Broncos Playoff Standings: 2021 Week 14

Well, hardly anything went the Broncos’ way last week. Obviously, Denver losing was not good, even if it was the game they were most likely to lose. But aggravating factors is that most (but thankfully, not all!) of their direct competitors for the playoffs also won. This tumbled the Broncos all the way down to 12th in AFC playoff rankings.

But do not give up all hope yet, the road to the playoffs is far from over. Let’s see what needs to happen next, and who to root for.

AFC West

The loss at Arrowhead now means that the Broncos no longer control their own destiny against the Chiefs for the division. At two games behind, they can cut one of those away by beating the Chiefs in Denver at the end of the season, but they would need a separate Chiefs loss somewhere else. On the one hand, every one of the Chiefs’ remaining opponents is a competitor to Denver for the playoffs, which is unfortunate. But on the other hand, with the exception of the Steelers, the Broncos still have an opportunity to gain the tiebreaker over all those other teams. So observing Kansas City games will be a bit of a double edged sword for now: every win for them pushes them away from Denver for the AFC West, but every loss makes the wild card berth competition more clogged for the Broncos.

As for the Chargers and Raiders, the Broncos still control their destiny over them. They could even still absorb one loss to either Detroit or Cincinnati so long as they get their business done against the division in the last three weeks. Beating the Chargers in San Angeles does the trick for sure, as they will then hold the head to head tiebreaker over them. But for the Raiders, the Broncos need to make sure they also keep the lead in division wins over them. That’s because, although for those about to beat the Raiders, we salute you, in the case of that defeat coming at the hands of Ron Rivera, it means that the Raiders have clinched the conference tiebreaker over the Broncos, as they now have two NFC losses (the Giants being the other one), as opposed the Broncos only having one, against the Eagles. Las Vegas would also gain the common opponents tiebreaker if they lose to the Colts, although is of course far more preferable that they lose any game.

So for this week, in the game between the Chiefs and Raiders, it’s highly preferable, as usual, that the Raiders lose. That would put Las Vegas in a real bind in division record, falling into a 1-3 hole that they might be able to get out of. The Chargers, of course, need to have their ridiculously long streak of victories over the Giants to be shattered, as well.

Wild Card

Right now, the Broncos have five teams outside the AFC West with an equal or better win loss record to them for the wild card race, but the good news is that, excepting tiebreakers for now, they are within one game of all of them. Let’s take a look at each of them:

  • With the Bills losing at home in a particularly miserable way to the Patriots, it is now very clear that for wild card purposes (and no matter how much you may hate the Patriots) that it is vastly preferable for New England to run away with the AFC East at this point. The Broncos and Bills are equal in conference losses right now, so one more AFC loss by them can give the Broncos a fighting chance against them in the strength of victory tiebreaker should it come down to that. That tiebreaker could come either way, but if the Bills lose to the Bucs this week and then get swept by the Patriots (which I think is their two most likely losses, as opposed to the Panthers, Falcons and Jets), they will be deprived of two big chances to improve upon their weak strength of victory.
  • On balance, it was less preferable for the Bengals to lose to the Chargers, but the positive tradeoff is that it did keep them within one game of the Broncos. With a game against Cincinnati coming up in two weeks, the path for them remains simple: root for them to lose their next two (they play the 49ers next week, a team of no concern). If the Broncos can beat the Bengals, then Denver will become big fans of Cincinnati in the final two weeks of the season with games against Kansas City and Cleveland to close out.
  • The Steelers need to lose, and lose hard, as the they have a head to head tiebreaker over the Broncos. The good news is that their schedule gets tough to close out the season: at Minnesota, vs. Tennessee, at Kansas City, vs. Cleveland, at Baltimore. With the Vikings being of no concern, root for them to get motivated after being embarrassed in getting the Lions their first win, and take that anger out against Pittsburgh.
  • The Colts are on a bye this week, and will quietly remain an obstacle to the Broncos, due to their very good 6-3 conference record. Losses by them to the Patriots and Cardinals are very plausible, and also very much needed. Hopefully that can happen and take Indianapolis well out of contention before we have to consider what needs to happen in Week 17 when they play the Raiders. Hopefully Las Vegas will lose out by then too (which would include a loss to Denver).
  • Finally, the Browns, like the Steelers, also hold a head to head tiebreaker against the Broncos. Also like the Steelers, they have a fairly hard schedule to close out too: two home games against the Ravens and Raiders, followed by two road games at Green Bay and Pittsburgh, and closing out at home against the Bengals. The Ravens sweeping the Browns next week would be highly preferable, because of course the week after it’ll be highly preferable for them to beat the Raiders. Depending on how the Steelers do, they also might need to beat them in Week 17, too. So getting them in a bad place early would be best, and Baltimore has the ability to do that.