As probability tends to 1

Last night, the New York Giants hailed in Washington in their last game of the regular season. After losing six of their previous seven games, a win was far from certain. It seems that Tiki Barber did quite a bit of damage with 234 rushing yards, more than either he or indeed any Giant in history has ever rushed for previously.

The Giants are now guaranteed a wildcard playoff berth if all of the following nine teams win: Green Bay, Arizona, Detroit, Miami, Minnesota, San Francisco, Cleveland, New Orleans, Seattle.

If you ignore the teams’ respective opponents and simply use their season’s winning record to date as their probability of winning today, then the probability of all of the above teams winning is 0.0126%. Or 1 in 7,945. In the above scenario, Green Bay would snatch the NFC’s sixth playoff berth.

So I guess the Giants will be playing in January. I’m quite confident that they won’t be playing in February, though.

With all division titles sealed in the AFC, the race is on between six teams for the two wildcards. Denver is leading the charge, with the New York Jets on the same winning record (96). Four further teams are hot on their heels on 87: Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Kansas City.

With Jacksonville playing at Kansas City, one of them is almost certain to end the season with a 9–7 record, so the pressure is on for Denver to beat San Francisco (6–9) and for the Jets to beat Oakland (213). Both are at home, although Denver’s home record (4–3) is far from convincing. It’s gonna be a big day.

Focusing on Denver, only Kansas City, Tennessee and the New York Jets can finish above them. If Jacksonville win and Denver lose, then they have no head-to-heads, their division records would be identical, as would be their record against teams that they have both played. Which means it would go down to their conference record, which would favour Denver. As for Cincinnati, Denver’s 24–23 win over them on Christmas Eve would put them in the driving seat.

If you apply the same "record to date" logic as was applied to the Giants above, there’s a 36.7% chance of Denver losing and at least two of these three winning. Those odds are a little too high for my liking.


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