After a loss to the New England Patriots, the Broncos need some help to get into the playoffs. If Denver makes it, they'll be locked into the No. 6 seed — but a slew of other games need to go their way, as well. The Broncos cannot clinch in Week 16, but they can put themselves in much better position for Week 17. With that in mind, there's a specific set of teams Broncos fans should root for this weekend in order for Denver to get into the playoff field.* *
Denver Broncos (8-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) — Sunday, Dec. 25, 6:30 p.m. MT
Root for: Denver Broncos
Duh. This is the easiest game to figure out on the slate. The Broncos don't necessarily need a win Sunday night to stay mathematically alive in the playoff hunt, but if they lose in Kansas City their odds of making the playoffs will drop from 17 percent to 7 percent. If the Broncos can earn a win in Arrowhead, those odds jump to 41 percent before considering the other games of the weekend. The following week, however, the Broncos need the Chiefs to beat the Chargers in San Diego. If the Chiefs, Broncos and Dolphins all finish with the same record, the Broncos would be left out of the field.
NFL tiebreaks between three or more teams first eliminate all but the highest-ranked team in each division. Since Kansas City is assured of finishing above the Broncos in the AFC West due to division records, the Broncos would be out in the case of a three-way tie with the Chiefs.
Miami Dolphins (9-5) at Buffalo Bills (7-7) — Saturday, Dec. 24, 11 a.m. MT
Root for: Buffalo Bills
The Dolphins currently sit in the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff field and may pose the biggest threat to the Broncos' playoff hopes. If Miami beats both Buffalo and the New England Patriots in Week 17, the Broncos will be eliminated from playoff contention. Additionally, if the Dolphins win Saturday against the Bills and the Broncos lose to the Chiefs on Sunday, the Broncos would be eliminated. In an ideal world for Broncos fans, Miami would lose both of its final two games. The Patriots, however, may rest their starters in Week 17 if they clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs in Week 16. Therefore, the Broncos' best chance for the Dolphins to lose likely comes in Buffalo. If the Bills and Broncos both win this weekend, the Broncos' playoff chances jump to 54 percent when considering just those two games. The Dolphins' chances would fall to 18 percent, because if the Broncos and Dolphins finish with the same record, the Broncos would hold the tiebreak. If Kansas City also finishes with the same record, the Broncos would be the odd team out.
Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) — Sunday, Dec. 25, 2:30 p.m. MT
Root for: Pittsburgh Steelers
Even if the Broncos win out, the Chiefs win in Week 17 and the Dolphins drop a game, the Baltimore Ravens could still throw a wrench in Denver's playoff plans. If the Ravens beat the Steelers in Week 16 and the Bengals in Week 17, they would capture the AFC North over the Pittsburgh Steelers. And since the Steelers play the Cleveland Browns in Week 17, it's likely that both the Ravens and Steelers could finish at 10-6. In that scenario, the Broncos would not make the playoffs. Therefore, the best news for the Broncos would be for the Steelers to beat the Ravens and maintain control in the AFC North. Paired with a Miami loss and a Denver win, a Baltimore win would shift the Broncos' playoff chances down to 32 percent. A Pittsburgh win, however, moves the Broncos' playoff chances to 62 percent. Additionally, if the Broncos make the playoffs, they will almost certainly travel to Pittsburgh for Wild-Card weekend.
New England Patriots (12-2) vs. New York Jets (4-10) — Saturday, Dec. 24, 11 a.m. MT
Root for: New York Jets
This game doesn't have much of an impact of the Broncos' playoff chances, but if New England loses to the Jets in Week 16 and the Raiders beat the Colts, there is some reason to cheer against Tom Brady and the Pats. Namely, if the Raiders and Patriots have the same record or are within one game going into Week 17, the Patriots would be unlikely to sit their starters against the Dolphins. And another loss for the Dolphins is good news for the Broncos.
Indianapolis Colts (7-7) vs. Oakland Raiders (11-3) — Saturday, Dec. 24, 2:05 p.m. MT
Root for: Oakland Raiders
Again, if the Raiders and Patriots are within one game of each other heading into Week 17, the Patriots will have reason to play their starters against Miami. A Dolphins loss to the Patriots would put the Broncos in good shape.
Tennessee Titans (8-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) — Saturday, Dec. 24, 11 a.m. MT
Root for: Jacksonville Jaguars
A Jaguars win is marginally better than a Titans win for the Broncos' playoff chances, but most of that advantage would only come into play if the Broncos lose one of their final two games. The Titans would then control a tiebreak over the Broncos. If the Titans win out, they would be 10-6 and win the AFC South. The Broncos would then control a tiebreak over the Texans for the Wild Card.
All information about playoff odds courtesy of fivethirtyeight.com