The Broncos keep doing what they need to do on their end in winning three in a row. They also got a little help from other teams, but not yet enough help to control their own destiny for the playoffs. What else do they need?
Who to root for Week 14
Sadly, there’s only one thing we can do for the Broncos’ AFC West hopes: go through the clothes and search for loose change. So as uncomfortable as it may seem, there’s little lost in rooting for opponents of the Chiefs to lose if those opponents are in the Broncos’ way–and that’s what’s coming up this week when the Ravens travel to Kansas City.
But it doesn’t end there with division rivals. Thanks to the Chargers’ win over the Steelers last night, despite being in competition with them for a wild card, it may not be the end of the world–and possibly advantageous–if the Chargers defeat the Bengals this week. (In any case, the Chargers are likely to be heavily favored in that game, considering how listless the Bengals are, as Broncos fans directly saw yesterday.)
In other games, root for the Patriots over the Dolphins, the Texans over the Colts, and the Jaguars over the Titans.
The AFC South should take care of itself.
Thanks to the Colts’ embarrassing shutout loss in Jacksonville, it now guarantees that as long as the Broncos win out, they cannot be caught by either the Colts (better common games record) or the Titans (better conference record). And even if the Broncos lose a game, the same likely holds as long as both the Colts and Titans also drop an AFC game (unless the Broncos’ loss is to the 49ers). Remember that now it’s guaranteed that at least one of these two will finish with at least seven losses since they play each other in Week 17.
While any loss by the Colts or Titans would be welcome, losses to their AFC South rivals this week would be the best. After that, they both have two NFC opponents in a row before they face each other.
The Dolphins remain problematic until they lose a game.
If both the Broncos and Dolphins win out, the Dolphins take the tiebreaker due to a better AFC record. So the Broncos need them to drop a game, and preferably an AFC game at that, as that’s the only way a 9-7 Broncos team that loses to the 49ers could catch them. The best chance comes this week, when Miami takes on New England. Traveling to Minnesota the following week is also a good opportunity for a Dolphins loss, and though not as good as a loss to the Patriots, it will be welcome nonetheless. If the Dolphins lose to both the Patriots and Vikings, that should harpoon their season.
The Chargers/Ravens conundrum
Currently, these are the two teams that occupy the wild cards for the AFC. The Broncos must overcome at least one of them to get into the playoffs. Which one is more likely? It’s tough to say–especially since these two play each other in Week 16. So let’s take a look at each team’s Week 14 and 15 matchups. For the Chargers, it’s the Bengals and Chiefs, while for the Ravens it’s the Chiefs and Bucs.
If the Chargers win both these games, at 11-3 there’s no way the Broncos can catch them even at 8-6, so if that happens then it becomes obvious to pull for the Chargers against the Ravens in Week 16–especially if such a win locks the Chargers into the #5 seed and causes them to sit starters in Denver Week 17. If the Chargers drop at least one of those two (the more likely loss being at Kansas City on a short week), then a Ravens win in Week 16 would make more sense, setting up a likely de facto playoff game between the Broncos and Chargers Week 17 as long as the Broncos continue their winning streak to then.
The Steelers are suddenly vulnerable and catchable.
Pittsburgh’s meltdown against the Chargers last night now puts them with only a half game lead over their archrival Ravens. Furthermore, the Steelers have two more very loseable games coming up: hosting the Patriots in Week 15 (a team that they’ve historically struggled with) and traveling to New Orleans in Week 16 (who could very well be the favorite to win the Super Bowl).
If the Steelers lose both of those games, the best they could be is 9-6-1. That means the Broncos could pass them in that scenario if they win out. But what’s even better is that such a record could allow the Ravens to take the AFC North away from the Steelers. That’s better for the Broncos because it means they can avoid losing out to the Ravens in potential wild card tiebreakers. Should the Ravens upset the Chiefs this week, it becomes clearer in the interest of Broncos fans for the Steelers’ season to unravel further.