 108.2, was the third highest of 2020, and second best among playoff quarterbacks.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. New Orleans Saints (15 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 13 percent chance (implied money line: +650, implied odds: 13-2)
The New Orleans defense continues to shine. Since Week 9 of the regular season, including Sunday’s first-round game, the Saints have allowed a league-low 1.4 points per drive to their opponents, forcing them to go three-and-out more than a third of the time (37 percent, league average is 31 percent). Their pass rush has ranked as the sixth-best overall during the 2020 season.
Defensive tackle David Onyemata was the star during the regular season, registering 46 total quarterback pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) in 2020. That made him the ninth highest rated interior defenseman on pass-rushing snaps out of 71 qualified players at the position, per Pro Football Focus. Linebacker Demario Davis chipped in 33 total pressures and was rated the fourth-best linebacker in this regard. On Sunday, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins did most of the damage, pressuring Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky a team-high five times (one sack, one hit and three hurries), helping hold Trubisky to just one completion for 11 yards on seven pass attempts under pass pressure.
Buffalo Bills vs. Green Bay Packers (14 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 11 percent chance (implied money line: +800, implied odds: 8-1)
Buffalo coach Sean McDermott saw his squad’s efficiency on offense jump from 24th (1.6 points per drive) in 2019 to third (2.8 points per drive) during the regular season thanks to the improvement of quarterback Josh Allen. Allen contributed 46 total touchdowns (37 passing, eight rushing and one receiving), second only to Rodgers, accounting for 77 percent of his team’s touchdown total. Only Deshaun Watson, Justin Herbert and Rodgers had a higher share of their team’s scoring output.
That carried over to the postseason. Allen and the Bills scored three points per drive in the opening round, with Allen accounting for all three of the team’s offensive touchdowns (two passing and one rushing).
Buffalo Bills vs. New Orleans Saints (11 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 8 percent chance (implied money line: +1150, implied odds: 12-1)
Buffalo’s pass rush was just as talented as the one in New Orleans during the regular season and the Bills had a more highly rated secondary, too. Cornerback Tre’Davious White allowed less than a yard per snap in coverage for the Bills (ranking 16th out of 78 qualified cornerbacks) during the regular season and slot corner Taron Johnson was the only player at his position to play at least half of his team’s defensive snaps to record an interception without allowing a touchdown. Safety Micah Hyde allowed just one reception for every 50 snaps in coverage, the fifth-best ratio this season.
Against the Indianapolis Colts, White held wide receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and T.Y. Hilton to two catches on four targets for 31 yards and Hyde limited three Colts receivers to two catches on five targets for 15 yards. Tight end Jack Doyle did burn White for a touchdown but it was only one of two passing touchdowns surrendered by Buffalo’s secondary to the Colts.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 6 percent chance (implied money line: +1600, implied odds: 16-1)
Tampa Bay was the second strongest team in the NFL during the regular season, per Football Outsiders Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every play to a league average based on situation and opponent. The game charters at Pro Football Focus, after subjectively grading every snap, also rated the Buccaneers as the second-best overall team. ESPN’s Football Power Index placed them third behind Kansas City and New Orleans. And according to data from TruMedia, Tampa Bay was nine points per game better than expected after accounting for the down, distance and field position of each play on offense and defense. In the win against Washington, the Tampa was eight points better than expected.
Here are the chances for the remaining possible matchups in the Super Bowl, based on the 1,000 projections.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Green Bay Packers (7 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 4 percent chance (implied money line: +2700, implied odds: 27-1)
Buffalo Bills vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 4 percent chance (implied money line: +2750, implied odds: 28-1)
Baltimore Ravens vs. New Orleans Saints (5 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 3 percent chance (implied money line: +3750, implied odds: 38-1)
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Rams (4 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 2 percent chance (implied money line: +5350, implied odds: 54-1)
Buffalo Bills vs. Los Angeles Rams (3 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 1 percent chance (implied money line: +9150, implied odds: 92-1)
Baltimore Ravens vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 1 percent chance (implied money line: +8450, implied odds: 85-1)
Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers (3 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 1 percent chance (implied money line: +8250, implied odds: 83-1)
Cleveland Browns vs. New Orleans Saints (2 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: 1 percent chance (implied money line: +11400, implied odds: 114-1)
Baltimore Ravens vs. Los Angeles Rams (1 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: <1 percent chance (implied money line: +27700, implied odds: 277-1)
Cleveland Browns vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: <1 percent chance (implied money line: +25550, implied odds: 256-1)
Cleveland Browns vs. Los Angeles Rams (1 percent chance)
Odds after the regular season: <1 percent chance (implied money line: +83250, implied odds: 833-1)