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The playoff push: Examining the Broncos' path to the postseason, who to root for in Week 16

The Broncos lost a back-and-forth game to the Cincinnati Bengals that hurt their playoff chances, but with a strong close to the season, Denver remains in good shape to make a playoff run.

Denver lost its margin for error, but with a 3-0 finish to the year, the Broncos still have a 92 percent chance to make the postseason. The Broncos will need a little bit of help, but in a jumbled AFC playoff race, they're still close to controlling their own destiny.

The key will be patience over the following weeks. A win over the Bengals would have instantly thrust the Broncos into the playoff field, but it will now take time for the wins to have an impact on the standings. The Broncos, though, should have faith that if they keep winning, they'll likely end up in the postseason field.

That, in part, is because plenty of teams in the wild-card race will play each other over the coming weeks. The Broncos play the Raiders and Chargers, and the Chargers also face the Raiders. The Ravens and Browns both play the Bengals and Steelers. Simply put, some teams will pick up the needed losses just from the way the schedule is set up.


Current odds via the New York Times' playoff predictor: 9%
With a win over the Raiders: 13%
With a loss to the Raiders: 1%

Note: The New York Times' playoff predictor runs thousands of simulations to make its predictions. Therefore, the exact percentages used above could appear slightly different if a new simulation is run.


1. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) — AFC West leader
Remaining schedule: vs. Steelers, at Bengals, at Broncos

2. New England Patriots (9-5) — AFC East leader
Remaining schedule: vs. Bills, vs. Jaguars, at Dolphins

3. Tennessee Titans (9-5) — AFC South leader
Remaining schedule: vs. 49ers, vs. Dolphins, at Texans

4. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) — AFC North leader
Remaining schedule: vs. Ravens, vs. Chiefs, at Browns

5. Indianapolis Colts (8-6) — Wild card No. 1
Remaining schedule: at Cardinals, vs. Raiders, at Jaguars

6. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6) – Wild card No. 2
Remaining schedule: at Texans, vs. Broncos, at Raiders

7. Buffalo Bills (8-6) — Wild card No. 3
Remaining schedule: at Patriots, vs. Falcons, vs. Jets

8. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
Remaining schedule: at Bengals, vs. Rams, vs. Steelers

9. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1)
Remaining schedule: at Chiefs, vs. Browns, at Ravens

10. Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)
Remaining schedule: vs. Broncos, at Colts, vs. Chargers

11. Miami Dolphins (7-7)
Remaining schedule: at Saints, at Titans, vs. Patriots

12. Cleveland Browns (7-7)
Remaining schedule: at Packers, at Steelers, vs. Bengals

13. Denver Broncos (7-7)
Remaining schedule: at Raiders, at Chargers, vs. Chiefs


Browns at Packers — Saturday, Dec. 25, 2:30 p.m. MT on FOX/NFL Network

You should root for … the Packers. Denver's playoff chances improve by five percentage points with a Packers win.

Additional commentary: The Browns are one of the four teams with seven losses, and another loss will really hurt their chances. If the Packers win, the Browns' odds of earning a wild-card spot would fall to less than one percent.

Colts at Cardinals — Saturday, Dec. 25, 6:15 p.m. MT on NFL Network

You should root for … the Cardinals. Denver's playoff chances improve by three percentage points with a Cardinals win.

Additional commentary: The Colts currently have an 83 percent chance of making the playoffs, and they have a 73 percent chance to earn a wild-card spot. If they lose to the Cardinals, though, it could potentially throw the race into further disarray. With a loss to the Cardinals, an ensuing loss to the Raiders or Jaguars would give them seven losses and put another wild-card spot up for grabs.

Bills at Patriots — Sunday, Dec. 26, 11 a.m. MT on CBS

You should root for … the Patriots. Denver's playoff chances improve by 13 percentage points with a Patriots win.

Additional commentary: With a Patriots win, the Bills can finish no better than 10-7. There is an interesting scenario to consider here, though. If the Bills win and the Chiefs beat the Steelers and Bengals over the next two weeks, then the Chiefs would likely have the No. 1 seed wrapped up before Week 18. That could lead them to potentially rest their starters in the season finale against the Broncos.

Dolphins at Saints — Monday, Dec. 27, 6:15 MT on ESPN

You should root for … the Saints. Denver's playoff chances improve by four percentage points with a Saints win.

Additional commentary: The Dolphins would pick up their eighth loss if they fall to the Saints, which would effectively knock them out of the race.

Note: The New York Times' playoff predictor runs thousands of simulations to make its predictions. Therefore, the exact percentages used above could appear slightly different if a new simulation is run. The above rooting guide — and the listed percentage change — is assembled assuming the Broncos win their final three games.

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