So now that Kansas City’s win over Oakland on Thursday night is in the books, it’s time to take a broader look as to where the Broncos are coming into Week 14.
With Thursday’s win, the Chiefs are now in commanding control in the AFC West. This win assured that they will hold tiebreakers over the Raiders (who they swept) and the Broncos (Kansas City now has four division wins, and the most the Broncos can get is three). The Chiefs control their own destiny to the division, and even worse, they could still afford a loss to the Broncos at home and still win the AFC West if the Raiders drop an additional game. In order for the Broncos to have any hope in clinching the division, they badly need either the Titans (in Week 15) or the Chargers (in Week 17) to come through with an upset. Do note that the Week 17 game is in San Diego, and it could very well be the last game the Chargers ever play in that city, so let’s hope positive emotion leads the Chargers like it did in their last home game in 2015 where they dismantled the Dolphins.
The good news is that the Raiders are now well within the Broncos’ striking distance. Unlike with the Chiefs, the tiebreakers have the potential to advantage Denver over Oakland. Here’s how each step would go:
- If the Raiders lose to the Chargers (on Week 15), which would inflict a third division loss upon them, the Broncos could afford a loss to either the Titans or Patriots and still beat the Raiders on the division tiebreaker. That one loss could even be to the Chiefs and the Broncos would be no worse than tied in division record, provided they beat the Raiders Week 17. (Note that if the Broncos lose to the Chiefs, the Raiders will hold the division tiebreaker if they beat the Chargers. So, suffice to say Broncos fans will want to root for the Chargers bigtime on both Weeks 15 and 17.)
- If the Raiders beat the Chargers but lose to the Colts (on Week 16), this would allow the Broncos to lose to the Patriots and still be able to hold a tiebreaker over Oakland. The reason why is common games: among their uncommon games, Oakland has beaten both Baltimore and Buffalo, while here the Broncos would have split their uncommon games between New England and Cincinnati.
- There are two ways that a tie between Denver and Oakland can come down to the strength of victory tiebreaker
- The Broncos win out, and the Raiders win out except for losing to the Broncos Week 17.
- The Broncos lose to the Titans, and the Raiders lose to the Colts and Broncos.
I did not want to do the strength of victory math unless and until the Chiefs won on Thursday night. Thanks go out to Jeremy and MattR late last night in comments for getting a head start on the math on scenario #1. As Jeremy notes, the uncommon victories would be NE, CIN and KC for Denver, and BAL, BUF and SD for Oakland. MattR additionally notes that the Raiders have a little more leeway to win this tiebreaker, as it is possible to be invoked if the Chiefs lose to the Chargers (of which would help the Raiders)–in this case, the tiebreaker would be for the AFC West title instead of wild card positioning. But even then, losing the strength of victory tiebreaker would require an epic meltdown by both the Patriots and Chiefs, so it’s more likely than not that Denver will hold the advantage. In scenario #2. add IND to the Broncos’ uncommon victory, and TEN to the Raiders’. Should the Broncos lose to the Titans on Sunday, they will want Tennessee to lose out and Indianapolis to win out.
I keep emphasizing the importance of being about to beat someone in the AFC West on tiebreakers, and that one team likely needs to be the Raiders due to Kansas City’s griphold on AFC West tiebreakers. That’s because again, any tiebreakers involving two AFC West teams for a conference-wide wild card will eliminate the lower-ranked team within the division first.
It’s now guaranteed that the Broncos would lose a tiebreaker against both the Ravens (who lost to the Cowboys, Redskins and Giants) and Steelers (who lost to the Cowboys and Eagles) in conference record. So while one of these teams can be allowed to get hot, it could be disastrous for the Broncos if both do. Of the two, it appears that Baltimore has the more difficult path (@NE, vs PHI, @PIT, @CIN) than does Pittsburgh (@BUF, @CIN, BAL, CLE).
The good news in the AFC North, as you can see, is that at least one of Pittsburgh or Baltimore is guaranteed to finish with six losses as they have to play each other Week 16. So the Broncos can afford one loss, to anyone, and still stay above the AFC North loser. Should one of Pittsburgh or Baltimore drop an additional game, the Broncos might be able to afford to lose two games, as well. Hence, next week you should be rooting for both the Patriots and Bills in order to give the Broncos some breathing room.
The Dolphins also still have the potential to be problematic despite them falling a clear game behind Denver yesterday. Losing to Arizona next week would drop them even further back, but it would also guarantee that they, like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, would hold the conference tiebreaker over the Broncos. Still, the more games the Dolphins lose, the more unlikely they would be to get in the Broncos’ way, so feel free to root for the Cardinals on Sunday. The Dolphins finish off with two road games at Buffalo and the Jets, then close at home against the Patriots–plenty of opportunities for losses on their part.
The teams the Broncos really want to take on in a tiebreaker are the AFC South teams, as they hold the head-to-head over Houston and Indianapolis, and have a chance to gain it over Tennessee as well next week. Should the Broncos lose to the Titans, it would be possible for them to knock the Broncos out of the playoffs on a tiebreaker if both they and Indianapolis win out–the Colts would win the AFC South due to sweeping the Titans, and Tennessee would take the wild card over Denver.
There is also the potential for the Bills to tie the Broncos. Both teams went 3-1 against the NFC, so any tiebreaker between them would come down to strength of victory. I’m not going to do the math on that unless it becomes relevant enough.