Likely risers, fallers for 2014
Carolina Panthers among teams that could miss postseason in 2014
Despite impending free agency and the unknowns around the NFL draft, we are digging into our supercomputer to give you a look at what the playoff field is most likely to look like, pending the coming roster changes, based on the trajectory of teams and their efficiency this past season. This isn't just a way-too-early look at the playoffs, because obviously a lot can change from now to next January. What this does show is which teams are best-positioned right now for a playoff campaign in 2014 and which need to do work in the offseason.
Most of the time we see significant turnover in terms of playoff teams from year to year. The main reasons for this are parity and sample size. By parity, we mean that on any given Sunday, any team is good enough to beat another team. With only 16 games in a season, small bounces here and there can determine which teams ultimately make the playoffs (just look at how the San Diego Chargers snuck in this year). As a result, we will often see overachieving teams make the playoffs and underachieving teams miss out -- only for those teams to course-correct themselves and reverse their fate the following year. In 2013, though, the most deserving teams made the playoffs in each conference -- with the exception of the Green Bay Packers (but their efficiency numbers with a healthy Aaron Rodgers warranted a playoff spot).
Below we look at the three teams most likely to make the playoffs in 2014, the three most likely to regress, and the three most likely to make the postseason jump after missing this season.
Most likely high seeds
1. Denver Broncos (13-3, 73.4 percent playoff odds)
2013: 13-3, No. 1 seed
Despite a beating in Super Bowl XLVIII, Peyton Manning led one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, adding a point to the Broncos offense for every three passing plays. The passing attack added 250 points above what a league-average offense would be expected to score in similar situations over the course of the 2013 season. While that will likely regress back toward the mean, as long as Manning is commanding the offense, the Broncos will be a Super Bowl contender. Getting Von Miller and Chris Harris back healthy on defense should also be a boost.