Friends, we could entering adark football month. The Raiders have made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, and the Broncos are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since the phoenix-combusting season of 2010. What hope is left out there?
The paths to the playoffs
- Win out, plus one Dolphins loss and one Ravens loss.
- Win out, plus one Dolphins loss and two Steelers losses.
- Go 1-1, plus the Dolphins losing out, the Ravens losing out, and (in a real twist) either the Titans losing out, or the Titans winning out and the Texans losing out.
To explain that AFC South condition, if the Titans win out, they win the AFC South, thus no longer in the Broncos’ way for a wild card. However, in addition to a necessary loss to the Titans in this scenario, the Texans must also lose to the Bengals to fall to 8-8. Why is that? A 9-7 Broncos team has no choice but to tie a 9-7 Dolphins team. If the Texans also finish 9-7 not as an AFC South champ, the Broncos’ head to head win over the Texans is ignored, and instead the Texans win the conference tiebreaker for having lost to both the Vikings and Packers.
Also note that it appears that the Colts and Bills, the other two teams capable of reaching 9-7, are irrelevant. Like the Broncos and Dolphins, the Colts and Bills went 3-1 against the NFC. One of the Dolphins or Bills will first eliminate the other (although I can’t figure out why the Bills haven’t been eliminated already), and while I’m not going to go through the strength of victory map, ESPN’s playoff machine is telling me that the Broncos will hold it over both the Colts and the Dolphins/Bills.
Who to root for in Week 16
For the early games on Saturday, start off by rooting heavily for the Bills over the Dolphins. More unrealistically, also pull for the Jets over the Patriots.
But if both the Dolphins and Patriots win…then we must pull for the unthinkable: Oakland over Indianapolis. Why? If the Patriots win and the Raiders lose, New England will clinch the #1 seed, thus giving them heavy incentive to sit their starters Week 17 against the Dolphins, a game that would become a Miami must-lose even if Denver wins out.
On Christmas, pull for the Steelers over the Ravens. Should the Ravens win that game, the Broncos would need one of either Pittsburgh or Baltimore to lose in Week 17. Of those two, the Ravens have the more realistic loss awaiting them in Week 17–they have to travel to Cincinnati, while the Steelers host the winless Browns.
Finally, remember that if either the Dolphins or Ravens win in Week 16, the Broncos’ game at Arrowhead is an elimination game for them. The Dolphins are self explanatory by win-loss record, and both the Steelers and Ravens hold the conference tiebreaker, and both would be guaranteed to be at least 9-7.