FC Dallas - celebrate Mauro Diaz's goal vs. New York Red Bulls
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Baer: The magic number your team needs to hit to make the playoffs

With the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs right around the corner, you might be wondering what your team needs to do to get above the playoff line.

By now you’ve probably poured over the FiveThirtyEight.com probabilities and are deciding if a 26 percent chance to make it is enough to hold out hope (looking at you RSL fans). Another exercise you should be going through is estimating how many points your team needs to actually qualify.

There is no obvious total to point at, with each year setting a new number for a team to reach. Look at the past two seasons and you can see that the target numbers in the Eastern Conference were wildly different as the No. 6 seed (Toronto) had 49 points in 2015 while Philadelphia had just 42 last year. In the West, that number dropped from 51 in 2015 to 46 in 2016.

Looking back to this point of the season in previous years tells us that it's likely that the points per game average of the No. 6 seed right now will be pretty close to what the No. 6 seed will have at the end of the season.

That's illustrated in the below chart. The only instance in the last two years in which PPG numbers for the six-seed at this point in the year didn't align with the numbers at the end of the season came in the 2015 Eastern Conference race, when Didier Drogba and Montreal used a late charge to go from what looked like a 41-point season to a 51-point campaign.

Conference Year No. 6 PPG average through 75% of season No. 6 PPG average at end of season
East 2015 1.22 1.44
West 2015 1.46 1.5
East 2016 1.23 1.24
West 2016 1.30 1.35

Let’s say that doesn’t happen again and what the No. 6 seed is averaging now stays that way. That would mean to reach the playoffs in the East, you would need to collect 51 points. In the West, the target number looks like 48.

A factor in being able to hit that goal is the difficulty of each team's remaining schedule. Looking at some teams on the bubble it's clear that Montreal will face a tough road the rest of the way while Real Salt Lake and San Jose have relatively easy schedules. The higher the average in the below chart, the harder the schedule.

Assuming that any team with an above 90 percent probability of reaching the playoffs actually will make it, an admittedly risky proposition, we can begin to dissect what each team needs to be above the playoff line on Oct. 22.

Eastern Conference

Columbus and Atlanta are the best bets in the East, with both likely staying above the playoff line. Montreal would need to make a similar run to the one they had in 2015, while New England are looking to win six of their last eight to hit 51.

Team Target Points Needed Games Remaining
Columbus 51 9 6
Atlanta 51 15 10
Montreal 51 15 8
New England 51 19 8
Philadelphia 51 20 7
Orlando 51 20 7
D.C. United 51 23 7

Western Conference

San Jose has a realistic shot to hit 48, needing to get 12 points in their final seven games. Winning their final four home games would do the trick but they’ve won just seven of their first 13 at Avaya Stadium. Real Salt Lake has an outside shot of getting to 48 with Dallas the most likely team to hit the magic number.

Team Target Points Needed Games Remaining
FC Dallas 48 11 8
San Jose 48 12 7
Real Salt Lake 48 13 6
LA Galaxy 48 22 8
Minnesota 48 23 9
Colorado 48 26 8
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