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Broncos' Path to the Playoffs is Now Dangerously Narrow

The loss to the Chiefs significantly hurt the Broncos' playoff chances. What viable paths remain?

Currently sitting with a 6-6 record, the Denver Broncos have a very small chance of getting into the postseason with five games left to play. Denver's probability of reaching the playoffs with its current record is approximately 0.27. 

That means the Broncos' chances are minimal, but they do still have a path to the playoffs. In order to do so, one of two scenarios must swing Denver's way and both require some help from other teams. 

Meaning, even if the Broncos take care of business, they're not guaranteed a spot on the bracket. However, depending on how well Denver finishes down the stretch, the help required to get in could be minimal. 

This is why team captain and safety Kareem Jackson addressed the Broncos, stating, “We’ve got five games left and each one is a playoff game for us."

Let's preview Denver's path to the postseason. 

11-6 Record

If the Broncos win out, they're nearly a lock for the playoffs and have an outside shot at stealing the division title. If the Broncos win out, they'll have beaten all the teams in the AFC West at least once and in so doing, would only need the Kansas City Chiefs to lose one additional game to a divisional opponent for Denver to get the crown. 

The head-to-head matchups would not be a tie-breaker so it would move to the division records, and in this scenario, the Broncos would have the advantage. If the Chiefs’ figurative loss were to come from outside the division, it'd get tricky because the tiebreaker would move to common opponents. 

We won’t know what the common-games formula is until they're all in the books. This scenario is unlikely but still viable.

At 11-6, the Broncos could be written into the bracket with a pen — as a Wildcard. Denver would have victories against the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers and would therefore have the head-to-head tie-breaker. Victory over the Las Vegas Raiders drops that opponent to 10-7, best case. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns play head-to-head one more time, so one will end with a worse record than the Broncos in this scenario. To get into the playoffs, the Broncos would only need a loss from the winner of the Steelers-Browns game, a loss by the Buffalo Bills to an AFC opponent, or any loss by the Indianapolis Colts.

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Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) gestures on the line of scrimmage against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.

10-7 Record

If the Broncos somehow go 4-1 in their last five games, they'll need considerable help. For their best chance, Denver's only loss would need to come from the Detroit Lions, the last winnable game on its schedule. 

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 It would be a slap in the face, but it wouldn't impact the tiebreakers. It would also mean that the Broncos bested the same teams from the 11-6 scenario except for the Lions.

If the Broncos were to beat the Lions, then their only loss could come against the Chiefs, which would eliminate Denver from division title contention. After all, Kansas City would need to win the division in order for the Broncos to have a shot at the Wildcard. 

If the Chiefs are a Wildcard team, the combination of wins and losses for contenders become very complex in order for the Broncos to get in and those events are unlikely. The following events describe how the Broncos would be a team in the postseason with record of 10-7.

10-7 Scenarios

If the Broncos lose only to the Lions, they are in if any five of these events occur:

  • The Chargers lose one game in addition to losing to the Broncos.
  • The Bengals lose one game in addition to losing to the Broncos.
  • The Bills lose two games, one to any AFC opponentThe Steelers lose two games.
  • The Colts lose two games.
  • The Browns lose two games.
  • The Miami Dolphins lose one game.

If the Broncos lose only to the Chiefs, they are in if any six of these events occur:

  • The Chargers lose one game in addition to losing to the Broncos.
  • The Bengals lose one game in addition to losing to the Broncos.
  • The Bills lose two games to any AFC opponent.
  • The Raiders lose one game in addition to losing to the Broncos.
  • The Steelers lose two games.
  • The Colts lose two games.
  • The Browns lose two games.
  • The Miami Dolphins lose one game.

Bottom Line

If the Broncos finish out the season going 3-2 or less, they're almost assuredly not going to the playoffs. Denver would need too much help to get in and hoping for that would be unrealistic.

With how the season has gone, the Broncos have the look of a team that will finish 9-8 at best. This team has been wildly inconsistent and has a difficult remaining schedule. 

If the Broncos managed to flip a switch and play as they did against the Dallas Cowboys and Chargers, they'll have a shot to win every game, but if they play as they did against the Philadelphia Eagles or Chiefs, they could lose every game. 

The Broncos are most likely somewhere in the middle, which likely means its team misses  the postseason for the sixth season in a row after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 50. 


Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasHallNFL.

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