Analysis: NFL playoff race defines parity, though competition doesn’t always equal quality football


In a season marked by intense competition and unpredictable outcomes, the NFL playoff race is proving to be a showcase of true parity. With Week 15 underway, an impressive thirty teams are still in contention for a Super Bowl run, making it a testament to the league’s commitment to balance and fairness.
The 2023 season stands out as one of the most evenly contested in recent memory, with close scores and competitive games underscoring the NFL’s dedication to providing thrilling football. A notable aspect is the widespread competitiveness, with 24 teams either in or within one game of a playoff spot. Seven out of eight division races are within two games, fostering a level of competition that keeps fans on the edge of their seats.

The AFC, in particular, showcases an extraordinary level of parity, with eleven teams boasting winning records – a feat achieved only three times since the 1970 merger through 14 weeks. In the NFC, the wild-card race is equally tight, with five 6-7 teams vying for the final spot, and three 6-7 teams battling for supremacy in the NFC South.

The unexpected resurgence of teams like the Broncos, who went from 1-5 to 7-6, exemplifies the unpredictable nature of this season. Despite starting with challenging records, several teams find themselves within striking distance of a playoff spot, injecting excitement and unpredictability into the race.

Even more intriguing is the fact that five teams absent from the postseason in 2022 – Cleveland, Detroit, Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh – are currently in playoff positions. This trend aligns with historical data, as at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season following a year of missing the postseason since 1990.


As the regular season progresses, the NFL has seen a staggering 72% of games within one score in the fourth quarter, highlighting the competitiveness and drama unfolding on the field. This season is shaping up to provide an exhilarating finish, with the race for the No. 1 seed in both conferences wide open after first-place teams faced setbacks in Week 14.

Coaches across the league are embracing the uncertainty, viewing the upcoming weeks as a “round-robin tournament.” With the wild-card picture still wide open, every team, except the Panthers and Patriots, harbors hopes of making a meaningful playoff run. As the NFL heads towards an exciting and unpredictable postseason, the quest for Super Bowl glory promises to be an edge-of-the-seat experience for fans and teams alike.

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