Broncos among five AFC teams battling for one playoff spot (Ryan O'Halloran, Denver Post)
Remaining schedule: at San Francisco (2-10), vs. Cleveland (4-7-1), at Oakland (2-10) and vs. the Los Angeles Chargers (9-3).
Key statistic: The Broncos are fifth in rushing yards per game (132.5) and sacks for (37).
Why the Broncos will make the playoffs: They capitalize on an advantageous schedule, including a Week 17 matchup against a Chargers team that could have their playoff position locked up before kickoff. … Running back Phillip Lindsay (937 yards) not only sails past 1,000 yards but approaches 1,200. … Von Miller (12 1/2 sacks) and Bradley Chubb (10 sacks) both reach 15 sacks.
Why the Broncos won't make the playoffs: The secondary is unable to compensate for cornerback Chris Harris' broken leg. … They lose as a favorite to San Francisco, Cleveland or Oakland.
The Starting 11: The Patriots Aren't Going Anywhere, and Neither Is Russell Wilson (Robert Mays, The Ringer)
Lindsay's big-play ability has given the Denver running game a jolt, but he's not just a home run hitter. On his first touchdown run of the day, a 6-yard rush late in the second quarter, Lindsay found a small crease between the tackles and used it to slice his way into the end zone. He can take it the distance seemingly every time he touches the ball, but Lindsay has also shown that he's capable of carrying the load in every way.
Lindsay has been explosive since the start of the season, but Sutton wasn't fully unleashed until the Broncos dealt Demaryius Thomas to the Texans in late October. Now, firmly entrenched as the team's no. 2 receiver, Sutton has shown that he's a real vertical threat on the outside. He caught four passes for 85 yards in Sunday's win, which brought his season yards-per-reception number to 19.9 — nearly 1.2 yards more than any receiver with at least 25 receptions. Typically, speedsters like DeSean Jackson (who ranks no. 2) dominate that category. But Sutton is far from a burner. He ran a 4.54 in the 40-dash at the combine, and he profiles more as a big-bodied physical receiver. As he showed on his 30-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, though, Sutton is more than capable of creating big plays without getting much separation. He leaped over cornerback Darius Phillips and simply snatched the ball away for a contested catch — all he needed was for Case Keenum to give him a chance. (Luckily for Sutton, he plays with a quarterback who has no qualms about putting the ball up for grabs.)
Harbaugh, Garrett, Joseph: From hot seat to playoff contention (Mike Klis, 9 News)
The Broncos keep winning even though they have lost prominent starters to injury like Matt Paradis, Jeff Heuerman and Chris Harris Jr., and after they traded away franchise receiver Demaryius Thomas.
There wasn't a let's-save-the-coach rally within the locker room. This isn't college. This was simply a group of professionals coming to work, doing their job and suddenly good things started happening.
"We love our coach and we want to protect his job and everything, but if we start focusing on just his job then we lose sight of the whole picture,'' said Broncos defensive lineman Shelby Harris, who has had back-to-back monster games after not recording a sack through the first 10 games. "We just go out there and play hard because it's not just his job that's at stake, it's everyone's job. You're playing for your job every week in this league. We had a lot to prove and we still have a lot to prove.