KUSA – When it all shakes out, and if everybody wins games they’re supposed to win and loses games they’re supposed to lose, Shelby Harris just might wind up knocking Ben Roethlisberger out of the playoffs.
Imagine, Big Ben stewing on that.
The playoff race is officially on.
Four games remaining for all parties – an NFL’s season’s final quarter – is when the playoff race begins.
For the Broncos, it’s becoming clearer they must win out and finish 10-6 to get in. A 9-7 mark probably won’t work because of tiebreaker scenarios.
The crazy thing is, winning out is possible thanks to a soft remaining schedule and Harris, a Broncos' defensive tackle, intercepting Roethlisberger, the Steelers' great quarterback, in the end zone last week.
As for that remaining Broncos schedule, it would get easier if the Los Angeles Chargers have the AFC’s No. 5 wild card spot locked up heading into the season-finale at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Sit down and stay quiet, Philip Rivers. (The Broncos will take one out of two).
Essentially, the Broncos' mostly likely way in is through the AFC North team that doesn’t win its division -- either the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers. The Broncos must win out and hope either the Ravens or Steelers lose two.
And with the Ravens playing road games against the Chiefs and Chargers, and Steelers still having the Patriots and Saints on their schedule, it’s not a huge favor to ask one of those teams to fall at least two more times.
One caveat: Check out the 6-6 Titans, who have a runnable remaining schedule. A Broncos’ undefeated stretch run, though, would give them the tiebreaker against Tennessee based on better conference record. If the Broncos and Titans both win out, the 10-6 Titans would miss the playoffs.
One more caveat: With the Broncos losing star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. for the rest of the regular season, those games against the Raiders with quarterback Derek Carr and Browns with Baker Mayfield are no longer are as easy as they may have seemed a week ago.
Here are the Broncos’ playoff scenarios with their primary opponents:
Remaining schedule: vs. 5-7 Bengals; at 10-2 Chiefs; vs. 7-5 Ravens; at 6-6 Broncos
Tiebreaker with Broncos: Broncos. If both teams finish tied at 10-6, the Broncos would have beat the Chargers head-to-head twice.
What Broncos realistically need: The Chargers will get their 10th win by beating the Bengals this week. Even if the Chargers lose to the Chiefs, it may be in the Broncos’ best interest if Los Angeles then defeat the Ravens at StubHub Center for its 11th win. This scenario would lead the Chargers to not play Phillip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and the like in the season finale at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
However, if the Chargers lose to the Chiefs and Ravens, it would set up a final game showdown with the Broncos where the winner moves on to the playoffs and the loser stays home,
Remaining schedule: at 10-2 Chiefs; vs. 5-7 Buccaneers; at 9-3 Chargers; vs. 4-7-1 Browns
Tiebreaker with Broncos: Baltimore beat Broncos head-to-head and are 6-3 in AFC while the Broncos are 4-5 within the conference. So, the Broncos would have to finish a game ahead of the Ravens. Which means the Broncos will pretty much have to win out and finish 10-6.
What Broncos would realistically need: The Ravens to lose two more. They will be underdogs in their remaining road games against the Chiefs (already 8.5-point dogs) and Chargers.
Remaining schedule: at 2-10 Raiders; vs. 9-3 Patriots; at 10-2 Saints; vs. 5-7 Bengals.
Tiebreaker with Broncos: The tie on the Steelers record means tiebreakers won’t likely come into play. The Broncos did beat the Steelers head-to-head.
What Broncos need: The Steelers have two gimmes (Raiders and Bengals) and two toughies (Patriots and Saints) remaining. Their realistic finish of 9-6-1 could win their AFC North Division – or miss the playoffs if the Ravens and Broncos both wind up 10-6.
Remaining schedule: at 9-3 Texans; vs. 7-5 Cowboys; vs. 4-8 Giants; at 6-6 Titans
Tiebreaker with Broncos: Right now, the Colts have it as they are 5-5 in AFC while the Broncos are 4-5. If the two teams wind up with identical 7-5 conference records, the Broncos may wind up with the common opponent tiebreaker as Colts lost to Bengals in season opener.
What Broncos need: Colts to lose at least one more, preferably against an AFC foe, either the Texans. At this point the Colts will have a difficult time finishing better than 9-7.
Remaining schedule: at 2-10 49ers; vs. 4-7-1 Browns; at 2-10 Raiders; vs. 9-3 Chargers
What Broncos need: Win their next three games and for the Chargers to be locked into the No. 5 AFC wild-card spot heading into their week 17 game at Mile High. This scenario would likely mean Rivers and several other starters not playing past the first series.
And then the Broncos would need either the Ravens or Steelers to lose two more.
Remaining schedule: vs. 4-8 Jaguars; at 4-8 Giants; vs. 6-5 Washington; vs. 6-6 Colts.
Tiebreaker with Broncos: The Broncos would have it as the Titans already have six conference losses to Denver’s five.
What Broncos realistically need: Nothing. Even if the Titans win out, they would be trumped by a Broncos’ run. But if the Broncos do wind up in the 9-7 game, they would need one more loss or two from the Titans.
Remaining schedule: vs. 9-3 Patriots; at 6-5-1 Vikings; vs. 4-8 Jaguars; at 4-8 Bills
Tiebreaker with Broncos: The Dolphins are 5-4 in the conference to the Broncos’ 4-5 mark.
What Broncos realistically need: The Dolphins to lose one more. It’s difficult to believe they can beat the Pats and Vikings in back-to-back weeks.