When the NFL expanded its playoff field to 14 teams in 2020, it became possible for all four teams in a single NFL division to make the playoffs for the first time ever. Since then, though, the divisions are a combined 0-for-24. There have been some close calls -- I'll get to one in just a bit -- but we're still waiting to see an entire division in the postseason.
Is this the year that changes? When assessing this, we have to take into account not only how good each team is in a division, but also how good the conference is as well. The AFC is absolutely loaded at quarterback with SportsLine's projections to help assess postseason chances., and while stranger things have happened, I'd be surprised if that supremacy is challenged much over the course of the year. I'll also use
As such, here's how the likelihood of a division getting all four of its teams in the tournament breaks down:
Tier 1: Best of the best
1. NFC East
Least likely playoff team: Washington Commanders (19.2%)
The NFC East is not the best division in the NFL, but thanks to the quarterback talent disparity between the two conferences, it is the most likely to get all four teams into the postseason. In fact, it nearly happened last year. The Eagles and Cowboys were comfortably in, the Giants arrived well ahead of schedule and even won a playoff game, and Washington missed out by just a half-game despite awful quarterback play. The Commanders hope Sam Howell and new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and a talented defense can do the rest. At 92.2%, the Eagles are the second most-likely playoff team in the NFC, according to SportsLine, and at 72%, the Cowboys are third. The Giants have upgraded their offensive weapons around Daniel Jones in their quest for consecutive playoff berths for the first time since four straight from 2005-08.
2. AFC North
Least likely playoff team: Cleveland Browns (29.4%)
It's a battle between the AFC North and the AFC East for best division in the NFL, but either division getting four teams in will require teams elsewhere in the conference massively underachieving -- much more so than it would require in the NFC. The AFC North gets the slight nod over the East here. The Browns are the least-likely team to make it, per SportsLine, but it's easy to forget this was a terrific offense through 12 weeks under Jacoby Brissett (fifth in yards per game and expected points added) before a clearly out-of-sync Deshaun Watson struggled through the final six games. If Watson plays even close to how he did in Houston, the Browns will be an AFC North contender. The Bengals and Ravens both have better than a 50% chance to make the postseason, and Pittsburgh -- which has never had a losing season under Mike Tomlin -- is at 44%. Oh, and one more deciding factor: The AFC North's crossover matchups this year are the AFC South and the NFC West, potentially the league's two worst divisions. The AFC East gets the NFC East and the AFC West.
3. AFC East
Least likely playoff team: Miami Dolphins (32.8%)
The AFC East had a pair of playoff teams last season in the Bills and the Dolphins. Months later, the Dolphins are the least likely of the four teams to go to the playoffs, according to SportsLine. That's what happens when your biggest offseason addition, Jalen Ramsey, will and you share a division with Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers and a Bill Belichick-coached team. The likelihood of the four teams beating each other up is substantial, and the tough crossover division matchups make it more difficult to overcome that. Plus, I'm not quite sold on the Patriots and their underwhelming offense, despite what should be an outstanding defense.
Tier 2: If everything goes perfectly
4. NFC North
Least likely playoff team: Bears (25%)
The NFC North -- long ruled by Aaron Rodgers -- is wide open. The gap between the division's most likely playoff team (Lions at 60.3%) and its least likely team (Bears at 25%) is by far the smallest of any division, and Detroit has the lowest playoff percentage of any division favorite, according to SportsLine. Sitting between those two are the Packers, who had a win-and-in Week 18 contest last year despite a tumultuous season, and the Vikings, whose 13-win season was spurred by a historic 11-0 mark in one-score games. Here's where the NFC vs. AFC difference comes into play. If all of these teams are able to play even slightly above .500, it might take just two of the NFC playoff "favorites" (49ers, Eagles, Cowboys, Seahawks) slipping up. We can't say the same in the AFC.
5. AFC West
Least likely playoff team: Broncos (17.5%)
The Chiefs are the Chiefs, and the Chargers are loaded with talent -- certainly enough to make the postseason, if not challenge for the division title. (Then again, we've said that for a while, and the Chiefs have won the AFC West seven straight seasons.) Then it gets murky. Is Sean Payton really the cure-all for Russell Wilson and the Broncos? Will the Jimmy Garoppolo-Josh McDaniels reunion lead to Patriot Way-esque results? Three playoff teams is a stretch, and four is almost out of the question. There's a reason this section is called "If everything goes perfectly."
Tier 3: Maybe next year (but probably not then, either)
6. NFC South
Least likely playoff team: Buccaneers (15.8%)
I waffled between Tier 2 and Tier 3 for the NFC South before ultimately landing here. The quarterbacks are the biggest reason. Derek Carr of the division-favorite Saints is the best and most proven of the bunch, and that's after he was unceremoniously dumped from Las Vegas. Then there's Baker Mayfield, Desmond Ridder and Bryce Young in whatever order you please. Ridder has played in four NFL games. Young, the 2023 No. 1 overall pick, has played in zero. Mayfield is on his fourth team in the last 14 months. Even in the unlikely event that all three play above expectations, this division lags behind.
7. AFC South
Least likely playoff team: Indianapolis Colts (8.6%)
If this exercise were happening, say, right after the 2018 season, you could almost look forward and imagine the AFC South as a very good division moving forward. The Texans had Deshaun Watson, the Colts had Andrew Luck, the Titans were moving in the right direction and the Jaguars were only a year removed from an AFC Championship appearance. But this is 2023. The Colts are on their seventh consecutive Week 1 starting quarterback, the Texans are also starting a rookie, the Titans are always tough under Mike Vrabel but might not have enough talent, and the Jaguars ... well the Jaguars are actually the overwhelming favorite! With a 69% chance to make the postseason, Jacksonville is nearly twice as likely as any other team in the division (Titans at 35%).
8. NFC West
Least likely playoff team: Arizona Cardinals (2.3%)
Two years ago, the Rams and Cardinals met in a wild card game. The Rams won, then won three more times en route to a Super Bowl title. Fast forward to now and, at 2.3%, the Cardinals have the worst playoff chance in the NFL, according to SportsLine. At 13.7%, the Rams have the third-lowest playoff chance in the NFL. It won't be pretty.