The Broncos got a big win over the Steelers Sunday, therefore keeping their playoff hopes very much alive. What does that mean for Week 13? There’s a lot to digest this week, so let’s get right to it.
Who to root for Week 13
If you want the quick version, most of the rooting interests are obvious, starting from most important to least important. At top, of course, are the Broncos beating the Bengals, with the Falcons defeating the Ravens a very close second, then Jaguars over the Colts, the Bills over the Dolphins, and the Jets over the Titans.
Finally, there’s the Chargers vs. the Steelers on Sunday night, but that game is a bit more complicated, and arguments exist on either side.
The schedules of the likely Wild Card contenders
Before I take the next step, I think it’s prudent to place this table in view. To keep this post from stretching out too far, this runs with the assumption that the Patriots, Steelers, Texans, and Chiefs will win the divisions of the AFC.
How can the Broncos control their destiny over all other Wild Card contenders?
Viewing and knowing the above, I think it’s instructive to map out a path as to how the Broncos can gain an advantage over all the other teams they’re vying with for a playoff spot.
Bengals: beat them.
This one is pretty simple, as the head to head tiebreaker is on the line next week. The Bengals also have the looking of a team that is unraveling now that Andy Dalton is lost for the season, among other injuries and struggles. Having to travel to Carson, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh will not make things any easier for them. A loss to the Bengals would be devastating for the Broncos, but it may not be the Bengals that end up reaping the benefit of that devastation.
Dolphins: one loss.
Miami currently has a one game lead over Denver in the AFC due to losses to the Packers and Lions from the NFC, while the Broncos have only lost to the Rams. This is likely to remain the case unless we get the bizarre combination of the Broncos losing to the 49ers and the Dolphins winning on the road at Minnesota. So the Broncos need to finish with a better record here. Thankfully, the Vikings should be favored in that game, plus the Dolphins also have to travel to Foxboro, another prime opportunity for a loss on their part.
Colts and Titans: one AFC loss by Indianapolis.
I’m combining the two AFC South foes together because it is guaranteed that one of them will incur seven losses since they play each other in Week 17. If Denver wins out, they will be guaranteed to be ahead of the loser of that game. If the Colts lose an AFC game before then, the Broncos will guaranteed to be ahead of both due to a better conference record over Tennessee, and a better record in common games (Bengals, Texans, Raiders and Jets)
An NFC loss by the Colts to the Cowboys or Giants would be good, but not sufficient by itself, as it means the Colts would hold the conference tiebreaker over the Broncos. So the Colts really need to drop one more game against a division rival. Of the three AFC South rivals, traveling to Houston appears to be the most likely place for that loss.
Ravens: two losses.
Baltimore is a tough nut to crack, since they hold a head to head tiebreaker over the Broncos. Making matters worse is that all of their wins have been against the AFC, putting them in a nice place on conference tiebreakers as well. The Broncos must have a better record than the Ravens, unless they can somehow steal the AFC North from the Steelers (more on that later).
The good news, however, is that they do have some very loseable games coming up. The most notable are two road games at Kansas City and at Carson. Catching the Chiefs will be a lost cause if they beat the Raiders next week, as expected, so a KC victory over the Ravens will likely not be a big deal. The Chargers game, however, is more complicated, as we’ll get to in a minute, especially since it isn’t until Week 16.
This is why getting the Ravens to drop a game on the road at Atlanta next week would be a big help. It gives the Broncos some breathing room to allow the Ravens to win a game that they might want them to win later on in the season.
Chargers: beat them plus two more losses
Finally, we arrive at the rivals from San Angeles. There are two trains of thought as to how the Chargers should be handled. Some, such as Aaron Schatz, are adamant that the best thing for the Broncos would be for the Chargers to win out prior to Week 17, and get locked into the #5 seed so that they would sit starters against Denver. (Sitting Phillip Rivers in that game would also be good news for Giants fans.)
There are two counterarguments to this from a Broncos fan’s standpoint. One is admittedly visceral: I don’t want to see the Chargers in the playoffs. But the other is more logical: the Broncos are absolutely capable of catching the Chargers in the wild card race. If they beat them Week 17, they will hold the head to head tiebreaker over them, plus that’s one game gained against the three Denver would need.
But the Chargers also have to travel to Pittsburgh and Kansas City, as well as hosting Baltimore. I can easily see two losses out of three among that bunch. This is why, at this point, I think it’s better to root for the Chargers to lose more than win. Should they beat the Steelers next Sunday night, the narrative may start to shift toward “let the Chargers win”–not only in this regard, but also as to possibly catching the Steelers should the Ravens also beat the Falcons, since the Broncos hold a head to head tiebreaker over Pittsburgh. But we’ll cross that bridge if we get to it.
My intuitive look as to how the schedules should play out.
I’ll conclude by offering what I think is a reasonable conclusion to the 2018 regular season:
Yes, I think it’s reasonable for the Broncos to win out. That doesn’t mean they will win out, but I think what helps them is that the only teams that might have easier schedules from here on out are the AFC South teams–and again, as long as the Colts lose one AFC game the Broncos will hold them off by winning out.