The Picked-Up Flag: Playoff Odds if the Patriots Had Won

Would the playoff picture be different if the Pats had won?

Monday night’s tilt between Carolina and New England was arguably the best game we’ve seen in football this season. And, in true NFL form, it brought plenty of controversy.

Late in the game – like, literally the end of the game – the Patriots were down by four, needing a score. On the final play, Tom Brady threw the rock into the end zone towards tight end Rob Gronkowski. Interception.

The yellow flag came flying onto the television screen though, as a pass interference call seemed likely. The referees gathered for a second, talked to one another, and picked up the flag.

Carolina won and a Tom Brady referee outburst ensued.

Had it been pass interference, the Patriots would have gotten the ball on the one yard-line for one play. Clearly, they had a great shot at winning if that had been the case.

In true numberFire form, we looked at the impact this game had on playoff odds across the league if the Patriots had actually won the game. The results are below.

Panthers Playoff Odds With Win: 90.0%
Panthers Playoff Odds With Loss: 70.8%

The now 7-3 Panthers sit just a game behind the NFC South-leading Saints, and face them twice - Week 14 and 16 - over their final six games. They still have a chance to win the division, and a wild-card spot is all but locked up given they still get to face Tampa Bay, Atlanta and the New York Jets. Each of those teams rank 26th or worse in our analytically-driven team power rankings.

Had the Panthers lost, their probability of making the playoffs would still be favorable, but not nearly as good. A 6-4 record would place them in a four-way tie for the two wild-card spots with the Cardinals, 49ers and Bears. Given their metrics, however, they'd still be the favorites in that group to get in. Carolina now has the league's second-best defense, having allowed 46 fewer points than a team in a similar situation would have over the course of the season. Offensively, the Panthers are playing about 60 points above expectation, and have the eighth-best rush offense on a per play basis when adjusted for strength of opponent.

Expect the Panthers in the playoffs this year. This win pretty much sealed it.

Patriots Playoff Bye Odds With Loss: 37.0%
Patriots Playoff Bye Odds With Win: 62.5%

Patriot fans shouldn't worry about not getting into the playoffs, as their current probability to enter the post-season sits at a cool 97.0%. However, a first-round bye took a pretty big hit last night, as a win would've given them a 62.5% chance to get a bye as opposed to the 37.0% chance they currently have.

The Pats loss changed the potential for other teams as well. We all know that one of the first-round byes in the AFC is more than likely going to come out of the AFC West. This isn't a surprise. As of now, the Broncos are in the lead to take one of them, owning a 73.2% chance of getting a bye. The Chiefs, who still get to play the Broncos one more time this year, currently have 25.9% odds of getting a bye. Both teams' odds of getting into the playoffs is another story, as there's a 99.9% chance of it happening. In other words, and this isn't news to football fans, two AFC West teams are getting in.

If the Patriots had beaten the Panthers, neither the Broncos or Chiefs would have suffered a decrease in potential to skip the Wild Card Round. Basically, whoever wins that division is going to get a pass.

Home field advantage is a different story. Had the Patriots won, their record would have increased to 8-2, just a game behind Denver and Kansas City. Because of that, Denver's chances of getting the top seed in the AFC - currently at 68.7% - would have dipped to 62.3%. Kansas City's would have gone from where it is now, 24.6%, to 22.7%.

Because the Patriots lost, Cincinnati and Indianapolis jump into legitimate discussion to take the other first-round bye. As I mentioned, New England's current odds are at 37.0%, which is second-highest in the AFC behind only the Broncos. Had they won, that number would've been 62.5%. But because Gronk didn't get the PI call, Cincinnati sits with 33.8% odds, while Indianapolis is at 28.8%. If the Patriots would've won that game last night, the Bengals' odds of getting the first-round bye would be at 19.2%, while the Colts' odds would be 18.1%.

In other words, if the Patriots would have won this game, they would have been in the driver's seat - mathematically, not just obviously - to get a first-round bye. Because of the loss, they barely have a better chance compared to the Bengals, and the Colts are not out of the discussion either.

For more on the NFL's playoff odds, click here.