It’s never too early to start thinking about the playoffs. 

Through five weeks, the playoff picture doesn’t look anything like we expected it to look like before the season. The Kansas City Chiefs are a virtual lock to make the playoffs. The Chicago Bears are the frontrunners in the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers are on the wrong side of the bubble. The Baltimore Ravens have better playoff chances than the Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s all a reminder that the NFL remains the most unpredictable, chaotic league in sports, which is what makes it so much dang fun.

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Welcome to our early NFL playoff projections, brought to you by SportsLine’s Stephen Oh, who has provided us with every team’s playoff percentages and expected win total via SportsLine’s simulations. We’ll be breaking down the playoff picture below, but first, let’s go to the bullet points for some important takeaways. 

Below you’ll find our playoff projections using projected wins. The first four seeds represent division winners while the final two spots are reserved for wild card teams. All projections are from SportsLine’s simulations.

AFC playoff projection

Projected wins in parenthesis

1. Chiefs (12.3), AFC West champion

At 5-0, the Chiefs are already running away with the AFC West. It’s still early, but this week’s game against the Patriots might just decide home-field advantage in the playoffs. 

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2. Patriots (10.8), AFC East champion

After a slow start, the Patriots are still projected to win the awful AFC East and wind up with double-digit wins. A win over the Chiefs would cement their status as the conference’s top team, despite the sudden rise of Patrick Mahomes.

3. Ravens (10.4), AFC North champion

The Ravens just lost to the Browns in overtime, but they’re 3-2 with a plus-55 point differential. They have plenty of competition with the 4-1 Bengals, who already beat the Ravens earlier this season, looking strong. 

4. Jaguars (9.3), AFC South champion

They can’t let Blake Bortles throw the ball 60-plus times again, but the Jaguars shouldn’t panic after getting blown out against the Chiefs. They need Leonard Fournette to get healthy. The good news is that the Titans got upset by the Bills, so the Jaguars still look like the best team in the division.

5. Bengals (9.2), wild card

At 4-1, the Bengals look like the best team in the AFC North right now, but Oh’s projections expect them to regress “because they have been winning in non-traditional ways that do not usually last all season.” For instance, they won’t get wild Ryan Tannehill pick-sixes all season long. Still, their start to the season has proven they’re a legitimate playoff contender. They’re good enough to win the AFC North.

6. Chargers (9.1), wild card

The Chargers might not be able to catch the Chiefs, but they survived September and are 3-2. They look like a playoff-caliber team even without Joey Bosa. Lurking behind them, though, are spunky teams like the Titans and Dolphins. This final wild-card spot is completely up for grabs. And let’s face it, it’s difficult to trust the Chargers.

Just missed: Titans (8.7), Dolphins (8.1)

NFC playoff projection

1. Rams (12.4), NFC West champion

No surprise here. The Rams are the best team in football even if their defense is underperforming. The NFC West is already theirs. They should cruise to the top seed. Jared Goff is averaging north of 10 yards per attempt and Todd Gurley is a touchdown machine with nine already.

2. Saints (10.4), NFC South champion

Big win for the Saints on Monday night, when they walloped the Redskins. Drew Brees absolutely deserves to be in the MVP conversation. He’s completing 77.9 percent of his passes, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt, and has thrown 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. That being said, the NFC South will likely come down to the final few weeks of the season. The Saints and Panthers play each other in Weeks 15 and 17.

3. Bears (9.7), NFC North champion

With that defense of theirs, the Bears don’t need Mitchell Trubisky to throw for six touchdowns in every game. They just need him to be better than he was in Weeks 1-3. If Trubisky can take the next step, the Bears are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. If Trubisky can’t, the Bears will be hard pressed to keep winning games while relying entirely on their defense. Even still, they’ve built up a nice little lead and they’ve got a favorable stretch of games coming up against the AFC East.

4. Eagles (8.3), NFC East champion

Yep. Eight wins sounds about right for the NFC East, which might be the worst division in football. The Eagles don’t look any good and they just lost Jay Ajayi for the season, but they don’t have much competition. Expect Philadelphia to get their issues sorted out. They might not be a Super Bowl contender, but they’re the best team in a bad division. The Redskins aren’t far behind, however.

5. Seahawks (8.5), wild card

Huge surprise here. The Seahawks aren’t bad, but they don’t exactly scream wild-card team. If it were me, I’d take the Packers or Vikings to make the playoffs over the Seahawks, but Oh’s projections have the Seahawks finishing with more wins. They might’ve just lost to the Rams, but the way their offense played is encouraging. It also helps that they get to play the 49ers twice and Cardinals one more time. Those should be three free wins.

6. Panthers (8.5), wild card

No problem with putting the Panthers in the playoff picture, even though they probably should’ve lost to the Giants on Sunday. Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey can lead the Panthers to the playoffs. Remember, they play the Saints twice at the end of the year, which gives them a chance to steal the division if they can remain within striking distance. Right now, at 3-1, that’s where they find themselves. 

Just missed: Redskins (8.1), Lions (7.8), Vikings (7.5), Packers (7.4)

Wild-Card Round projection


(6) Chargers at (3) Ravens

(5) Bengals at (4) Jaguars

Byes: Chiefs, Patriots


(6) Panthers at (3) Bears

(5) Seahawks at (4) Eagles

Byes: Rams, Saints


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